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Ranking of steak cooking methods?

I know this is a bit subjective, but what is your ranking for the best way to cook a steak (say a 2 inch ribeye or porterhouse) using just salt/pepper

Steakhouse (salamander)
Charcoal Grill
Gas Grill
Infrared Grill
Pan Sear+Oven
Home Broiler

What is the key difference between these methods? Is it just how hot the cooking equipment can get?

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  1. Totally depends on the steak cut for me. Sirloin, I'd put on a white hot charcoal grill. Filet, I'd do in a cast iron frying pan with butter and olive oil. Funny, growing up, all my steaks were pan steaks except during the summer when the hibachi was out. Grilling indoors was unheard of :)

    1. so depends on the cut (even how a specific cut looks . . .) that said -

      Pan sear + Oven is my go to method. I think it does a great job with most cuts.

      1. At home, pan sear+oven wins out over the grill, except for skirt steak, but that exception is only for charcoal, not gas.

        1. Salt grilled in cast iron or charcoal grill. Gas grill is okay if it's especialy hot out and nobody wants to mess with charcoal.

          1. I have to have charcoal and wood and an outdoor grill with char, smoke, and red center. I can't fathom "cooking" a good steak indoors. I would pan fry a fish, instead.

            14 Replies
            1. re: Veggo

              Agreed, Veggo. Gotta have that smoke and char. It makes the steak.

                1. re: Josh

                  The char adds complexity by creating new flavor compounds (maillard and carmelization are both at work). However the nuances of smoke from hardwoods adds yet another whole level of flavor and even more complexity to the meat.

                  To use a burger analogy:
                  Pan searing a steak is like serving burger on a bun
                  Grilling it over gas is like adding the special dressing to the bun
                  Grilling it over hardwood is like adding lettuce, tomato, onions, etc.

                  Is smoke required - ask my neighbors who have only eaten steaks cooked over hardwoods at my house - about 80% have gone out and bought their own grills and wood chips and refuse to eat steak any other way.

                  1. re: RetiredChef

                    I hear you. I only began grilling steaks over hard wood (usually pecan) within the last year or so, and I'll never go back.

                    1. re: RetiredChef

                      I'm familiar with cooking over charcoal and hardwood, both. I agree it adds a pleasant flavor, but I also don't always want a smoky flavor. It really depends on the dish.

                      Surely you aren't suggesting that smoky flavor is always desirable in a steak.

                      1. re: Josh

                        Actually, I'm hard-pressed to think of one of my go-to steak recipes that is not improved by a kiss of smoke.

                  2. re: Perilagu Khan

                    You do realize that the maillard process can happen on any hot surface. Pans work just as well as grills. In fact, I'd put one of my pan seared ribeyes against a ribeye anyone cooked on their home grill any day.

                    1. re: jameshig

                      i think the maillard junkies sometimes mistakenly believe that the whole discussion is about crust. it's not. People who prefer the grill do so because it creates flavors you just can't get from a pan or a broiler (to be fair, some restaurant broilers heat from above and below, and create some of the same flavors from meat juices dripping and burning), and settle for a lesser crust to get that flavor.

                      Also, and at the risk of losing chowhound cred, if you like to marinate steaks often as I do, pan searing is less than ideal, while a grill uses the extra drippings from the marinade to create even more flavorful smoke. People here tend to hate on marinated steak, but then they claim to love carne asada and galbi and such. Go figure.

                      1. re: cowboyardee

                        There are steaks I marinate and steaks I would never do that to! I love marinated skirt and flank steaks, but not super flavorful ribeye or even sirloin, which just sit out with a nice healthy s and p sprinkle before grilling. I agree that marinated steak must be blotted dry and grilled, not pan seared, which I only do in very limiting weather conditions.

                        1. re: mcf

                          Skirt steak usually has more beefy flavor than ribeye or sirloin. What it doesn't have is as much fat. Still, can't think of any reason it should be sacrilege to marinate some ribeye - it takes a marinade just fine and comes out delicious. Sirloin even more so.

                          I'm not even convinced that a marinated steak should be blotted dry before grilling. Depends on the marinade.

