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Can You Pan-Fry Steak Without Butter?

Need to pan-fry a steak but don’t have butter? You’re in the right place. Let’s go over your other options.

Okay, so you want to know if you can pan-fry a steak without using butter?

Maybe you were recently diagnosed with a dairy allergy and can no longer use butter like before.

Or perhaps you just don’t like butter, but the recipe you want to try calls for frying the steak in it—and you’re not quite sure if you can leave the butter out.

Look, whatever brought you here, welcome, and I’m glad you came! This guide is all about whether you should cook your steak with butter (and how to do it without).

Can You Cook Steak Without Butter?

So, can you or can you not make a steak if you don’t have—or, for one reason or another, can’t eat—butter?

Yes, you can absolutely cook a steak without butter. Butter adds a nutty and milky richness to your steak, but adding it is not a step that’s strictly necessary.

The fact of the matter is, steak can be cooked with butter, with cooking oil, or even without any fat at all. The best cuts are fatty enough to baste themselves in their own succulent juices!

Read more: Should I Cook Steak in Oil or Butter?

Why Cook Steak in Butter?

Many cooks like to add butter at the end of cooking when making a steak on the stovetop.

This is best done over medium-low heat or away from the heat while the pan is still hot—allowing the butter to melt and brown slightly, and developing a creamy aroma and a rich, nutty flavor.

The steak is then basted with the butter using a tablespoon. As a result, the meat absorbs that aroma and flavor, and ends up with a crispier, golden brown crust due to the controlled drying of the surface.

We do this over low to medium-low heat because butter has a low smoke point, which means it burns quickly. When butter burns, it turns black instead of golden brown and starts to taste bitter, and that’s not something you want.

What to Use Instead of Butter for Cooking Steak

If you’re lactose intolerant, consider using ghee (clarified butter) instead. It’s basically butter that’s been heated until the milk fat separates from the milk solids.

In many ways, ghee smells and tastes better than butter. And according to the Cleveland Clinic, it’s a suitable option for those who are lactose intolerant.

If you’re allergic to lactose, meaning you shouldn’t consume any amount of dairy, consider using rice bran oil as your cooking oil. When heated, rice bran oil develops a nutty, caramel popcorn-like flavor that ameliorates your steak like no other.

How to Cook Steak Without Butter

Cooking a steak without butter is easier than you might think!

Just follow the steps below and you’ll end up with a mouthwateringly delicious steak: no fuss, no hassle.

Steps to pan-frying a steak without butter:

  1. Preheat your pan over medium-high heat.
  2. When the pan is hot enough, add 1 tablespoon of cooking oil and swirl it around until the bottom is evenly coated.
  3. Generously season the steak with salt and black pepper on both sides, then put it in the pan and let it cook for at least 3 to 4 minutes on one side without moving it.
  4. Flip the steak to the other side and let it hiss and sizzle uninterrupted for another 3-4 minutes.
  5. Check the steak’s doneness with a meat thermometer. If it’s done, let it rest for 3 minutes before serving. If it needs more cooking, continue to cook it before letting it rest.


  • Use a thick, heavy, uncoated skillet, preferably made of cast iron or carbon steel. These skillets can retain a lot of heat and will brown your steak better than thin frying pans.
  • The key to a great steak is fresh, high-quality meat. For the ultimate tender and juicy steak, opt for Prime or Choice cuts with rich marbling.
  • Turn up the heat to medium-high. Steaks are best cooked by searing—a high, dry heat method that triggers the Maillard reaction, resulting in a crispy and flavorful crust.

The Bottom Line

You can definitely cook your steak without butter; it’s not a strict requirement for cooking steak. Simply coat the bottom of your skillet with a tablespoon of ghee, rice bran oil, or any other oil with a high smoke point instead.

For the best results, choose Prime or Choice cuts with abundant marbling. These cuts have enough fat to render during pan-frying, allowing the meat to brown and crispen in its own juices.

Know your author

Written by

Dim is a food writer, cookbook author, and the editor of Home Cook World. His first book, Cooking Methods & Techniques, was published in 2022. He is a certified food handler with Level 1 and Level 2 Certificates in Food Hygiene and Safety for Catering, and a trained cook with a Level 3 Professional Chef Diploma.