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Julie Kelly's Blog

Steak in a pan: Almost as good as grilled (almost)

I am a meat-eater. Whether it’s a juicy cheeseburger, medium rare ribeye or barbacoa tacos, I need my beef fix a few times a week. Like most American kids, I grew up eating lots of meat. My grandfather started working for Swift & Company after WWII as a lamb grader and retired as the company’s CEO 40 years later. He also served as chairman of the American Meat Institute, so perhaps “beef” is in my blood.

Nothing beats a well-seasoned, perfectly grilled steak. Unfortunately - here in Chicago - grilling season only lasts about half of the year since the Weber is buried under snow or ice for the remaining half. Many folks stop eating steak at home until the weather breaks.

You can prepare a delicious steak on the cooktop in even less time than on the grill. Follow these tips and you can enjoy your favorite filet all year long.

Thinner is better: Leave the two-inch filet mignons to the professionals at Ruth’s Chris. A 4-5 ounce filet or thinner strip/ribeye are ideal for pan-cooking. A steak that is more than 1” thick will be trickier to cook through, especially if you want a well-done steak (in which case, shame on you).

Use the right pan: A non-stick skillet will work fine. If you want “fond” (the drippings rendered during the cooking process) in order to make a sauce or gravy, use a stainless or cast iron skillet. The following recipe includes a red wine sauce, so don’t use a non-stick pan.

Take the chill off: Any protein should be at room temperature before searing or grilling. This is an essential step that will ensure uniform cooking. If you’re short on time, make sure the steaks are out of the refrigerator and packaging for at least 10 minutes.

Dry and rub: Use paper towels to pat dry the steaks. Damp steaks will not achieve a nice exterior crust. Season each side liberally with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper.

Get the pan screamin’ hot: Let the pan get nice and toasty over medium-high heat. Add a few tablespoons of grapeseed oil (it has a higher “smoke” point so it’s perfect for high heat cooking without alerting the fire department) and unsalted butter. If you’re cooking a steak with a higher fat content such as a ribeye, use less of each. Turn on your vent. Don’t overcrowd the pan, make sure each steak has its personal space.

Don’t disturb this groove: Once you place the steak in the pan, leave it alone. Don’t move it. Don’t stare at it. Don’t tickle it. A one-inch steak should cook for about 3-4 minutes on each side for medium rare, add another minute each side for medium and subtract a minute for rare. To be absolutely sure, check the middle of the steak with a meat thermometer until it reads 5-7 degrees lower than the desired internal temperature. (Doneness chart to follow).

Rest: This is another crucial step to successful cooking. Always allow meat to rest before serving because the continuation cooking process will redistribute the juices. Place steaks on a large plate and cover with foil for at least 10 minutes, up to 20 minutes. This allows plenty of time to prepare your pan sauce.

The following recipe is a perfect Valentine’s Day dinner and a good opportunity to start learning this technique.

Rare: Remove at 120°, rest to 125°.

Medium rare: Remove at 125°, rest to 130°.

Medium: Remove at 135°, rest to 140°.

Well done: Don’t waste steak, please eat something else. Ok really remove at 145°, rest to 150°. Get ketchup.

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"Julie, I really enjoyed your class and took way more away than I ever thought I would. I never in a million years thought a cooking class would make me excited to try new things!! So my hat's off to you. You are a great teacher and the recipes are so good!" 


Susie C., Orland Park