                          1. re: cowboyardee

                            Flank, too, is relatively lean (makes great burgers home ground, though), but flavorful anyway. I don't consider anyone's choosing how to prepare his own steak sacrilege, but I prefer those other steaks (and NY strip) unmarinated. I would also never marinate tenderloin (nor eat it, mostly; too lean), but I'll sauce it to give it more richness and flavor, in ways I'm not likely to adorn ribeye or sirloin.

                            I blot marinade because I don't want all the flare up from the oil, and I don't want my steak to steam, either.

                        2. re: cowboyardee

                          >>>People who prefer the grill do so because it creates flavors you just can't get from a pan or a broiler

                          Exactly - you can take 4 ribeyes from the same loin and cook them 4 different ways

                          Pan sear
                          Restaurant broiler
                          Gas Grill
                          Grill over hardwood

                          and they all will taste distinctive. IMHO there will be more complex flavors and more nuances added as you go down the list.

                          If a person just wants to taste the meat without any other flavors then Pan searing is the best method. But to others we want a more complex (this does not mean better) flavor profile and we like the added nuances.

                          1. re: RetiredChef

                            More isn't always better. Sometimes it is. A nicely pan-seared steak can be indescribably delicious when done well.

                            1. re: Josh

                              Agreed. A nice brown crust from a well pan-seared steak (especially when basted with browning butter, garlic, and a little thyme) brings its own flavor to the table. Quite different from the flavor of a grilled steak, but distinct and worthwhile in its own right.

                              Preferring one method doesn't mean you can't appreciate another.

                  3. Makes little difference.

                    The grade (and quality) of beef will matter more than any type of cooking method, so long as it is hot, dry, direct heat.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: ipsedixit

                      Ipse, you sound like a blind man in a dark room searching for a black cat that isn't there. There is nothing that can be done indoors with a steak that can't be done doubly better outdoors.

                      1. re: Veggo

                        Apparently you do not have a working indoor *real* fireplace.

                      2. re: ipsedixit


                      3. My preference in descending order:
                        Charcoal grill (especially with marinaded cuts)
                        Pan sear + oven
                        Gas Grill
                        Grill pan (properly hot)
                        Broiler (actually better than pan searing if the steak was marinaded)

                        Side topic - have people who swear by pan searing in cast iron ever tried using a stainless steel & aluminum pan, getting a few tablespoons of rice bran oil (or another oil with a very high smoke point) up to temp where it just starts to smoke, and then searing on that? Gives me a better and more even crust than I've ever managed with cast iron. Why is cast iron always listed as everyone's favorite pan for the job?

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: cowboyardee

                          Why is cast iron always listed as everyone's favorite pan for the job?


                          Better heat retention. Their heat retention qualities allow for even cooking temperature without hot spots.

                          Plus, and it might be only my imagination, but I think it imparts a certain je ne sais quo to the food from all that seasoning and patina on it.

                          1. re: ipsedixit

                            I'll buy the 'je ne sais quoi' argument, maybe. I have not found cast iron to be very good at avoiding hot spots though.

                            I suspect it has more to do with people trying to cook steaks without oil - cast iron certainly works better if you're using a dry pan. But I'm not really sure why people do that when you can get such good, consistent results with a high-smoke point oil.

                            1. re: cowboyardee

                              I would disagree with the "cast iron certainly works better if you're using a dry pan" statement.

                              Now I may be wrong about this, but this is my opinion.
                              I always use a little oil when pan-searing in my cast iron. The Malliard reaction occurs between 300 - 500 degrees F, and heating a cast-iron skillet dry to much above 400 can start to damage the seasoning layer if left for too long. The oil draws a lot of heat off of the pan and uses the energy to brown the outside of the meat instead of burning off the seasoning layer.

                              If you want to get that reaction w/o oil, you generally put it in the broiler. I like my steak black and blue, so a rediculously hot cast-iron skillet with a bit of peanut oil is my best friend!

