Cooking Tips

A New Way to Cook Steaks (Without the Smoke and Splattery Mess)

The result: perfectly seared, beautifully crusted steaks—and a clean countertop.

Published Jan. 1, 2022.

The way I’ve learned to cook steaks involves turning things up to 11.

I prefer rib eye, a cut of beef with maximum marbling. I give it a generous dash or three of seasoning salt. Then I stick my cast-iron skillet in a 550-degree oven to get it rip-roaring hot and transfer it to the stovetop with a high flame underneath.

The result? A gorgeous charred steak with a flavorful crust and a rosy medium-rare interior.

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This is a beautiful way of cooking steaks, except for one problem. 

When the steaks go in the skillet (a tablespoon of vegetable oil goes in first), it instantaneously smokes out my kitchen. There’s a crazy amount of oil splatter, turning my stovetop surface and knobs into a greasy mess. The steak comes out delicious, but cleanup becomes a real pain.

Fortunately, there’s a way to solve this issue.

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In an episode of America’s Test Kitchen, we teach a new, unorthodox, foolproof way of pan-searing strip steaks. The secret: Placing the steaks in a cold nonstick skillet with no oil.

This counterintuitive technique was developed by former Cook’s Illustrated staffer Andrew Janjigian, who discovered a well-marbled cut doesn’t need extra oil; enough fat comes out during cooking to help brown the beef.

The Easiest, Cleanest Way to Sear Steak

Andrew offers a few rules for his technique.

  • Use a nonstick or carbon-steel skillet, not stainless steel. (That's right, a nonstick is OK for this!)
  • Don’t add oil.
  • Start in a cold pan (no need to preheat).
  • Flip the steaks every 2 minutes.
  • Start with high heat, and then after a few flips, turn it down to medium.
  • Cook until the exterior is well browned and the interior registers 120 degrees Fahrenheit (for medium-rare).

Andrew goes into more detail here, or you can also watch Bridget demonstrate the technique below.

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