Pan-frying is a versatile cooking method that works well for various steak cuts. Some of the best cuts for pan frying include ribeye, filet mignon, and strip steak (also known as New York strip). These cuts are tender, flavorful, and have an ideal fat distribution, making them suitable for searing and cooking evenly in a pan while retaining their natural juices and flavors.
In restaurants, we chefs love to use the pan frying method to cook a delicious piece of steak. However, the secret to an amazing steak lies in selecting the perfect cut of steak. Yes, using the right techniques will help you to achieve that tender, juicy, and flavorful experience that so many steak lovers crave. However, that is only one part of the process.
In this article, I will introduce you to the best steak cuts for pan frying. I’ll also explain the unique characteristics of each cut, as well as offer tips on how to cook them to perfection.
As a chef, I can rank my top 3 best steak cuts to pan-fry:
- Ribeye steak (best overall).
- New York strip steak (Runner up)
- T-bone steak (Best for sharing)
Rib-eye steak is a boneless cut of meat from a rib section. It’s the best steak to pan-fry since it has more fat when compared to other types of steak. However, this cut of beef is packed with flavor.
Thicker cuts are better for pan searing. First, it’s more forgiving since it’s easy to overcook a thin cut of meat. Thick steak requires more time to cook to your preferred doneness. Here’s an article on how to cook rib-eye steak in a frying pan.
One to one and a half-inch thick is the best rib-eye steak thickness for pan-frying.
New York strip steak
New york strip steak is a beef cut coming from the short loin, sometimes with a bone attached. If you leave a bone and a tenderloin part, you get a t-bone steak.
It’s one of the best steak cuts for pan frying. New york strip steak has a good amount of beef marbling and excellent texture. It comes from a muscle group that doesn’t get much exercise; therefore, meat is tender and juicy thanks to the marbling. It’s quite a large piece of meat, coming at about 0,75-1 pound and 1-1,5 inches thick.
Cooking New York strip steak is easy. It’s not too lean and big enough, making it harder to overcook.
T-bone steak is the next best steak for pan searing. It is a cut of beef from the short loin. It contains a strip of top loin and a small chunk of tenderloin.
T-bone steak packs many unique flavors and is fantastic for pan-frying. However, some home cooks find it difficult to cook it in a skillet or any other type of pan. Since it’s a thick cut of meat with a bone – it cooks slower than a boneless steak. Here’s an article on how to cook t-bone steak in a frying pan.
A great alternative to a t-bone steak is porterhouse steaks. It is cut from the rib end of the sirloin. It’s a big piece of meat; therefore, it’s usually cooked to serve two people. Non or less, you can pan-fry it as well.
Porterhouse steak is cut from the short loin, just behind the rib area, and it’s like getting two-for-one – it includes a tender filet mignon on one side and a savory New York strip on the other, separated by a T-shaped bone.
Now, why is the Porterhouse best steak for stovetop searing? Well, it’s all about that thickness and the marbling. A good Porterhouse is usually around 1.5 inches thick, which is the sweet spot for pan-frying. This thickness ensures a nice sear on the outside while still getting the inside cooked to perfection. Plus, the marbling in this cut promises a tender, juicy, and flavorful result.
Sirloin steak is a cut from the rear back portion of the animal. It’s divided into two types of steak. The top sirloin is a premium cut since it’s more tender and flavorsome. You’ll find this cut of beef marked as a “top sirloin” in the supermarket or farmers’ market. The bottom sirloin is larger; however, it’s less tender. You’ll find it for sale marked as a “sirloin steak.”
Sirloin is a boneless and tender cut of beef that is perfect for pan-frying. It does not pack as much flavor as rib-eye steak; however, it contains less fat.
The perfect cut should be about an inch thick. Thinner cuts cook faster; therefore, it’s easy to overcook them. Here’s an excellent guide explaining how to cook sirloin steak in a frying pan.
Fillet steak comes from the lower middle of the back and forms part of the sirloin. It’s one of the most tender cuts of meat. It’s also very lean and one of the most expensive cuts.