                              1. re: bwinter714

                                "The Malliard reaction occurs between 300 - 500 degrees F, and heating a cast-iron skillet dry to much above 400 can start to damage the seasoning layer if left for too long."
                                I agree - one of the first reasons I started using a non-CI pan for searing meat is that the temperatures where I like to sear damage the seasoning on the pan. That said, I think a lot of people are heating non-seasoned CI pans as hot as they can possibly get em and then searing the steak in the dry pan (sometimes, oil is brushed on the steak itself, but not added to the pan or else it could ostensibly ignite). The standard theory is that a CI pan can take higher temps - Alton Brown recommends this method, and I'm often surprised by just how influential his advice has been. But my thought is that oil evens out hot spots; it conducts heat into food more effectively; and anyway, most people can't get a pan much above 500 degrees in a home kitchen, so the point about CI tolerating higher temperatures is sort of moot.

                                Try a few tablespoons of peanut oil (rice bran oil is even better) in a clad or disc-bottom aluminum/stainless pan. Get the oil up to the smoking point (but just barely) before adding the meat. I think you'll be pleased with the results. The light, reflective surface creates a better crust. And at the very least, the preheating won't take so long.

                          2. re: cowboyardee

                            I'm not sure what the talk about cast iron with indoor cooking. My Filet Mignon is always on stainless steel, so I can reduce for sauce later. I can't imagine trying to go au poivre in the CI.

                          3. for me it's always this:
                            1. sear
                            2. sous vide
                            3. sear+flamber or "disposable chopsticks grill" (I just pile old chopsticks in the middle of my butane stove, light it up for a bit, then turn off the stove so it's only the chopsticks burning)

                            1. For a 2 inch ribeye or porterhouse/T-bone:
                              Hardwood charcoal grill
                              Enameled cast iron grill-pan seared/oven finish
                              Gas grill
                              Steakhouse (some tend to go for a "crust" on thick steaks which often tastes burnt)

                              Use prime beef, dry aged if possible.

                              1. wow I'm surprised how many people prefer pan sear or grill over going to a steakhouse.

                                Don't steakhouses have these fancy broilers that are supposed to achieve temperatures/effects that you can't reproduce with a charcoal grill or cast iron pan?

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: flzhang

                                  You might be surprised at how hot you can get a charcoal grill. Use a lot of charcoal.

                                  But the main reason I prefer a grill is you get flavors from the juices running off the steak and burning that you don't really get at a steakhouse. Good associations from childhood with those flavors - grilled steaks were one of the few things my dad made well, and it was a sort of special occasion meal that I always looked forward to.

                                  IMO, the biggest reason steakhouse steaks are so good isn't really their broilers but the fact that they buy the best quality meat in the first place.

                                  1. re: cowboyardee

                                    I'm a fan of the pan roast(sear, then baste with whole butter, thyme and garlic, finish in the oven), myself. second place would be a wood fired grill.

                                2. Default method, after grilling steaks at home for more than 50 years: get good prime dry aged NY strip or ribeye and cook over real charcoal, not briquets. For a change of pace, place a cast iron frying pan directly onto the hot coals and put a well salted ribeye in and cook for 5 minutes each side. Perfection

                                  1. There are more differences than temperature.

                                    Pan sear + oven is a good way to go, especially with thicker cuts, because you get a nice crust over much more of the steak's surface than you do using a grill.

                                    1. Given people's preferences for grilling, why do most people on CH still advocate the pan and sear vs using the broiler? Wouldn't the broiler better imitate an outdoor grill?

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: RoastedChicken

                                        I'd say your question contains the answer, if you read between the lines. Most people do not understand the difference between cooking methods, specifically conduction vs. convection vs. radiation as heat transfer methods. This results in a lot of lore being passed around.

                                        If what you are after is a steak with a well-developed brown crust on its exterior, that's achieved by exposing the protein to direct heat (conduction). The more surface area of the meat that comes into contact with heat, the more surface area will have that crust.

                                        Steaks cooked over open flame on a grill only get conduction heat from the places where it comes into contact with the metal bars of the grill. The surface in between the bars gets radiant heat. This means less surface area in direct contact with heat, and less crust overall. A broiler in a restaurant is much the same. Where the steak comes in contact with the grill surface there will be more crusting.

                                        The one thing you don't get in a broiler that you do get on a grill is the added flavor from the smoke given off by the burning juices from the meat.

                                        Pan searing with a little fat in the pan gives you much better crusting over the meat's surface, since that ensures the whole surface of the steak is in direct contact with the heat source. That gives much more even and consistent browning over the surface of the meat, plus also leaves you some nice remnants in the pan for making a pan sauce.

