Cooking Tips

How to Season Steak for the Best Flavor

As long as you have salt and pepper, you’re good to go.

Published May 31, 2022.

Why do restaurant steaks taste so good? One reason: Chefs know how to season steak properly.

There’s no magic involved. You can get a restaurant-quality steak at home, too. Once you know how to season steak properly, it will taste like it was cooked in the kitchen of a high-end steakhouse.

After developing recipes for 25 years, our biggest piece of advice is to not be afraid to season your steak. If you’re worried it might dilute the meat’s pure flavor, don’t be. Seasonings like salt actually help bring out the beefy flavor of the steak more than if it went unseasoned.

Sign up for the Notes from the Test Kitchen newsletter

Our favorite tips and recipes, enjoyed by 2 million+ subscribers!

So it doesn’t matter if you’re grilling your steak, searing it in a nonstick skillet, or cooking one up in a cast-iron skillet. Seasoning matters.

The Best Steak Seasoning Is Salt

Salt is a must when seasoning steak. It not only adds flavor to your meat, but it also helps make steak juicy and tender.

When you salt your steak before you cook it, the salt sits on the meat and draws moisture to the surface. But, the removal of this moisture doesn’t make the steak less juicy. As you let the steak rest, the moisture dissolves the salt, and creates a brine that soaks itself into the meat.

This causes muscle fibers within the steak to swell, making room for the liquid, and dissolving other proteins which then act like a sponge, helping the meat soak up and retain moisture during cooking. Because the steak is reabsorbing its own juices, the salt allows the meat to taste more like itself.

What Type of Salt to Use On Steak

When seasoning steak with salt, it is very important to use kosher salt (our favorite is Diamond Crystal).

Kosher salt is preferred for seasoning steak because its larger grains distribute more evenly across the meat. They cling well to the meat’s surface, and they also don’t dissolve as quickly as grains of table salt.

How and When to Properly Season Steak

To season your steaks, place them in a rimmed baking sheet and pat them dry with a paper towel. Sprinkle kosher salt evenly over the surface of the meat and let it rest at room temperature for 30 minutes to one hour. 

We like to use ¾ teaspoon of salt per 8-ounce steak. Here's what a properly seasoned steak looks like:

a properly seasoned steak photographed from above

Feel free to season your steak with a few turns of freshly ground black pepper, or another seasoning of choice. After your steak is cooked and ready to serve, don’t be afraid to add an extra sprinkle of salt. It enhances the seasoning and adds a nice little crunch.

When sprinkling the kosher salt onto your steak, make sure you do so one foot above the counter. This isn’t just for flair—it actually helps promote even distribution of salt across the meat. 

How to Baste a Steak

If you’re cooking your steak in a skillet, add even more seasoning by basting your steak in butter and herbs. 

To baste your steak, move it to the back of your pan when it’s almost done cooking. Then melt butter in the skillet and add shallots, garlic, and thyme. Holding the skillet handle, tilt it backwards to create a pool of butter. Use a spoon to continuously spoon the butter and the aromatics over the steak, focusing on the areas where the crust is less browned. Continue basting, flipping every 30 seconds, until the steak reaches 120 degrees (for medium-rare).

steak in stainless steel skillet with butter being poured on top with spoon

What Spices Go Well With Steak?

We’ve already established that the two main seasonings you need for steak are kosher salt and ground black pepper. If you stick with those two, you are sure to have a perfectly seasoned steak every time. However, here are some other seasonings and spices that work well.

  • Sugar is great for steak, especially if you’re grilling. In our Sugar Steak recipe, sugar and salt act as a team. Salt seasons the meat, while the sugar caramelizes to produce a perfectly charred crust, and a touch of sweetness.
  • Finishing salts made with a fresh herb of your choice are a great way to add a salty, herby flourish to your meat.
  • Fresh rosemary, ground coriander, grated lemon zest, dry mustard, and red pepper flakes make for a potent crust in Cook’s Country’s Spice-Crusted Steak recipe. Turning the steaks often prevents the spice mix from burning.
  • Montreal steak seasoning is a classic. Store-bought is fine, but homemade is better.
  • This spice rub of black and white peppercorns, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, red pepper flakes, and ground cinnamon is perfect for steaks and chops.
  • Chili powder, ground cumin, and granulated garlic (plus salt and pepper, natch) make a flavorful spice rub in our Spice-Rubbed Flank Steak with Spicy Corn and Black Bean Salad for Two.

Now that you know how to properly season a steak, you’ll never eat a bland one again.

This is a members' feature.