How to properly season steak: Tips from a professional chef

The secret to a juicy, tender steak starts with seasoning.
Don't forget to let your steak rest before slicing into it!
Don't forget to let your steak rest before slicing into it!Courtesy Katie Stilo

Cooking a restaurant-quality steak at home is easily achievable when you have a few simple techniques up your sleeve. With all the meat myths out there, it can be hard to figure out what's fact and what's fiction. This guide is your cheat sheet to a perfect steak, every single time. And it all starts with seasoning.

Steak-seasoning musts

Season well! Red meat can take a lot more salt than most think. Don't be afraid to season your steak liberally with kosher salt. This largely depends on the thickness of the steak, but you want the salt to season inside the meat — not just on the surface!

Let it rest after cooking: This will allow the steak juices to redistribute throughout the meat. If you rush the resting process, you lose the juices to your plate when slicing into it.

Use a thermometer: It's the quickest and easiest way to be sure your meat is at the temperature you desire.

Which seasonings should I use on steak?

  • When seasoning a steak, you can't go wrong with the classic freshly cracked black pepper and kosher salt. Finishing salts such as flaky sea salt and can be applied at the end as a final touch.
  • Add some chopped herbs such as thyme, rosemary or sage to your salt to make a flavored salt for your steak.
  • For restaurant-quality steaks, baste them in butter and herbs during the final few moments of cooking. This will impart the delicious buttery flavor you know and love from your favorite steakhouse.
  • A quick and easy tip that packs a punch of flavor is rubbing your cooked steak with a clove of garlic. Simply slice your garlic in half and rub the cut side all over your resting steak.
  • Try making a custom spice blend by mixing together any number of dried seasonings such as garlic powder, onion powder, smoked paprika, rosemary, thyme, cumin, chile powder and brown sugar. Store in an airtight mason jar to have ready whenever needed.

Steak-searing tricks

  1. Reverse sear for easy cooking: This method has become increasingly popular over the last few years, and for good reason. Its a great method because it allows you some hands-free time while the steak cooks in the oven. With a quick, final sear on the stove to caramelize the exterior, you’ll have "pink from wall to wall," as the Grill Dads say.
  2. Broil in the oven to finish for a great crust: Sear your meat on the stovetop and, to finish, pop under the broiler of your oven quickly to replicate a that steakhouse crust.
  3. Create heat zones: This is specifically for when cooking on a grill. You want to be able to move the steak into different areas, depending on the doneness of your steak. If your steak is cooking too quickly, move the steak to the cooler side of the grill. If it isn't quite as cooked as you'd like, move the steak to the zone with more heat.

Steak-cooking myths, debunked

Sear over high heat to lock in juices: False! Searing over high heat does indeed help to create the beautiful crust on the exterior of the steak, but it does not affect the juiciness of a steak. This is determined by the cut of meat you are using and the manner in which you are cooking it. Regardless of the cut of steak, it all comes down to the cooking method. If you overcook meat, it will become dry and unappetizing.

So, with larger cuts of meat, start in a cooler zone of your grill, then transfer to the hotter zone to finish. This will caramelize the outside crust without overcooking the interior. For a leaner, thinner cut of meat, do the opposite: hotter to cooler. These cuts cook more quickly, so you have less time to develop the crust.

Only flip the steak once or the meat will dry out: False! Don't fear the flip. Flipping the meat will not affect whether or not your steak is dry. Again, it's all about the technique: Cooking your steak properly to the desired temperature will result in a juicy steak. Flipping and rotating the steak will allow you to control which part of the steak is getting the most heat. If one side of the steak is cooking faster than the other, flip!

Use the "finger test" to judge if a steak is done: This is partially false. Hear me out: This can be a good way to get a feel for the doneness of the steak, but given that everyone has different hands, it's not as universally accurate as a thermometer.

How to properly season and sear a steak

Pat steak completely dry before seasoning.Katie Stilo

This step is crucial to ensuring you develop a great crust when searing your steak.

Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt is the best, in my opinion, because of the size of the salt granules. It allows you to season your steak appropriately without fear of it becoming too salty.

Press salt and pepper gently into the surface of the meat after apply to ensure it adheres.Katie Stilo

Always use freshly cracked pepper to coax the most flavor from your peppercorns.

The steak should sizzle when placed in the skillet. This is a good indicator you have properly preheated your skillet.Katie Stilo

Add steak to preheated skillet and allow to cook, undisturbed, for about three to four minutes before flipping.

The steak should easily release from the pan when flipping. If the steak resists, allow to cook another minute or two before flipping.Katie Stilo

After about three to four minutes, the steak should be deeply caramelized and ready to flip. Cook for an additional two minutes on the other side for medium-rare. Adjust cook times for desired doneness and thickness of the steak.

Feel free to use any combination of fresh woody herbs such as thyme or rosemary.Katie Stilo

Once the steak has been seared on both sides, add a few tablespoons of unsalted butter and flavorings of your choice.

Slightly tilt your skillet towards you to pool the butter on one side to make basting the steak easier.Katie Stilo

Once the butter has melted, baste steak with butter and seasonings for about a minute. This technique is done at the end of cooking to prevent the butter from burning. If added too early on in the searing process, the milk solids in the butter will burn, resulting in a bitter-tasting steak.

The technique of basting is commonly used in restaurants and steakhouses to add additional flavoring to meats and poultry.Katie Stilo

Remove steak from the skillet and allow to rest on your cutting board. Loosely tent your steak with foil while resting to keep it warm.

Rest your steak for approximately half the cooking time.Katie Stilo

Slice steak against the grain and serve with your favorite sides. Mashed potatoes, perhaps?

Slice steak on a bias for an extra fancy presentation.Katie Stilo

Now that you've got the seasoning down, make these steak recipes:

Natalie Morales' Easy Grilled Chimichurri Soy Steak