A butter-basted steak is a thing of great beauty. For me, a perfectly pan-seared ribeye steak bathed in butter and aromatics is my favourite way to prepare it. Yes, moreso than a grilled steak. Why? Because the sear on a pan is more even and more intense which then in turn really intensifies the beefy flavour. The butter combination with aromatics like garlic, bay leaf, and rosemary lends an incredible background flavour to the meat too.
If you have never made a butter-basted, pan-seared steak, I hope this guide will convince you of how simple it really is. And once you try a bite I'm convinced you'll be won over by this method for preparing your steak.
Choose Your Steak
Ribeye or rib steak (a bone-in ribeye) is hands-down the best, most flavourful steak.
Nothing comes close to it for taste.
If I had to make a second choice, it would be striploin steak.
Past that, I rarely branch out as I do not prefer leaner cuts like filet mignon or tenderloin. They're nice but boring, and not worth the money. They don't come close in flavour to a ribeye.
For a pan-seared and butter-basted steak, you need to choose a thick cut of meat to achieve a proper contrast between the exterior crust and the interior of the meat which we will be cooking to a tender medium-rare.
Choose a steak that is at minimum 1 ½ inches thick.
My ideal steak is well-marbled, well-aged, with multiple streaks of yellow fat and a thick crust of fat around the outside.
That bit of fat on the outside is one of the best-tasting things in the world after it's charred. The outside will remain crispy while the inside will completely melt in your mouth in a burst of satisfying flavour.
I always choose steak from grass-fed, grass-finished cows. We have started to buy entire cows and split the cuts between families. This is the cheapest way to get a lot of grass-fed beef to use throughout the year. Of course, I still have to get additional ribeyes as there are only so many on a single cow.
Salt Your Steak In Advance
If Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat taught me anything — it's about how important salting meat in advance is.
Now, whenever I bring home any meat from the butcher, I unwrap it, salt it liberally, and then put it back loosely wrapped in the fridge.
There is a whole whack of intriguing science behind this that I won't get into here, but it is a vital and necessary step for best results. Try it yourself and I'm convinced you will see the benefits immediately.
For steak, you can salt it up to three whole days in advance and leave it loosely covered in your fridge.
Barring that you can salt your steak about 45-minutes before cooking for best results.
Do not use table salt — use kosher salt or sea salt only.
Chose Your Aromatics
The aromatics you choose will subtly flavour your steak via the butter.
I always include a clove of garlic, which I score on the outside with a knife, a bay leaf, and some type of herbs like rosemary or thyme. Fresh or dried herbs work equally well.
You can also omit this step if you choose.
Which Pan Should I Use For Butter-Basted Steak?
You need a heavy-bottomed pan that can withstand the high temperatures required to get a nicely browned crust on the steak.
I recommend cast iron, high-quality stainless steel (like the triple-ply All-Clad Stainless Steel Frying pan), or carbon steel.
Cheaper steel pans will not heat evenly and do not even think about using a non-stick pan to do this.
On Butter & Steak
The butter basting in this recipe helps the steak to achieve that perfect beefy crust while imparting delicious flavours. The butter is also a carrier for the aromatics we'll be using.
Like that rind of charred fat on the outside of a steak, butter is one of my favourite things in the world.
It's an incredible saturated fat that tastes amazing and a mere two tablespoons gives you 20% of your daily RDI for Vitamin A — amongst other fat-soluble vitamins like Vitamin D, E, and K.
I use Kerrygold grass-fed butter which comes from Irish cows that receive 86% of their diet directly from lush Irish pastures.
Finding grass-fed butter in Canada is tough. You can't get Kerrygold butter here and our domestic dairy industry self-regulates the "grass-fed" term and keeps the requirements to be labelled as "grass-fed" murky and suspect. The lack of transparency makes me unwilling to purchase it.
I also find it quite hard to support our system which discourages competition and keeps the raw milk I prefer as a consumer and Canadian citizen illegal. You can buy pot online in Canada in a multitude of varieties, but my milk I literally have to buy from the back of a van and the farmer that supplies me risks steep fines, seizure of their property, and even jail time.
