Whether your preference is a butter-soft fillet steak, flavour-packed sirloin or thriftier cut like bavette, rump or onglet, quick-cooking and constant attention should be paid when cooking your beef. With only a few minutes leeway between rare and well-done, timing is key. We’ve put together some tips to help you from start to finish.
Once you’ve mastered the art of the perfect steak, check out our favourite steak sauce recipes for the final flourish.
Choose your steak
The cut of steak you use is down to personal preference and budget. Different cuts will deliver different levels of tenderness and flavour. Our handy steak infographic shows you what to expect from each cut and gives advice on how best to cook it.
Sirloin: Considered to be a prime steak, like fillet, but with more flavour. Best served medium-rare.
T-bone: To make sure everything cooks evenly, it’s best finished in the oven. Great for sharing.
Bavette and flank steak: Cheap cut that’s best served no more than medium and is great for barbecuing.
Fillet: Prized as the most tender cut, it’s also the most expensive. It has little fat, and is best served as rare as you like.
Rib-eye and tomahawk: There are two cuts to note: rib-eye, boneless and usually serves one, and rib on the bone, also known as côte de boeuf.
Flat-iron: This steak is cut from the shoulderblade, and is great value and neatly shaped, but it needs to be cooked no more than medium or it will be tough.
Onglet: Also called hanger steak, this rope-shaped piece of meat has lots of flavour but will be tough if cooked beyond rare.
Rump steak: The least expensive of prime steaks, it will be tough if cooked anything beyond medium.
Best pan for steak
Bavette steak in a griddle pan with herbs
For indoor cooking we’d recommend frying your steak, although you can grill it if you’d rather. A heavy-duty, thick-based frying pan will achieve the best results, as would a heavy griddle pan or cast iron skillet. These types of pan get really hot and retain their heat, making them ideal for getting that charred, smoky finish on the surface of your steak.
Steaks should be cooked in a roomy pan – if a pan isn’t big enough for all your steaks, don’t be tempted to squeeze them in anyway. Cook them one or two at a time and leave them to rest as you cook the rest of your batch, or cook a much thicker steak and carve it and divide the slices to serve. If you’re in the market for a new piece of kit, read our reviews of the best cast iron skillets, non-stick frying pans and griddle pans.
Marinated Brazilian steak served sliced on a platter
Beef purists may prefer to take in the unadulterated, rich flavour of a quality steak by adding nothing more than a sprinkling of salt and a generous twist of pepper. Contrary to popular belief, seasoning your steak with salt ahead of time doesn’t draw out the moisture but actually gives the steak time to absorb the salt and become more evenly seasoned throughout. Salt your steak in advence – 2 hrs for every 1cm of thickness. For a classic steak au poivre (peppered steak), sprinkle lots of cracked black pepper and sea salt on to a plate, then press the meat into the seasoning moments before putting it in the pan.
Some people like to enhance flavour and tenderise meat with a marinade. Balsamic vinegar will reduce down to a sweet glaze, as will a coating of honey & mustard. You can add an Asian dimension to your beef with a miso or teriyaki marinade.
Lots of chefs add whole garlic cloves and robust herbs like thyme and rosemary to the hot fat while the steak is cooking, which adds background flavour to the steak subtly, without overpowering it.
Best cooking fat
Flavourless oils like sunflower, vegetable or groundnut work best, and once the steak is searing you can add butter to the pan for flavour. A nice touch if you’re cooking a thick sirloin steak with a strip of fat on the side is to sear the fat first by holding the steak with a pair of tongs, then cooking the beef in the rendered beef fat. You’ll need to use your judgement when you heat the pan – you want the oil to split in the pan but not smoke.
How to sear
Searing a steak until it gets a caramelised brown crust will give it lots of flavour. For this to happen, the pan and the fat need to be hot enough. The conventional way is to sear it on one side, then cook it for the same amount on the other side. This gives good results but the second side is never as nicely caramelised as the first. To build up an even crust on both sides, cook the steak for the total time stated in the recipe, but turn the steak every minute.
