Deep Brown and Delicious
A perfectly cooked pan-seared steak with an even brown crust.
Thick cut and well-marbled is the way to go, like this dry-aged porterhouse.
Season well. Very well. Weller than you think needs to be done. With a thick steak, all that seasoning on the outside needs to carry the flavor of the unseasoned portions in the middle, so compensate. It's best to season either immediately before cooking, or at least 45 minutes in advance. Nothing in between.
Use Cast Iron
Use a cast iron skillet and plenty of oil, and get it HOT. It should be lightly smoking.
Add steak carefully
Hot oil can sense fear, so be very careful when you add your steak. Carefully lay it in the pan, starting with the ends closest to you, laying it backwards. That way, if you accidentally drop it, hot oil goes flying over the stove instead of into your face.
It should sizzle violently as it cooks. This is not the cleanest cooking method, by the way. You will have some oil splatter to tend to after dinner.
Use tongs or a spatula to flip your meat, and do it frequently. This will help it cook more evenly and a little faster. Make sure to grip the bone with the tongs, NOT the meat, which can cause it to tear away from the bone.
Flip and cook and flip and cook and flip and cook. You'll notice a crust starting to build up, though you may also notice that the edges near the bone are a little pale. Time to deal with that. By this stage, your meat should be at around 80°F in the center.
Add butter to help flavor and improve browning for the last few minutes of cooking.
Aromatics like thyme and shallots will add subtle flavor to your meat.
Basting will help distribute that flavor, help your meat cook faster, and help you to brown the paler parts that don'y come in contact with the pan. Start by tilting the pan to allow the hot butter to collect near the handle. Scoop some up with a spoon.
Pour it on
Lift it up and pour it over the steak, aiming for the paler parts to give them some color. Continue to flip and baste until the steak is approaching finished.
Steady as she goes
You may find that as the steak cooks, it becomes more delicate. I use tongs and a spoon or tongs and a spatula to carefully flip at this stage.
Use a thermometer!
I can't stress this enough. Use a thermometer. Use a thermometer. Use a thermometer. It's the only way to guarantee perfectly cooked meat. For medium-rare, your steak should be between 120 and 125°F when it comes out of the skillet to rest.
Get the edges
Right before it comes out, make sure to get those edges crisp and colored.
Let your steak rest for 5 to 10 minutes after it comes out of the pan. Pour the hot butter and aromatics over it to keep it company.
Serve as-is, or to carve for a group, start by cutting along one side of the rib bone.
Keep going until the strip steak is completely detached from the rib.
Turn and cut
Turn the steak 90 degrees and cut through the smaller section of the bone.
Your steak should come right off.
Turn the steak and cut along the other side of the rib bone.
Remove the second side completely.
With both sides removed, slice each half into bite-sized piece. Not too thin, not too thick. If you value presentation, slice at a bias to make nice, fannable slices.
Ready To Eat
Cooked, carved, and ready to wolf down.
Gallery: The Food Lab's Complete Guide to Pan-Seared Steaks
Everything you need to know to cook perfect pan-seared steaks.