But I digress — this is supposed to be about butter-basted steak.
So I stock up on Kerrygold every time I go down into the States for any reason. The only alternative that I can buy in Canada is a New Zealand brand of 100% grass-fed butter that also costs four times as much making it a more nutritious alternative only for the wealthy.
Follow my instructions closely regarding when to add the butter!
You do not want to, under any circumstance, add the butter right away at the beginning of cooking your steak or it will burn and impart unpleasant flavours to the meat.
Flip Your Butter-Basted Steak
I learned this tip from Kenji and Serious Eats, who have probably taught me the most about cooking.
If you don't own your own copy of The Food Lab yet, what are you waiting for? This is a book that will teach you how to actually cook by delving deep into techniques and the reasons why they work, all why dispelling so many common myths.
Like the steak flipping thing.
You do not need to only flip your steak once lest something terrible happens. This advice comes from steak houses that do not have the time to flip steaks over and over again.
It may even be better to flip multiple times as it will help the steak develop a more even browned crust.
So feel free to flip your steak without fear.
Serve This On The Side
What should you have alongside your perfectly pan-seared butter-basted steak?
How about Smoky Caramelized Onions? Or a traditional Croatian recipe of chard and potatoes, called Blitva?
Butter-Basted, Pan-Seared Ribeye SteakPrint
The Perfect Butter-Basted, Pan-Seared Ribeye Steak
A butter-basted steak is a thing of great beauty. For me, a perfectly pan-seared ribeye steak bathed in butter and aromatics is my favourite way to cook steak. Yes, moreso than a grilled steak. Why? Because the sear on a pan is more even and more intense which then in turn really intensifies the beefy flavour. The butter combination with aromatics like garlic, bay leaf, and rosemary lends an incredible background flavour to the meat too.
- A large well-marbled steak, at least 1 ½ inches thick, preferably ribeye
- 1 whole garlic clove, scored on the outside
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 bunch of fresh or dried herbs of choice, like rosemart or thyme (or both)
- Kosher salt
- Black pepper
- Liberally salt your steak. Either up to three-days in advance, or 45 minutes before cooking. I aways take my steak out and leave it at room temperature about 45 minutes before cooking too.
- Heat up your pan (and turn on your hood vent!) for about ten-minutes until it is ripping hot, on medium-high heat. The pan must be HOT! If your steak is well-marbled with a nice thick rind of fat, you will not need additional oil. If your steak is lacking that rind of beautiful fat, add some ghee, lard, or tallow into the pan — just not butter.
- Using a pair of metal tongs, hold the steak and lower the thick rind of outside fat onto the pan, slowly and carefully searing it until charred — 2-3 minutes approximately.
- Once that outside fat has rendered and charred, lower your steak into the hot pan where it should immediately begin to sizzle — your hood vent is on right?
- Leave the steak for a minute, then flip it.
- Keep casually flipping the steak back and forth. There is no hard and fast rule with this. Just monitor the developing sear and the eveness with which is appears.
- I do this for 5 minutes exactly (set a timer if you need too) and then I add my butter, about ¼ cup to ½ cup, along with my aromatics. The butter and fat will sizzle violently and sputter at this point. It's normal.
- With the butter now in the pan, there are two things you can do to baste the steak and I find that both work equally well. The first is using a silicone pastry brush to constantly baste the steak with the melted butter while flipping every 20 seconds or so. The second method is to tilt the pan until the butter pools to one side of the pan, and using a spoon to constantly baste and bathe the meat while also ocasionally flipping.
- In my experience, a 1 ½ to 2 inch steak will take 7-8 minutes to reach a medium-rare temperature, but the only way to be sure is to use an instant-read digital thermometer. For medium-rare it should be between 120 and 125°F (about 50° Celcius) when it comes out of the skillet.
- If the edges of your steak are still slightly pale, you can use your tongs to gently lift the meat and sear the edges too.
- Rest your meat on a plate, covered, with the aromatics and butter poured over it for 10 minutes.