Fillet muscle is the least active; therefore, it’s so tender. Filet mignon and chateaubriand are the most common steak cuts from the fillet.
Both filet mignon and the chateaubriand are excellent for pan searing. However, the chateaubriand is usually a little over one pound, making it hard for an amateur home cook to cook it well. I recommend finishing it off in the oven most of the time.
Here’s an article on how to cook a fillet steak in a frying pan.
On the other hand, Filet mignon is a small cut of meat. It’s usually cut to about one and a half inches. It’s easy to pan-fry, unlike the chateaubriand.
Rump steak is a cut between the leg and the chine cut right through the aitchbone. It has a firmer texture, and some people find it chewy.
It is usually cut to about an inch thick. It does not contain much fat; however, this meat cut is still packed with flavor.
It’s easy to pan-fry rump steak. Since it’s a thin cut of meat, it tends to cook fast.
Hanger steak is a cut from the short plate on the underside of the beef. It’s undoubtedly one of the most underrated cuts of meat.
Hanger steak is tender and packed with amazing flavors. It has some fat, and it does melt in your mouth because it’s not an active muscle.
Hanger steak is a long and thin cut of meat. I recommend cutting it in half or using a large skillet for pan-frying it.
Skirt steak comes from the diaphragm muscle of the cow, nestled right below the ribcage. There are actually two types: the outside skirt steak, which is more tender, and the inside skirt steak, which is a little tougher but still delicious.
What makes skirt steak a pan-frying champ? First, it’s a thin cut, usually around 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick, which means it cooks super fast. You’ll get that beautiful sear on the outside without worrying about overcooking the inside. Plus, skirt steak has this amazing natural marbling that keeps it juicy and packed with flavor.
Flank steak comes from the abdominal muscles of the cow, towards the rear end, below the loin. It’s a long and lean cut known for its distinctive grain and fibrous texture.
So, why is flank steak awesome for pan-frying? Well, it’s usually about 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick, which makes it perfect for quick, high-heat cooking. This thickness lets you achieve a lovely, caramelized crust on the outside while keeping the inside tender and juicy. Since flank steak has a relatively low-fat content, it’s important not to overcook it, or it might get tough and chewy.
How to cook steak in a frying pan
Cooking steak in a frying pan is effortless. Unlike grilling, pan-frying is easy. It only takes a few minutes and a few ingredients to cook the most delicious and juicy steak.
First, before you even start pan-frying steak, you’ll need to determine the steak’s doneness. You can do that with a probe thermometer which is the easiest way. Alternatively, use a finger test method. Most chefs rely on finger tests only and do not use thermometers. However, if you do not feel comfortable with the thinger test, use a thermometer.
Follow the step-by-step guide below on cooking any steak cut in a frying pan. Since I’m using a one-inch thick beef cut, the same cooking method applies to all types of cuts: rib-eye, t-bone, sirloin, fillet, rump, hanger, or any other cut of steak.
- Thick frying pan or skillet
- Paper towels
- Chopping board
- Sharp knife
- Probe thermometer
- Any steak cut
- Olive oil or any other oil with a high smoking point (canola and vegetable oils works well)
- Salt and pepper
- Fresh herbs
- Crushed garlic
- Take the steak out of the fridge 30-40 minutes before cooking. Season it with a generous amount of salt and pepper. Leave it to rest at room temperature.
- Prepare everything in advance. Peele the garlic. Wash fresh herbs. Have a thermometer and tongs on a countertop ready to be used. Preparing everything in advance is essential since the steak-cooking process is fast.
- Put a frying pan on high heat and let it sit until it starts to smoke lightly.
- Pour two to three tablespoons of your preferred oil (make sure it has a high smoking point). Spread the oil throughout the entire cooking surface.
- Place the steak in a frying pan. Do not drop it in the pan. Place it gently.
