I once read that every chef should learn to perfect a roast chicken, a steak, a salad, and a chocolate cake. I rely on my cast iron skillet for a perfect roast chicken, and now I’ll share my secrets to cooking the perfect grass fed steak at home on your stovetop. This is especially useful if you don’t have a grill, or if you want a steak in a hurry. You’ll be surprised just how fast, easy, and delicious it is. The perfect steak on the stove is attainable for any home chef at any skill level.
My PSA on meat: Please buy humanely raised beef, and support local farms if possible. The conditions in which cows raised in crowded concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO) are absolutely deplorable, and they are fed hormones and antibiotics to boost growth and prevent disease. These residues eventually end up in you:
At the beginning of the antibiotic era, researchers discovered that the new miracle drugs had an unanticipated second effect: When given in tiny doses to healthy livestock — poultry, cattle, hogs — they allowed the animals to gain weight faster than they would have otherwise. When given to entire herds or flocks in slightly larger doses — but still smaller than it would take to cure an infection — antibiotics protected animals from illness. Those two practices — growth promotion and disease prevention— effectively created modern industrial farming by allowing animals to be raised intensively and rapidly in limited space. (source)
Remember: Whatever is in what you’re eating ends up in you. So please support smaller, humane farming practices where the cattle are raised with care. Studies indicate grass fed beef has higher levels of anti-inflammatory omega 3 fats than CAFO beef.
UPDATE: In 2017, the FDA made it illegal to use antibiotics for growth in livestock. They can still be administered for illness.
Back to our regularly scheduled content.
How to Cook the Perfect Steak on the Stove
First off, choose the right steak for the job. The cut of meat you choose affects the flavor of your finished product. Choose a ribeye or strip steak, at least 1 inch thick (ideally 1.5″) for the tastiest cut that works best for this recipe. Strip steaks work ok too. Tenderloin (filet mignon, for example) is extremely tender but lower in fat, so many people find it lower in flavor.
You’ll see the following labels when selecting a steak at the store:
- Natural: means basically nothing. Any producer can call a steak ‘natural.’ Not a regulated term.
- Naturally raised: free of hormones and antibiotics.
- Organic: certified organic and fed organic feed. Antibiotic and hormone free. Stricter enforcement for humane treatment, and cows must have access to pasture.
- Grass Fed: must, at some point, have been raised on a diet of grass. Does not necessarily mean 100% grass fed; many are grain finished.
Choose a well marbled and fresh organic, or at least naturally raised, cut. If you have a local butcher, he/she can help you select the ideal cut for your preference.
What you’ll need
- 2 one pound (or less) grass fed strip steaks or ribeyes, roughly 1.5″ thick (I prefer ribeye).
- plenty of Kerrygold butter. Do NOT use vegetable oil, which becomes rancid under high heat because it is mono or polyunsaturated. Saturated fats hold up well under higher heat (the molecular bonds won’t break).
- herbs that suit you. I recommend tarragon and thyme especially. Tarragon is so good on steak and makes an excellent chimichurri.
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- a cast iron skillet of some kind. I use a Lodge but the enamel cast irons are nice, too. Or use a cast iron grill pan. Every chef needs cast iron. I don’t make the rules.
Remove steaks from the fridge and let them come to room temp for about an hour. They’ll cook more evenly and develop a better crust (there is debate about this, but it’s what I do). Meantime, get your herbs ready–pick and chop. I made a compound butter to top the finished steaks by whipping together salted Kerrygold with chopped thyme, then roll in a log in plastic wrap and refrigerate. You can cut off coins to melt over the steaks. Super yum. You can google and get a ton of compound butter recipes and methods. Slice off rounds as needed to apply to steak or veggies (good on mashed potatoes, too).
When ready to cook, pat steaks dry with a paper towel. This is key for a good crust. Coat liberally with sea salt and black pepper. Some people like celery seed on steak (I do, and add it along with the sea salt and pepper). You could go totally minimalist and just sea salt and pepper them. I don’t add fresh herbs at this stage because they may burn under the high heat. I wait to sprinkle on fresh herbs until the steak is resting.
A NOTE ABOUT SALTING: Chefs have opinions about when to salt steak. Some say you should salt it overnight for a brine; others say salt an hour before cooking; some say right before cooking. And J Kenji Lopez-alt, my trusted source, says if you can’t salt them overnight or at least an hour out, don’t bother until right before cooking. I salt mine liberally an hour before cooking, then pat dry before cooking. If you salt ahead of time, make sure you pat the steaks dry and do not reapply salt or they turn out way too salty.
Heat the skillet over high but not absolutely full blast heat. Takes about 5 minutes or more to heat up the pan depending on your stove and heat source (gas or electric). Once the pan has heated, melt 1-2tbsp of Kerrygold in your skillet, depending on its size. The butter will sizzle and bubble. Don’t skimp on the butter. You want the pan well covered, searing hot, and smoking: That’s the secret to getting a nice crust.
Put the steaks in the skillet and let them cook for 2-4 minutes (depending on thickness) without moving them or mashing down on them. Flip them with the tongs and cook for a couple more minutes on the other side so you get a nice crust. Reduce heat if smoking is excessive, but you’ll need to cook longer.
The timing depends on how thick your steak is and how done you like it. I like mine pretty rare, so these didn’t take long. Below is a handy chart to help you test for doneness. Or if you want to take its temp, shoot for 120F for medium rare (is there any other way to cook a steak?). OK fine, if you like it medium, it’s 130F.
This little chart shows you what the steaks will feel like on your finger at certain levels of doneness, or you can take its temp.
Once steaks are done, remove from pan with tongs and put a pat of the compound butter on top, or sprinkle with fresh herbs. Then let them rest undisturbed on a plate tented with foil for about 5-10 minutes. Serve with root vegetables and greens. You could go classic and do mashed potatoes, mashed root vegetables, or mashed celery root and spinach sautéd in garlic and olive oil. I made roasted Brussels sprouts and mashed sweet potatoes to accompany these. You could also try it with my butternut risotto (grain free). Enjoy!
The Perfect Steak on the Stove
- Cast iron skillet
- 2 pounds grass fed strip steaks or ribeyes. I usually buy 2 one pounders as thick as I can find.
- 2 tbsp Kerrygold butter
- 1 handful freshly chopped herbs you like. Tarragon, thyme and chives work best.
- sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- Let the steaks come to room temp for about an hour prior to cooking. You can liberally salt them an hour before cooking if you wish.
- Chop any fresh herbs you are using. You can use the herbs for a compound butter and/or to sprinkle over the finished steak.
- Prior to cooking, pat steaks dry whether or not you have salted them. If you've not yet salted them, do so now liberally. Pepper them also. I sometimes add a few dashes of celery seed at this stage.
- Heat skillet over high heat (but not full blast) for at least 5 minutes. I recommend cast iron.
- Drop about 1-2 tbsp kerrygold (depending on skillet size) and let it melt. It will smoke, but don't let it brown too much.
- Place steaks in the skillet and let them cook undisturbed for 2-4 minutes depending on thickness and how done you want it. It should have a nice crust on the cooked side when you flip it.
- Flip and cook an additional 1-4 minutes until desired doneness.
- Remove and let rest for about 10 minutes. If using compound butter, put a pat on top after you remove steaks while they're resting, or sprinkle with the fresh herbs.
- Plate and enjoy!
Mary Vance is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and author specializing in digestive health. She combines a science-based approach with natural therapies to rebalance the body. In addition to her 1:1 coaching, she offers courses to help you heal your gut and improve your health. Mary lives in San Francisco and Lake Tahoe in Northern California. Read more about her coaching practice here and her background here.