                                        1. re: Josh

                                          "The one thing you don't get in a broiler that you do get on a grill is the added flavor from the smoke given off by the burning juices from the meat."
                                          That's the beginning and the end of the discussion for me.

                                          Grilling gets that nice smoky flavor from the burning meat juices. Pan searing makes it easier to create a nice crust and deep maillard reaction. Broiling doesn't do either nearly as well.

                                      2. It depends upon the cut and quality of the meat but for my example I will use a choice Ribeye with good marbling.

                                        #1 Grilled over hardwood

                                        In the winter I use my indoor infrared grill with wood chips and in the summer I can use a outdoor wood grill or a big green egg with wood chips. BTW - Very experienced individuals cannot taste a difference between these three methods.

                                        #2 Charcoal Grill

                                        #3 some other form of grill

                                        # 3.5 Steakhouse Broiler

                                        #4 Pan Sear + Oven

                                        #5 Home Broiler

                                        BTW High end steakhouses use broilers not salamanders which only give you a low amount of top heat (think cheese melter. Some use over and under broilers while others only use top heat broilers. IMHO these add nothing very little to the taste of the meat but are used because of their simplicity in cooking meat correctly to the desired temperature.

                                        1. Interesting....so most people on this board seem to think that a charcoal grilled steak is better than what steakhouses can achieve?

                                          So why don't restaurants try to replicate what you'd get on a charcoal grill? Sounds a lot cheaper than spending thousands of dollars on a salamander. It also begs the question of why people pay so much for a steak at a high end steakhouse (even taking into account the better quality of the meat itself)

                                          6 Replies
                                          1. re: RoastedChicken

                                            There are several reasons for steakhouses buying an expensive dedicated steak broiler:
                                            - Faster
                                            - Easier to produce consistent results
                                            - Easier to operate over the course of a busy night
                                            - Despite the initial cost, paying for enormous amounts of charcoal every week may prove more expensive in the long run
                                            - Lots of places have fairly prohibitive restrictions on how a restaurant must deal with exhaust from charcoal or wood fires
                                            - It's more easily distinguishable from what someone can make at home, so it doesn't beg the question, "why am I paying $50 for this?"

                                            1. re: RoastedChicken

                                              Many if not most high-end steak restaurants are in dense urban areas where charcoal grilling is not an option. Also, an idiot with a watch can be trained to cook a steak in a salamander in about the time it takes to cook a steak.

                                              1. re: Veggo

                                                Any idiot can cook a steak with a watch, but you need to know something.and be more than an idiot...or keep track of a lot of watches to cook many steaks that got put on the fire at different times..and achieve the desired degree of doneness for each 1..which is what good steak restaurants have to do.

                                                I'm a good home cook and can cook 3 or 4 steaks to different degrees of doneness; but I know I couldn't stand at a stove in a busy restaurant and turn out perfectly done steaks all night for the customers..:)

                                              2. re: RoastedChicken

                                                Salamanders aren't used for cooking steaks. They're used for melting cheese. They don't get hot enough to cook steaks.

                                                I also don't know why you'd take the opinions of a bunch of people on the internet as definitive. There are many people commenting here who prefer pan cooking to charcoal.

                                                The reason home cooks may like charcoal vs. a broiler is because a home broiler doesn't get very hot. Charcoal is the best way to get high-temperatures in a home environment, since charcoal fires can burn extremely hot, approaching the temperatures a restaurant broiler can reach.

                                                1. re: RoastedChicken

                                                  Interesting....so most people on this board seem to think that a charcoal grilled steak is better than what steakhouses can achieve?

                                                  Really? Are you using the new fuzzy math?

                                                2. (1) Over wood coals....about 80% Oak and 20% Hickory.....No flames!
                                                  Lump Charcoal in a pinch.....
                                                  (2) See number one...
                                                  (3) See number one....

                                                  1. Ranking is great but we have to work with what we have/ allowed as cooking equipment.

                                                    I live in a hi rise and don't have effective ventilation to pan sear. I've tried it and had a $100+ burger. $100 for the Fire Dept to come when the smoke triggered the public area fire alarm)..so searing is tough. Same problem with broiler and it doesn't get hot enough.