How long to cook steak
Our cookery team have outlined what you can expect from each category of steak.
Blue: Should still be a dark colour, almost purple, and just warm. It will feel spongy with no resistance.
Rare: Dark red in colour with some red juice flowing. It will feel soft and spongy with slight resistance.
Medium-rare: Pink in colour with some juice. It will be a bit soft and spongy and slightly springy.
Medium: Pale pink in the middle with hardly any juice. It will feel firm and springy.
Well-done: Only a trace of pink colour but not dry. It will feel spongy and soft and slightly springy.
It’s very important to consider the size and weight of your steak before calculating the cooking time. If you’re unsure, take advantage of the expert eye of your butcher who should be able to tell you how long you need to cook your meat.
Fillet steak cooking times
We recommend the following cooking times for a 3.5cm thick fillet steak:
Blue: 1½ mins each side
Rare: 2¼ mins each side
Medium-rare: 3¼ mins each side
Medium: 4½ mins each side
Sirloin steak cooking times
We also recommend the following for a 2cm thick sirloin steak:
Blue: 1 min each side
Rare: 1½ mins per side
Medium rare: 2 mins per side
Medium: About 2¼ mins per side
Well-done steak: Cook for about 4-5 mins each side, depending on thickness.
How to cook perfect steak
Season the steak with salt up to 2 hrs before, then with pepper just before cooking.
Heat a heavy-based frying pan until very hot but not smoking.
Drizzle some oil into the pan and leave for a moment.
Add the steak, a knob of butter, some garlic and robust herbs, if you want.
Sear evenly on each side for our recommended time, turning every minute for the best caramelised crust.
Leave to rest on a board or warm plate for about 5 mins.
Serve the steak whole or carved into slices with the resting juices poured over.
How to check steak is cooked
T-bone steak served whole on a plate with onion rings and side salad
Use your fingers to prod the cooked steak – when rare it will feel soft, medium-rare will be lightly bouncy, and well-done will be much firmer. Our picture guide to checking steak is cooked shows you how to use the ‘finger test’, or a meat thermometer inserted into the centre to ensure it’s done to your liking.
Medium rare: 63C
Well done: 75C
How to rest a steak
A cooked steak should rest at room temperature for at least five minutes and ideally around half the cooking time – it will stay warm for anything up to 10 minutes. Here, pure science comes into play – the fibres of the meat will reabsorb the free-running juices, resulting in a moist and tender steak. Any resting juices should be poured over the steak before serving.
What to serve with steak
You’re sure to find an accompaniment in our guide to steak side dishes. Plus, we have 10 steak sauces you can make in minutes, from cheat’s peppercorn to spicy chimichurri.
Steak jargon buster
You’ll see these terms in supermarkets, at the butcher’s or on restaurant menus – here’s what they mean.
Grass-fed beef: Grass-fed cattle get to walk around and graze on pasture, which means the meat is leaner with a richer, gamier flavour that tastes of the environment it was reared in. This is why Scottish grass-fed beef will taste different to Irish.
Marbling: Marbling is the fat found interlacing the inside of a cut of meat. As the meat cooks, the ‘marbled fat’ melts – without this, the meat would be dry and flavourless. Meat with a lot of marbling mostly comes from the back of the animal where the muscles get little exercise.
Wagyu: Wagyu is a generic name for four breeds of Japanese cattle. They are fed foraged grass and rice straw, then supplemented with corn, barley, soya bean, wheat bran and, in some cases, even beer or sake. Wagyu cattle produce meat with heavy marbling but this comes at a hefty price.
Ageing: The ageing process improves the taste and tenderness of meat. There are two methods: dry ageing, which is the traditional process where carcasses are hung in a cool place for 30-60 days to intensify the flavour and cause the meat to shrink, while wet ageing is when the meat is butchered and vacuum-packed, which stops the meat from shrinking.