Cooking can already be a challenge, but adding the question of whether to use butter or oil for steak only complicates things further. Luckily, there is a solid answer – one that you may not expect, but there are thankfully some simple solutions too. With that being said, let’s start by looking at why fats are used for cooking.
Table of Contents
- Why Do We Use Fats For Cooking?
- What Different Oils Are Used For Steak?
- Comparing Properties Of Different Oils
- Cooking Steak Using Different Cooking Methods
- How To Cook Steak With Butter
- How To Cook Steak Without Butter
- Oil Or Butter – Which Should I Use?
Why Do We Use Fats For Cooking?
The biggest reason (aside from providing non-stick support) for using fats when cooking is that, ultimately, it makes the food taste better. Because of the viscosity of oils and other fats, the liquid ends up coating your tongue. This means that the flavors of the food are in close contact with your tastebuds for longer, and so end up creating the illusion of a more intense taste.
But how do these fats end up flavorful in the first place?
Oils and fats work by ’infusing’ themselves with the different seasoning and flavors of the food while it is cooked. They essentially ‘pick up’ these tastes when cooked with other foods. This is why oils are primarily used to accentuate the flavors of the food, bring in their own natural flavor, and act to turn a surface non-stick.
What Makes A Fat Good For Cooking?
One of the most important features to pay attention to when buying an oil is the smoke point.
For active cooking, oils and fats with medium-high smoke points are generally desired. In addition to this, most dishes call for more neutral flavored oils rather than something with a strong flavor, like sesame.
Are Fats Necessary For Making Steak?
Now this is the important one. Generally, oils and fats are not necessary to make steak. This is because a good quality steak should have a higher fat content, meaning it will provide its own ’cooking oil’ as it is heated.
Nonetheless, some lower quality leaner – or less-marbled – steaks might need some help getting started. In addition to this, fats such as butter may be used to bring a different it’s own natural flavor to the steak and add to the complexity of the seasoning. However, some problems can arise if you decide to use both olive oil and butter.
What Different Oils Are Used For Steak?
As stated above, any type of fat is completely unnecessary when preparing a good quality steak. However, this doesn’t mean that they aren’t used.
While there are some hurdles to overcome if you choose to cook with them, butter and olive oil are the most commonly used fats for cooking steaks.
Should I Use Butter Or Oil For Steak?
The problem with cooking steak with butter or olive oil is that both have a low smoke point. Because steak is often grilled (leaving it in contact of direct flame) or pan-seared, the oil or butter is prone to burning. If the fats are burnt, your steak will be left with an unpleasant, bitter flavor.
Luckily, there are a few different ways to keep this from happening which I’ll be going over shortly.
Do You Marinate Steak?
Marinating your steak with butter, oil, or any other kind of fat is unlikely to do much for it.
If you’d like, you can marinate it for a short amount of time in a honey-whiskey glaze or something similar. This is because the butter, and particularly the oil, don’t have much flavor within themselves, and letting them rest on the meat before cooking will not do anything. This is due to neither butter nor olive oil has the pH necessary to affect the meat. Most notably, the butter won’t do much while cold as it is only able to soak into the steak when liquified. It’s best used when melted while cooking to baste the steak. This way, it can properly soak in when the fibers of the meat are more exposed.
Comparing Properties Of Different Oils
1) Olive Oil Or Butter For Steak
|QUALITIES||Butter||Pure Olive Oil|
2) Vegetable Oil Or Butter For Steak
3) Butter Or Coconut Oil For Steak
Cooking Steak Using Different Cooking Methods
Cooking On A Grill For Steak Butter Or Oil
To cook steak on a grill with butter, simply place a small pat of butter on top of the steak a minute or two before you remove it. In lieu of that, another cooking method used by my father is to baste the steak with butter using a sprig of rosemary as a brush. You can also add some cheese if you’re looking to make a Philly cheesesteak – just be sure to use the best cheese for Philly cheesesteak. To cook an oiled steak, simply oil it with a medium-high smoke point oil, then add your seasoning and place it on the grill to cook.
Oil Or Butter For Pan Frying Steak
Like for searing a steak, using an oil is best. Regular butter by itself will 100% burn, unless you carefully braise it only onto the steak. You can use clarified butter, ghee, or a medium-higher smoke point oil for this cooking technique. If you plan to use olive oil, make sure it is either pure, refined, or pomace olive oil, not virgin or extra virgin.
Butter Or Oil For Pan Searing Steak
As searing a steak generally involves more intense temperatures than regular pan-frying, it’s you’re better off only using oils and fats with high smoke points. This means strictly ghee and clarified butter only – and be cautious at that – and refined or pomace oil. Refined avocado oil is a great choice as it has a neutral flavor and an incredibly high smoke point.
How To Cook Steak With Butter
While butter is the more flavorful – if possible, it’d be my choice out of the lot – it has a very low smoke point, leaving it prone to burning. This is especially true if you’re searing or frying. Burnt butter turns bitter and can instantly ruin a dish, so it’s not the best for high-heat frying. However, we’re not at the end of the story just yet – there are ways to butter your steak, but they’re not what you might expect…
1) Finish With Butter
One of the best ways to incorporate a buttery taste into your steak is to finish it with butter. This works well on something like a tenderloin steak, sirloin or ribeye steak, especially if you use a compound butter – rosemary or garlic are phenomenal.
Finish your steak with butter by adding a pat of butter your seared steak after cooking, and let it rest for a couple of minutes. The butter will melt while the meat rests and tenderizes and the butter will soak into the grain of the steak. Alternately, carefully add a small pat of butter on top of the steak while it cooks. Do this a minute or two before you decide to remove the steak, as this will keep it from burning.
2) Baste Your Steak
Butter or olive oil (though I think butter would taste better) is more often used for basting a steak – and for good reason. If the butter does not remain in contact with the pan, and is instead carefully spooned onto the steak, it is far less likely to burn. In addition to this, continuously basting your steak further into the cooking process will allow the butter to actually soak into the meat, meaning your steak will turn out more flavorful.
3) Use Clarified Butter Or Ghee
Clarified butter and ghee are two different varieties of butter. They are different from regular butter in that they have had the milk-fats (and water) that cause butter to burn removed from them. This means that they have much higher smoke points (482 °F and 485 °F, respectively) and can be used when frying or pan searing.
4) Mix With Oil
Taught to me by my father, this is my preferred method for sautéing garlic and cooking eggs – at least when I’m not cooking eggs without butter. Basically, all you do is add some oil of a higher smoke point to the pan, then add a little butter in the middle. The oil will keep the butter from burning by shielding it from the intense heat of the pan. It works by raising the butter’s smoke point when they’re melted and mixed, and keeps it from burning outright in the mean-time.
How To Cook Steak Without Butter
Thankfully, cooking steak without butter or oil is very simple. All you need to do is heat up your pan – use either a cast iron skillet or a non-stick frying pan – and add in the steak. You can season it either before or during cooking, and optionally add a pat of butter or drizzled olive oil to finish it afterwards. If you think your steak still needs some help, add a tiny bit of oil before putting it into the pan. This will help it get started before it begins to release it’s own cooking juices.
Oil Or Butter – Which Should I Use?
Honestly, you can pretty much use either – or none at all! Butter and – to an extent – olive oil, will bring new flavors to your steak and deepen the already-rich flavors present. The best way to cook a steak with oil is to lightly oil it, or the pan you plan to fry it on. Avoid using virgin or extra virgin olive oil, making sure to stick to the oils with higher smoke points. This is especially true for cooking methods that require more intense heat. The same here goes for butter – avoid regular butter, and switch to ghee/clarified butter or a butter-oil mixture instead!