                                                    No gas or charcoal allowed on the balcony..that pesky BFD again..:)

                                                    I am allowed an electric grill which normally stinks but with the addition of a few wood chunks..usually hickory, I can put a char on the steak and keep it rare..my preference. Skirt is thinner and harder to do..needs a little more heat but a thicker steak is fairly easy to char/rare or black and blue. I get it to 700f+..hotter for skirt.3 mins side..sirloin/ribeye/porterhouse 5 mins/side.

                                                    BTW, I use a Meco and have been pleased with a couple of them. The added wood and heat causes the heating element to burn out in 2-3. years, and I grill year round;.but they're pretty inexpensive to replace..and I always have a spare.

                                                    If allowed, my first choice would be hardwood charcoal.

                                                    5 Replies
                                                    1. re: 9lives

                                                      We grilled skirt steak on a Weber gas grill well below 700 the other night for 3 minutes per side and it was medium well... next time, 2.5 min per side at most, then rest it.

                                                      1. re: mcf

                                                        I think I'd have slit my wrists...skirt M/W..:) and have come close.

                                                        That's the problem with giving cooking times, etc We have different grills, how far from the heat source? was your steak room temp or from the fridge? so many variables. BTW, I measured a small Weber and it came in about 700f at the place where the steak was. Here's a fun toy for us grill geeks..


                                                        eta..more important than a thermometer, which we just use for kicks, and to win a bet (my grill is hotter than yours:)) is just knowing your own grill. ex..you know that 3 mins on a skirt steakis too long so next go round you'll cook for less time. No substitute for experience. I've had my share of MW too..:) til I learned to gauge the grill and use the finger test on the steak to determine doneness.

                                                        1. re: 9lives

                                                          The fatter parts had just enough pink to be edible... I just cannot even get brown meat past my lips. Fortunately, it was really juicy. Well, my instructions were from a Weber book with temp settings and thicknesses, and they're usually spot on or less cooked than I want. But skirt is so thin, and some parts rilly, rilly thin.

                                                          That looks like a taser, btw! My grill has a thermometer in the lid that seems to be a good guide... I may just have to have close calls with steaks of all shapes and sizes first.... some you start on high direct heat, then move to high indirect, etc... works great wtih thick porterhouse or ribeye, frex. I'm just nfg at the finger/firmness test. I mean, I can tell if it's way rare, or way overdone <shudder> but not the actual sweet spot.

                                                          I'm still learning this grill's power, got it this season. Thicker steaks are much more forgiving, too.

                                                          1. re: mcf

                                                            Those grill thermometers are notoriously unreliable. Even regular ovens are often off. I bought a separate thermometer and found large discrepancies.

                                                            As you said, skirt is so thin that it's hard to cook rare..thicker cuts give you a great margin for error. I also find that drying the steaks,pre cooking, help sear and avoids any steaming; or a dry rub helps with a sear. I usually use a ground chipotle or ancho...especially with skirt. Thicker cuts like strip or porterhouse; don't use a rub.

                                                            Here's to your next skirt steak being done perfectly..It's such a great cut..some chimichurri, potatoes your way, a salad and a nice red wine..heaven!

                                                            1. re: 9lives

                                                              I use separate oven and grill thermometers, too. The Weber is pretty much dead on, but my kitchen oven needs calibration, which I compensate for by setting it 15 degrees hotter. I love a nice coat of just kosher salt and cracked pepper on my thicker cuts. I'll have that wine and perfect skirt steak soon, but no spuds for moi.

                                                    2. I suspect it depends how done you want it. I like mine medium. I use the pan sear then the oven primarily. The charcoal grill is nice but harder to control.Never used a salamander but my understanding they are hot enough to provide a sear, so they would work well. Never used an infrared grill. Don't know why anybody uses a gas grill. You might as well use the oven and have more control.Home broiler doesn't sear so that one is out.

                                                      My preference is sear and then oven roast.

                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: Hank Hanover

                                                        Gas grill lets meat juices drip onto heat source and vaporize, which adds additional flavor.

                                                        1. re: Hank Hanover

                                                          Mine as well, and that was something I learned about here on CH. Best steaks I've ever had.

