100 Techniques

Technique #16: Sear Any Steak to Perfection on the Stovetop

Producing a steak with a crusty exterior and juicy interior is a skill that every cook should have. Here’s your key to success. 

Published Oct. 16, 2023.

This is Technique #16 from our 100 Techniques Every Home Cook Can Master.

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Turning out a great seared steak with a crusty exterior and juicy interior is a skill that belongs in every cook’s repertoire.

There are lots of ways to sear a steak. You can use a combination of oven-roasting and stovetop searing, or you can use a nonstick skillet on the stovetop. But this all-stovetop technique is one of our favorites for its speed and ease. Whether you want to prepare a thick-cut centerpiece steak or a thinner everyday steak, here’s your key to success.

Use a Cast-Iron Skillet—And Heat It Evenly

The first step (to any great sear) is an evenly heated cooking surface. 

We love cast iron for searing because it gets famously hot, which makes it perfect for branding a flavorful crust onto meat. It also retains heat extremely well, even after adding a hunk of (relatively) cold meat to it. 

However, one disadvantage is that cast iron heats up unevenly. So, to ensure even, thorough preheating, we pop the skillet into the oven to heat right along with the oven.

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Flip the Steak Frequently

No matter what type of steak you are searing, a surefire way to achieve successful results involves the technique of frequent flipping. 

Traditional high-heat cooking methods cause the outside of a steak to get much hotter than the interior. This results in an unattractive gray band of overcooked meat developing under the crust before the center is cooked. 

Flipping the steak every 2 minutes prevents this from happening, and it also leads to a shorter cooking time overall.

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Be Generous with Your Oil

It’s also important to use a generous amount of oil so that the surface of the meat remains in contact with the heat, even as the steaks unevenly contract during the cooking process. And transitioning from medium-high heat to medium-low heat partway through further guards against overcooking.

Step by Step: How to Sear Steaks in a Cast–Iron Skillet

If you follow these simple steps, whether you’re searing a boneless strip for a special occasion or a flank steak for an everyday dinner, you will finish with a perfectly brown, crisp crust and a juicy, evenly cooked interior every time.

Step 1: Season

Season steaks with salt. Let steaks rest at room temperature to draw out moisture.

Step 2: Preheat Your Skillet and Add Oil

Preheat cast-iron skillet along with oven; turn off oven when it reaches 500 degrees and remove skillet, placing it over medium- high heat. Add oil and heat until just smoking.

Step 3: Cook and Flip

Cook steaks on one side without moving until lightly browned, 2 minutes. Flip and cook without moving until lightly browned on second side, 2 minutes.

Step 4: Lower Heat and Flip

Flip steaks, lower heat, and cook, flipping every 2 minutes, until exterior is well browned and meat registers 120 to 125 degrees.

Step 5: Rest and Slice

Transfer to carving board, tent with foil, and let rest before slicing and serving.

Watch Cook's Illustrated's Lan Lam demonstrate how to sear steak in a cast-iron skillet.

Recipes That Use This Technique

Want to test out your newfound knowledge of steak searing? Try it with these four recipes.


Cast Iron Steaks with Herb Butter

This pan’s unbeatable heat retention should create the deepest, richest sear on a steak. But you first need to know your cast iron.
Get the Recipe

Pan-Seared Sirloin Steaks with Miso-Butter Pan Sauce

We're just not that fond of steaks that stick to the pan.
Get the Recipe

Pan-Seared Strip Steak for Two

How do you pan-sear strip or rib eye without making a grease-splattered mess and setting off your smoke alarm? First, forget everything you know about steak cookery.
Get the Recipe

Cast Iron Pan-Seared Flank Steak with Crispy Potatoes

Steak frites is a classic bistro dish, but cooking up a steak in one pan while simultaneously deep-frying potatoes in another is a recipe for disaster in a home kitchen.
Get the Recipe

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