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Why rub steak with olive oil before cooking?

I have already posted tonight telling everyone else how to cook steaks, but question remains: why rub it with olive oil?
Most sites, including top butchers, recommend that. I have never done it. Just season liberally with kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper. Using good cuts of steak ensures that the marbling will somewhat melt and "lubricate" the steak. What does the EVOO add that I am missing? I always figured it would make it flame more. I get a nice crust without it.

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  1. What I have heard is that Olive Oil helps in raising the temperature on the surface of the meat from the heat source for a quicker and better sear.

    1. Flavor?

      I don't do it myself because I generally want nothing to stand in the way between me and my beef -- except for some salt and pepper.

      That said, I can see the benefits of using EVOO on cuts of beef like skirt steak that may need a certain amount of "lubrication" to avoid sticking.

      2 Replies
      1. re: ipsedixit

        The best tip I received for lubricating beef or pork was from my father many years ago when I was just a small lad. He showed me how to trims the excess fat from any beef or pork cut and save them for the pan, grill pan or outdoor grill grate. For indoor cooking, I throw some scraps from the present steak to be cooked into a hot pan first....or from some scraps which I have saved and kept frozen in the freezer. For outdoor grilling, you can take a larger piece and run it along the grate with a pair of tongs....similar to how you would lubricate the grate with an oiled rag.

        No extra costs....and real original flavor.

      2. I am in total agreement with you. If you buy a decent cut & grade of meat for your steak, you certainly don't need to rub it with olive oil. My steaks sear beautifully w/out it.

        Other lesser cuts may need extra "lubrication" as some put it, but I wouldn't waste my extra virgin olive oil on them.

        1. A bit of lube will not harm the precious steak taste and is useful(though, yes, you do not NEED it).
          Superthin coat, anyway.
          Sometimes it is used for flavor, obviously, more liberal.
          Also, carcinogen blocker for the blackened meat.

          1 Reply
          1. re: dietndesire

            If the oil is on the steak, and the flames are licking the steak, how do you figure the oil "blocks" the carcinogens from forming on the charred fat??? (Which is the best part, btw).

          2. If you are pre-salting and have a hot grill there surely is no need to oil a quality steak. Oil can burn or take on an off flavor from the grill grates. Leaner cuts might need a very small amount but I just use vegetable oil. I find I rarely need to do that.

            1. no lubrication needed unless you're using an inferior pan.

              Heat the cast iron up, sear the meat, then toss under the broiler.

              1. I guess that I am in the minority here. I love rubbing my steak with olive oil or any other kind of vegetable oil. It crusts better and it stays moister when grilled. Also, the salt and the pepper which I apply to the steak before cooking adhere better.

                I never did the above until a couple of years ago, after watching this done on a program on the Food Network. I'm a convert. It works!

                1. heat spreads more evenly. oil heats and transfers heat better than air. olive oil tastes good.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: thew

                    science aside, and i totally agree with it, i use olive oil because i get better results. and my sample size is no trivial number.

                    i'll also finish with EVOO in some cases.

                    i hope that answers the OP's question.

                    1. re: tommy

                      i wouldn't say that was science aside. just not emphasized

                  2. It's not, I think, a longstanding tradition. My parents didn't do it. And it was never suggested when I started learning to cook back in the '70s and '80s.

                    I wonder whether the practice might stem from *la fiorentina*, the Tuscan grilled T-bone with olive oil that was all the rage back in the '80s. Hazan points out that even many Italians outside Tuscany prepare it wrongly by marinating the steak in oil ("which will make even the finest meat taste of tallow") instead of just seasoning it, grilling it and then drizzling it -- when done but while still on the grill -- with a few drops of olive oil.

                    15 Replies
                    1. re: carswell

                      i wonder how long the Palm and (IINM) Luger has been doing it this way.

                      1. re: tommy

                        Oiling a steak and putting it under a 1750 degree broiler is not the norm. It is however a great way to get flare ups and drip pan fires.
                        I can't see why any of that has any bearing on a home cook unless you have a full size swing broiler in your kitchen.
                        Not to mention Luger uses Prime beef which already contains plenty of fat.

                        1. re: Fritter

                          Happens on the weber too. I think I tried it once and it flared up much worse than it normally does, being that I don't trim the excess fat, I want that fat to char, it's awesome.

                          1. re: Fritter

                            "Never" is the wrong answer, at least as far as the Palm goes.

                            i would think the drip pan as plenty of fat in it already, and a bit of olive oil isn't going to make a difference as far as drip pan fires.

                            Luger also adds butter to the finished product, which as you say already contains plenty of fat, so I'm not sure the amount of fat comes directly into every equation.

                            1. re: tommy

                              Oiling the steaks makes a huge difference in fires. You are not talking about grilling one or two steaks at home. The grates get clogged with oil, they catch fire. Every thing has to stop to put out the fire and clean the mess.
                              The other culprit is the drip tray that lays at an angle under the grates. Gunk builds up on this over the course of a service. When you oil every steak that adds up toot sweet. Catch that on fire and you really back things up because you then have to stop and break down the broiler.
                              I can tell you from first hand experience and plenty of fires that it does make a difference.
                              They also have to pay for oil, the baking soda to put out the fire as well as the towels they lease and destroy cleaning the mess .
                              Adding butter at the end is irrelevant to the cooking process.
                              Prime steaks even after dry aging have enough fat to oil the grates.
                              Some do do it but I think it's highly unlikely that Luger is one of those places.

                              1. re: Fritter

                                When they rerun "Steak Paradises" we'll both know for sure.

