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I always pat dry my steaks(often about an inch thick or close to that) and get my pan really hot but every time I cook a steak on the stovetop I either get a steak with mostly gray look but has my desired doneness, or a steak with a great crust but it's overcooked. I do constantly think of the reasons I can't get both desired doneness and crust, and there indeed are two things I think I should bring up.

The first thing is that I use grape-seed oil but I only pour very little of it into the pan so it barely covers the bottom. The other thing is that I don't let the steak rest in room temperature, I just take it out from the fridge when I want to cook it.

Come to think of it, the temperature of the meat surface may matter a lot, maybe the surface needs much more time to develop the crust when it's cold than it does when it's not that cold? And does the amount of oil also play a big role in achieving a good crust on the steak?

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    Are you using a non-stick pan? You can't really get a decent bark (crust) on a steak in a teflon pan. Additionally, you can partially solve the issue by adding a TBSP or two of butter in the pan once the steak is close to your doneness range, and spoon the melted butter over the top of the steak while flipping frequently until you reach the desired crust. – SittingElf Jan 24 '20 at 14:53
  • @SittingElf I'm using a cast iron pan. I don't think a non stick pan can be heated very hot. – Steak Destroyer Jan 24 '20 at 17:24
  • A couple things that may help but are not full answers: Cast Iron is a master tool for this as it handles high heat better than most pans and its mass acts as a heat sink and drops temp less when the meat is added than lighter pans. Second, I have seen chefs such as Alton Brown strongly advocate salting before the sear, preferably before a 15+ warm up rest. It draws out fresh liquid which actually in their claims aids in making that nice bark you are looking for. On the hot pan this will evaporate almost instantly and the proteins left will greatly aid the crust formation is the claim. – dlb Jan 24 '20 at 17:29
  • Maybe your steaks are not thick enough. Thinner cuts are harder to get a crust on without overcooking the interior – Duarte Farrajota Ramos Jan 24 '20 at 18:50
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Neither of those sounds like a big problem.

You say that you get your pan "really hot". It's nice to use an infrared thermometer to check how hot, but at the very least, you should check for the Leidenfrost effect: if you put a drop of water on the pan, it should skitter around without visibly boiling, and take several seconds to actually evaporate. That means your pan is at ~200 Celsius or higher.

The problem is, the moment you put your steak on the pan, that temperature drops precipitously, because the water in the steak will be boiling away. If your burner can't put out enough power, you won't be able to get a good crust no matter what the initial temperature is. If your burner puts out almost enough power, then using a cast iron pan can help because it has a high thermal mass to transfer to the steak, but even there you're limited. Always use the largest burner you have available, even if it's bigger than your pan.

Not letting the steak come up to room temperature is not a problem. Actually, it helps to have it just out of the refrigerator, because the surface of the steak can spend more time hot (and crusting up) before the center overcooks.

Only using a small amount of oil is probably not a problem. If you're using a non-stick pan, using more oil can help you get a more consistent crust rather than only parts of the steak crusting up. But the oil by itself won't make the difference between brown and grey.

Finally, if your primary concern is the crust, make sure you only flip the steak once. Flipping it multiple times helps you get more even cooking, but what you're looking for here is really uneven cooking. The first little while after you flip the steak, the bottom surface needs to come up to Maillard browning temperatures. The more you flip the steak, the more of the cooking time is wasted in that "getting ready to brown" stage.

  • I flip my steak every minute, is that too frequent? By the way, I use my cast iron pan not a non stick pan. – Steak Destroyer Jan 24 '20 at 17:34
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    If your primary concern is the crust, make sure you only flip the steak once. – Sneftel Jan 24 '20 at 17:36
  • Volume of cooking fat will affect good crust vs. soggy and grey. If there is any doubt to how much oil/butter/fat you should be using, only brush the steak enough to barely coat it, and don't put any in the pan. Once you've let it sear on both sides, you can add butter and herbs for spooning. (if desired) That won't take the Maillard flavors away. – Jason P Sallinger Jan 24 '20 at 21:45

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