                                                        2. All these responses and no one mentioned the reverse roast+sear?

                                                          I start by throwing my steak into the oven at around 150 degrees. Super low and slow. When it's rare, I pull the steak out, give it a pat with a paper towel, and onto a screaming hot pan it goes. If you like crust, and if you love uniform cooking, you're not going to beat this method.

                                                          3 Replies
                                                          1. re: joonjoon

                                                            From your description, I imagine you are aiming to raise the temp to medium rare on the finished (seared) steak. You can do the same thing but cook it to medium rare in the oven and then rest it for about 10 minutes before searing. It takes that little element of experience/guesswork out of getting perfect doneness in the finished product. In effect, this is pretty much the same thing I do when I cook a steak sous vide.

                                                            1. re: cowboyardee

                                                              Yep, it's pretty close to sous vide, just without the hassle.

                                                            2. re: joonjoon

                                                              I asked about this previously here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/635214

                                                              And I I do the reverse sear roast method generally only for really thick cuts of steaks (e.g. more than 2 inches).

                                                            3. since my vegan wife isn't in the picture any more, i've been eating more steak. i like steak black & blue (aka "pittsburgh style") with a good char on the outside (for the carcinogens - yum!) and a cool, red inside.

                                                              here's how i cooked a 1.75" ribeye recently. first, i took it out of the wrap and used my jaccard on each side (in opposite directions). i find that it makes choice cuts much more tender, and by cutting open a lot of cells, allows some enzymatic proteolysis to start. then, i wrapped it in cheesecloth and let it sit a couple of days in the 'fridge. this dried the outside so i got a great char.

                                                              i removed it from the fridge, and put my lodge griddle (not skillet) on the gas stove on high. i then made some butter / garlic / salt mix. next, i assembled my craftsman propane torch (14.1 oz cylinder - not the teeny weeny creme brulee size). then, i put half the butter/salt/garlic on one side of the steak, turned the exhaust hood on max (650cfm) and put the steak on the griddle, which immediately burst into flame. at the same time, i hit it on the top and sides with the propane and started my stopwatch. after 2 minutes, i put on the rest of the butter/salt/garlic, flipped it and continued. after one more minute, the interior was at 85F, so i took it off, put it on the plate in the 200F oven with the potato and corn, and set the table. after 5 minutes, i ate.

                                                              and smiled . . . %^)

                                                                1. How have the words "sous vide" not come up yet?

                                                                  Sous vide makes for perfect steaks. Perfect. Unless you're a skilled grill-man (or -woman) at a high-end steakhouse, there is no other way to get as dead-on consistent product as with sous vide.

                                                                  When you set the temp at 132F, you get a medium-rare steak, every time, throughout the entire steak. No patches of well-done steak on the outside, turning rarer the deeper it goes. It's medium-rare throughout. Perfect.

                                                                  Follow it up with a quick sear on charcoal, and you, my friends, have the best steak outside of a high-end steakhouse.

                                                                  4 Replies
                                                                  1. re: biggreenmatt

                                                                    I had a sous vide steak the other day at a country club. It was horrible. Completely destroyed the texture of the steak.

                                                                    Sous vide isn't magic, you have to apply it correctly.

                                                                    If your goal is to eliminate the grey band, you can easily do that without a sous vide, all you need is a low oven.

                                                                    1. re: joonjoon

                                                                      Yes, I agree. If a steak is cooked sous vide too long, the texture can become unpleasant. Also, sous vide can make tough cuts tender but doesn't address the poor flavor of some of those tough cuts (e.g. top round and bottom round). Kenji has some good points (as usual) on this topic: http://www.seriouseats.com/2010/03/ho...

                                                                      1. re: joonjoon

                                                                        Well now, let's be fair here. The question posed is "best way to cook", which, when posted in a Home Cooking forum, means to me "best way to cook at home", which eliminates the bad restaurant "we-threw-a-bunch-of-steaks-in-10-hours-ago-and-this-one's-9-hours-overcooked".

                                                                        At home, you're going to nail it- 1-2 hours before serving, leaving lots of time to do the other things that inevitably come up. Amazing and vastly underrated at-home technique.

                                                                        1. re: biggreenmatt

                                                                          First try at sous vide steak on sunday. Cooked to 130. It was incredible.