                                Dry aging, i believe, doesn't remove fat content.

                                1. re: tommy

                                  Darn it was just on yesterday & I missed it bc I shut it off since "Hamburger Paradise" was making me too hungry!!

                                  I agree all the way with Fritter. Restaurants do NOT want kitchen fires and do whatever they can to prevent them. Super bad for business.

                                  Dry aging does not alter fat content, just moisture content.

                                  Butter on a cooked steak is a GARNISH; not how they cook it. Same for "fiorentina" (Tuscan) steaks. The olive oil is considered a garnish.

                                  Haven't been to Luger's but I've been to Gallaghers a few times and HIGHLY doubt they oil up their steaks. Ditto with Palms, but as a favor, I will ask them when I go next weekend ;)

                                  1. re: Phurstluv

                                    I agree that you should do yourself a favor and find out.

                                    1. re: Phurstluv

                                      "I will ask them when I go next weekend"

                                      Lucky you! I hope you have a great meal. :)

                                    2. re: tommy

                                      "Dry aging, i believe, doesn't remove fat content"

                                      I don't believe I said it did;
                                      "Prime steaks even after dry aging have enough fat to oil the grates"
                                      However dry aging reduces moisture content by roughly 25% on average.
                                      Steak paradises didn't show much of any thing about how the steaks are cooked at Luger. They focused on the dry aging.

                                      1. re: Fritter

                                        clearly your statement linked dry-aging with fat content.

                                        but you can be right. i don't mind.

                                        1. re: tommy

                                          Peter Luger uses prime steak. They have plenty of fat. No extra is needed for a proper sear on a grill grate with a temperature well in excess of 1,000 degrees.
                                          Dry aging reduces moisture not fat but it does make the fat more dense for lack of a better descriptive.
                                          I'm not linking dry-aging with fat content. Fat content is a grade issue.
                                          Prime Vs choice.
                                          On edit;
                                          I also want to be clear that my statements regarding oiling steaks were strictly related to Luger or other steak houses with ultra high BTU infrared broilers or similar. Many chefs do things differently for many reasons. I have seen many use oil in restaurants. I've also put out my share of fires.

                                          1. re: Fritter

                                            And to take it one step further, reducing moisture on a piece of meat increases the dry area for a better sear.

                              2. re: tommy

                                Never been to Palm, tommy, but have a hard time believing Luger's porterhouse has been marinated in or even brushed with olive oil.

                              3. re: carswell

                                I think the "rage" of Tuscan grilled beef is not limited to the '80s.
                                What would have been really aces would have been Crockett and Tubbs doing one with Flock of Seagulls in the background.

                              4. I wouldn't bother with EVOO as it's burning point is too low and any flavor it contains would probably be lost in the grilling process. standard olive oil would be fine. if you really want the taste of EVOO apply it after grilling.

                                as far as why oil a steak before grilling? Heat conduction. Sure Lugers doesn't have to bother, at the temps they cook at any surface moisture is flashed off nearly instantaniously, so not an issue. but at outdoor bbq temps if you don't use oil the surface moisture steams off during the early cooking stage, and actually insulates the surface from the more extreme heat to some extent and delays the sear. Oil will conduct the heat to the surface much faster and help seal any juices inside.

                                and if you get flame up from the oil than you are applying far too much oil, it doesnt take but a light brushing of oil to do the job.

                                I would also wait until after grilling to apply pepper, the grill will burn the pepper.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: willdupre

                                  That's a good assessment but I'm intrigued by the notion of CH's at large that this has to be an absolute one way or the other. I think it's wise to asses your cooking equipment as well as the quality of the flesh you are cooking. Prime meat should not need oil vs lower grades or very lean cuts.
                                  I use a BGE at home and can easily get grate temps of 1,000 degrees. No oil needed.
                                  Now on my old gas grill that was another story. It needed all the help it could get.
                                  What I really wanted to comment on was the pepper burning as I have seen this posted a few times recently. Many years ago I did a brief stint at The Brown Derby. They used to do a crushed peppercorn NY strip that was very good. Basically we took whole peppercorns and roughly crushed them. Then the peppercorns were forced into the flesh by laying the steak on them and pushing down on the steak very hard.
                                  When those peppercorns would hit the grill the smell was divine.
                                  Not for every one but I love the smell of peppercorns on the grill.

                                  1. re: Fritter

                                    Otherwise known as Steak au Poivre. A classic.

                                    I don't get all the attention oil on your steak is getting. And if you dry-brine your steaks the way I do, there is no surface moisture by the time they are on the grill.

                                    And I use lots of kosher salt, and a montreal steak seasoning blend that has lots of coarse salt & cracked black pepper on it. Never got a burnt taste - just juicy & well seasoned. Why waste your olive oil to begin with? I just don't get it.

                                2. not sure if this was mentioned before, but just to add my 2 cents, i've noticed a better crust when i use the EVOO on my steak, then without it.

                                  1. Some grilling gurus recommend oiling the steak before cooking instead oiling the grates. As far as the Olive Oil is concerned, it's my belief that it gets recommended over other oils because it's considered a higher quality oil.
                                    I don't know any better, so I just do what they say, they're the pro's. I'm just a guy who's trying to improve my grilling abilities and not burn the dang thing! :)

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: ITry

                                      i'm stopping my olive oil use and going right for the prepackaged "steak seasoning", because pre-packaged pre-ground pepper and seasonings really show my family and friends that I care enough to almost buy the very best.

                                      and hopefully its use is the purest expression of my particular expertise on this subject.