- An extremely hot pan will make a nice crust on the outside of the steak. I’m cooking a medium-rare rib-eye steak; therefore, I’ll cook it twice for two minutes on each side. Be aware that boneless steaks require more time to cook. If you are searing a t-bone steak, leave it for a longer time. When checking the doneness, check the thickest part of the steak. Generally, thick steaks cook longer, while thin ones take less time.
- Halfway through cooking, add butter, herbs, and garlic. Baste it with butter to add more flavor.
- When a steak is cooked, take it out and leave it to rest. Leaving it to rest will allow the stake to remain juicy on the inside.
How to choose a high-quality steak for pan frying?
The first decision you should make before buying steak is whether you want grass-fed or grain-fed. Grass-fed cows roam around and graze on grass, which gives their meat a leaner texture and a more earthy, robust flavor. Grain-fed cows, on the other hand, usually hang out in feedlots and are fed a mix of grains and other ingredients such as soy and corn. Their meat tends to be fattier and has a milder taste. Both can be great for pan-frying, but it’s up to you and your taste buds to decide which one you prefer.
Looking for marbling on a steak is one of the key factors determining the flavor of the steak. It’s white flecks of fat you see running through the meat. The more marbling, the more tender and flavorful your steak will be. When you’re at the store or butcher, look for a steak with a good amount of evenly distributed marbling. Trust me; it’ll make all the difference in a final dish.
Grading systems used in the USA are designed to help you make a better buying decision. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has three main ones: Prime, Choice, and Select. Prime is the highest quality with the most marbling, followed by Choice and then Select. Prime or Choice is by far the best for pan-fried steak. Surely, if you are looking for a budget-friendly option, go for Select.
If you have a local butcher, that’s awesome! They’re often super knowledgeable and can help you pick out the perfect steak for your needs. Plus, their meat tends to be fresher than what you’ll find in a supermarket. But hey, if you don’t have a butcher nearby, don’t sweat it. Just look for a supermarket steak that has a vibrant red color, a firm texture, and a decent amount of marbling.
However, nowadays, you can also buy steaks online from reputable suppliers. As a chef, I buy the majority of my steak produce online. It’s a great way to get your hands on some high-quality meat, especially if you’re after something specific like grass-fed or a certain cut. Just make sure you’re buying from a trusted source with good reviews.
Should I use bone-in or boneless steak for pan-frying?
When deciding whether to use bone-in or boneless steak for pan-frying, it’s essential to consider a few factors. Both options can yield delicious results, but there are some differences. Bone-in steaks, such as ribeye or T-bone, often provide more flavor and moisture due to the bone marrow and surrounding fat. However, they may require slightly longer cooking times and careful attention to ensure even cooking.
On the other hand, boneless steaks, like filet mignon or strip steak, are more uniform in shape and thickness, which can make them easier to cook evenly. They also typically require less cooking time than bone-in cuts. Ultimately, your choice will depend on your personal preference, cooking experience, and desired flavor profile.
What is the most tender steak to pan-fry?
Fillet steak is the most tender steak to pan-fry. Since fillet comes from the lower middle of the back and forms part of the sirloin, it’s the least active muscle; therefore, it’s the most tender.
Is Top Sirloin good for pan-frying?
Yes, top sirloin is good for pan-frying. Top sirloin is a premium cut. It’s tender and packed with flavor; however, rib-eye or t-bone is even more tender because it’s not as lean.
What kind of steak can you cook in a pan?
You can cook any steak in a pan. However, boneless steaks are best since steak with bones is very thick. The ideal cut of steak for pan-frying is one to one and a half inches thick.
What is the best oil or fat to use when pan-frying a steak?
The best oil or fat for pan-frying a steak should have a high smoke point and add flavor to the dish. Common choices include vegetable oil, canola oil, or refined avocado oil. For a richer flavor, you can use clarified butter (ghee) or a combination of oil and butter, which will provide a delicious crust and enhanced taste.
How thick should the steak be for pan-frying?
For optimal pan-frying results, a steak should generally be about 1 to 1.5 inches thick. This thickness allows the steak to develop a flavorful crust on the outside while still cooking evenly and achieving the desired level of doneness on the inside without overcooking or drying out.