Should Steak Be Room Temperature Before Searing?
The short answer: No. Warming up a thick steak will not help it cook evenly. But we have three great methods that will.
The thing cooks fear most when cooking steak is the dreaded “gray band.”
This all-too-common side effect of searing steak often occurs when the meat just below the steak’s crust overcooks and turns gray. It’s the bane of steak cookery, and cooks are always looking for ways to avoid it.
Don’t Bother Bringing Steak to Room Temperature Before Cooking
One common—and misguided—tactic for preventing a gray band is to rest the steak at room temperature for an hour or two before cooking. The idea is that as it sits, its internal temperature (about 40 degrees when fridge-cold) will climb closer to the target cooked temperature (125 degrees for medium-rare, for example), and once in the pan, it will cook through faster and develop a crust more quickly. The upshot: less time for the gray band to develop.
But our tests proved that a room-temperature rest isn’t effective. When we rested 1-inch-thick rib-eye steaks for an hour, they only warmed up to 52 degrees; an hour later, they’d risen to just 62 degrees. (Resting meat longer is not advisable, since it puts it in the food safety “danger zone” as defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.) And when we seared them in a ripping hot pan and flipped just once, they developed gray bands just as pronounced as the one on the steak we cooked the same way directly from the fridge.
That said, with the right approach, you can avoid a gray band and cook even the thickest steak perfectly.
Our Favorite Methods for Searing Steak
Each ensures that the exterior of the meat develops a deeply browned crust just as the interior comes up to temperature, so it’s rosy from edge to edge.
Method 1: Cold Sear
How It Works:
- Starting steaks in a “cold” (not preheated) skillet set over high heat prevents the meat directly below the surface from overcooking and turning gray.
- Flipping the steaks every 2 minutes as they cook allows a rich crust to build up gradually without overcooking the interior.
- Using a carbon-steel or nonstick skillet means there’s no need to oil the pan, and lowering the heat to medium after the first 2 minutes of cooking keeps the skillet hot enough to continue browning the steaks but not so hot that the fat smokes.
This method also works beautifully with pork chops.
Method 2: Reverse Sear
How It Works:
- Warming steaks to 95 degrees in a 275-degree oven before searing them raises their temperature enough that the searing time is very quick.
Method 3: Sous Vide
How It Works:
- Sealing steaks in a zipper-lock freezer bag and warming them slowly in a 130-degree water bath ensures that the meat cooks uniformly to an ideal internal temperature.
- After that, the meat can be removed from the bag, patted dry, and pan-seared or grilled.