8 Steps for the Perfect Steak Crust [Expert Tips]

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How to get the perfect steak crust

Getting that perfect steak crust is easier than you think. With some practice and a few pro tricks, you will serve restaurant-quality steaks.

Here’s all you need to know about getting a crust on a steak – that golden crust that you know will taste incredible.

Pro Tips for Perfect Steak Crust

For those in a hurry, here are my top tips to a getting a a better crust on your steak:

  • Start with a dry steak
  • Preheat your pan or cooking surface to shimmering hot
  • Don’t overcrowd your grill or griddle
  • Flip once or twice – flipping excessively is unnecessary
  • Choose an oil with a high smoke point
  • Oil the steak, not the pan
  • Season before and after cooking
  • This can get smokey so its best done outside.

What is Steak Crust?

A steak crust is the golden outer coating that forms on a steak when it is cooked in a certain way. The Maillard reaction is responsible for a steak crust. During this reaction, the amino acids in the proteins of the steak interact with the sugars in the meat.

As the steak and surface heat up, the steak browns and caramelizes on the surface; the golden brown and crusty surface is referred to as the steak’s “crust”.

The crust on the steak makes it look and taste delicious. A good crust tells you the steak was prepared properly (normally!) and likely tender in the center.

What’s the Difference Between a Sear and a Crust?

The terms “sear” and “crust” are often used interchangeably, but they are a bit different. Searing refers to cooking steak quickly at a high heat and the crust is the brown and caramelized appearance as a result of searing.

Searing the steak doesn’t automatically result in a steakhouse crust. Chefs use a specific process for getting the perfect finished crust beyond just simply searing. While methods differ from chef to chef, below are expert tips from our team to serve up steaks like those in a steakhouse.

Detailed Tips & Considerations

  • Dry your steak well: Pat the steak dry with paper towels before cooking. Any moisture on the surface will steam and boil when it comes in contact with the hot surface. This will prevent the steak from forming its golden crust.
  • Take the Chill Off: For an evenly cooked steak, take it out of the fridge for about 15 minutes before firing up your cooking surface. A freezing cold steak cooks unevenly.
  • Season: Sprinkle the steak with salt and your favorite seasonings before cooking. Salt draws out moisture, helping to form a crust and intensifying flavors. We personally like to use sea salt and an all-purpose steak seasoning.
  • Choose a good oil: For searing in a pan or on the grill, use oil with a high smoke point, such as vegetable, canola, or grapeseed oil. If you want to flavor it with butter, add it at the end when it’s almost done.
  • Oil the steak: Not the pan. Place the oiled steak onto a dry cooking surface. This also prevents you from using an excess of fat. This is my preference as I don’t like my steak swimming in oil.
  • Preheat the cooking surface: Whether using a skillet, grill, griddle or broiler, make sure it is hot before adding the steak. High heat leads to a quick sear, caramelization, and a great crust.
  • Space out your steaks: Cook one or two at a time to prevent overcrowding the cooking surface. Overcrowding leads to steaming instead of searing. A steamed steak is pale and pasty.
  • Rest your steak after seasoning: Allow the seasoned steak to sit for a few minutes after seasoning. This helps the salt penetrate the meat and improves browning.
  • Choose the right cut of steak: Look for well-marbled steaks with some visible fat. Marbling helps the crust along. Check out our article on sirloin steak vs ribeye!
  • Don’t flip too soon or too often: Resist the urge to flip the steak too frequently. Let it develop a good sear on one side before flipping to the other. Top tip: If it resists, leave it alone, or the surface will tear.
  • Pay attention to timing: Searing is a quick process.
  • Consider using cast iron: A cast-iron skillet is a great tool for creating a crust as it retains and distributes heat evenly.
  • Rest your steak: After cooking, let the steak rest for a few minutes before serving. This allows the crust to set. It will also prevent your steak from losing juices and drying out. This is probably one of the most missed steps we see.
  • Play around with rubs: Try different rubs to infuse the steak with unique flavors and create an additional crust layer.
  • Finish with butter: Add a small pat of butter to the hot steak right before serving. The buttery richness complements the crust and elevates the overall taste.

Step-by-Step Guide

Here are the 8 steps to follow to get the perfect steak crust every time:

  1. Take the Chill Off: Let the steak sit covered out of the fridge for about 15 minutes before cooking.
  2. Dry your steak: Use paper towels to pat the steak dry. Don’t forget to place it onto a dry plate afterward, not a plate with juices.
  3. Season the steak: Sprinkle the steak with salt and any other seasonings. Leave the steak for 5 minutes or so to let it absorb the salt into the surface layer.
  4. Preheat cooking surface: Whether using a skillet, grill, or griddle, preheat it until shimmering hot.
  5. Oil the steak:  Brush the cooking surface with high smoke point oil.
  6. Sear the steak: Place the steak on the hot surface and sear for 2-3 minutes on each side without flipping too often.
  7. Baste with butter (Optional): For extra flavor, baste the steak with butter, garlic, and herbs during cooking.
  8. Rest the steak: Remove it from the heat and let it rest for 5 minutes to allow the juices to redistribute.

Common Myths

  • Searing “locks in” juices: One prevalent myth is that searing steaks helps “lock in” their juices, preventing them from drying out. Searing does not create a barrier that traps liquids; it only caramelizes the surface for added flavor. To keep the juiciness in, cook the steak to your desired level of doneness and let it rest before serving.
  • Cooking steak straight from the fridge is best: Bringing the steak temperature up a bit before cooking ensures more even cooking and allows for better browning on the surface. This is often referred to as “taking the chill off” the steak.
  • Only salt before cooking: While salting the steak before cooking is essential for flavor, some believe adding pepper or other spices will burn and ruin the crust. In truth, adding additional seasonings before cooking can only enhance the overall taste and result.
  • Poking or cutting the steak to check doneness: It is a common myth that poking the steak with a fork or knife during cooking is the best way to determine its doneness. This method leads to the loss of precious juices. Instead, use a meat thermometer to accurately read the steak’s internal temperature.
  • Flipping the steak often is best: Flip it a few times, sure, but leave about a minute between flips.
  • A dark rust means it’s overcooked: It does not necessarily mean the steak is overcooked. A beautiful crust can be achieved without sacrificing the steak’s internal status.
  • Pan searing is the only way to achieve a crust: While searing is a popular method for creating a steak crust, it is not the only way. Grilling, griddling, and pan-frying are other high-heat cooking techniques that can also develop a delicious crust on the steak’s surface.

Wrapping it up

It may seem like a lot to take in, but it’s relatively simple once you get going.

Follow these tips and steps, and you’ll be dishing up tender steaks with everyone asking,” Where did you learn to cook steak like this?”