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Warming Up Steak Before Searing

By Cook's Illustrated Published November 2010

Does it make any difference if steaks are cooked straight from the refrigerator or, as some cookbooks recommend, if they sit at room temperature for an hour or so before cooking?

Some cooks rest a refrigerated steak on the counter to start raising its internal temperature from 40 degrees toward its target cooked temperature (130 degrees for medium, for example) before they introduce the steak to a hot pan. The theory is that with “warmer” meat, the middle can come up to temperature before a dry gray band of overcooked meat can develop under the crust during cooking, a particular problem with thick-cut steaks.

But does a one- or two-hour rest at room temperature actually increase the internal temperature of a steak enough to make a difference? (Resting the meat longer is not advisable, since it puts it in the food safety “danger zone” as defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.) The short answer: No. For 1-inch-thick rib-eye steaks, the temperature increased from 41 degrees to only 52 degrees after an hour and rose to 62 degrees after two hours. When we pan-seared these samples and compared them with steaks cooked directly from the refrigerator, the gray banding was identical and there was no noticeable difference in their taste or texture.

To avoid a gray band, try the method called for in our Pan-Seared Thick-Cut Strip Steaks recipe (May/June 2007), where we warm the steaks to 95 degrees in a 275-degree oven, then sear them. This warms the steak sufficiently so that the searing time is very quick, producing steaks with little to no gray banding.

RESTED AT ROOM TEMPERATURELetting steaks sit at room temperature before cooking does not raise their temperature enough to prevent a band of gray meat from developing below the crust.

WARMED IN THE OVENStarting steaks in a low oven before searing will raise their temperature sufficiently to produce a uniformly rosy interior.