What’s the secret to cooking a juicy steak? Resting. It’s one of the most overlooked steps, but it’s also one of the most important for any cut of meat. Allowing your steak to rest can make a significant difference in its tenderness and flavor. Let’s talk about why and how to let steak rest so that you have a perfectly cooked steak.
When it comes to cooking a delicious steak, the process doesn’t end at taking the steak off the heat. Allowing the steak to rest after cooking is a crucial step that is often overlooked, but it’s essential for a juicy, tender and flavorful steak.
If you’ve ever cut into a steak and had juices fill your plate, you know first-hand why it’s important to rest steak. In this blog post, we will delve into the science behind steak resting steak, why it’s the biggest and most overlooked secret on having the perfect steak, and how to rest steak correctly.
Note: This post is all about steak resting. If you’re interested in how long to cook a steak and a chart for steak doneness, we discuss it briefly below but much more in-depth in this blog post on steak doneness.
Why does steak need to rest?
Allowing steak to rest is crucial for preserving the juiciness and results in a more evenly cooked and flavorful steak.
To understand the reason for this, you have to look at the anatomy of beef. Meat is a muscle and it has two main parts – protein and water.
When meat is raw, it’s about 70-75% water. When steak is cooked, the muscle fibers contract because of the increased temperature. Then, the water is squeezed out of the fibers and the liquid moves towards the center of the steak.
If you cut meat before it rests, the juice goes directly on your plate because the juices haven’t had a chance to be reabsorbed by the meat. However, if you give the steak a chance to rest, the fibers relax and widen. This lets the juice and moisture to redistribute throughout the meat.
As a side note, the process of fibers widening and then relaxing also explains why you can do a “steak touch test” and tell if a steak is done by touching it with your finger or with tongs — the firmer the meat, the more done it is.
How long should steak rest?
The ideal resting time for steak depends on its thickness. There are many general guidelines to help home chefs rests steaks correctly. The three most common we’re aware of are to let the meat rest for…
- 5-minutes for every inch of thickness
- for as long as you cooked the meat
- 10-minutes for each pound of meat
As a general rule of thumb, you should let your steak rest for at least 5-7 minutes. Thicker cuts of steak, such as ribeye or porterhouse, may benefit from resting for a slightly longer period, ranging from 10-15 minutes.
Exactly how do you let steak rest? Covered or uncovered?
So, let’s pretend that your steak is cooking and you’re about to remove it from the grill or the pan. Here are the two things you need think about before you do:
- Remember carryover cooking. When cooking steak, it’s important to remember that the internal temperature of the meat will always continue to rise slightly during the resting period. This means you should remove your meat from the heat source prior to reaching its target doneness temperature and let carryover cooking do the rest of the work for you. Otherwise, it will be overcooked.
It’s best to pull your piece of meat off the heat source when the thermometer reads about 5-10°F lower than the desired doneness.
- Covered or uncovered? Where and how the meat rests will also affect the carryover cooking. If the steak is removed from the heat source and placed on a cold surface, more heat will transfer into the room and less to the center of the meat. On the other hand, if it’s kept warm in the oven, the meat is likely to be overcooked.
Our recommendation is to remove the steak from the heat source and place it on a warm plate, cutting board or serving platter. Next, tent the steak with aluminum foil. This will conserve some heat and still allow the air to circulate. Once you’ve tented the steak, that’s it. Don’t touch it or poke it or slice it. Let it rest for 5-7 minutes. Your taste buds will thank you as soon as you take your first bite!
Other factors to consider
There are a few other factors to consider when resting steak.
- Cooking method: A steak cooked at high heat on a grill or a cast-iron skillet typically needs a slightly longer resting time compared to a steak cooked on lower heat
- Desired doneness: If you want a rare or medium-rare steak, a shorter resting time is probably sufficient.
- Steak thickness: How thick is your steak? Thicker cuts, like a ribeye steak or porterhouse steak, retain heat longer and need a longer resting time. Thinner cuts need a shorter rest before serving.
How to tell when steak should be taken off grill?
There’s only one way to tell when steaks are done to the appropriate doneness – an instant-read digital meat thermometer.
Every kitchen needs a quality meat thermometer. Period. (As a side note, we’ve tried dozens of thermometers and our favorite is the Thermapen by Thermoworks. It’s the best by far.)
When taking a temperature reading, measure in the center or the thickest part of the beef, not touching bone or fat. For steaks 1/2 inch or thicker, it’s usually best to insert an instant-read thermometer horizontally from the side.
Note: The temperatures in this chart are final doneness. You need to pull your beef off the heat about 5-10°F before these temperatures are reached.
|Cool, bright red center Soft to the touch
|Warm red center Beginning to firm up with red juices
|Warm pink center; outer portions beginning to brown Completely firm to the touch with red juices
|Slightly pink center Completely firm to the touch with brown juices
|No pink or red Firm to touch
|Fully brown throughout with no pink
Our in-home “resting steak” test
To help illustrate the difference between resting a steak versus not resting, we did our own test by grilling two identical strip steaks. We put them on the grill at the exact same time and cooked them for the exact same length of time. The only thing we did differently was cut into them at different times.
The pictures below tell the story the best.
Here are the two strip steaks we grilled.
We cut into the first steak immediately after it came off the grill.
Ugh! Look at all the juice on the plate. This is what happens when you don’t rest steak. This steak will now taste dry because we didn’t allow the steak to rest and give time for the juice to redistribute throughout the steak.
Here’s the second steak. For this steak, we waited 5 minutes before cutting into it. As you can see, there’s still a little juice on the plate, but not as much as when we cut into the steak immediately from the grill. This steak will be juicy. Yum!
Favorite kitchen tools when making steak:
One more thing:
Do you want to learn more about beef? Join our weekly e-newsletter where we share farm happenings, recipes and beef availability. Sign-up and get a cheat sheet with 9-must-ask questions before buying beef directly from a farmer. Or, we have an entire ebook about beef that goes through purchasing and preparing beef from a cattle farmer’s perspective.
Here are a few other recipes and links you may like:
- Bacon wrapped filet mignon
- Easy garlic herb steak butter
- Dry rub or marinade for steak? Know what’s best
- Perfect Dry Rub for Roast
- Pepper Steak Stir Fry
- How to cook ground beef & easy recipes
- An Essential Guide to Beef ebook
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