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Should You Put Butter on Steak?

Seared steak and melted butter are a match made in heaven. Here’s how to get it right every single time.

There’s fork-tender, perfectly-seared steak. Then there’s fork-tender, perfectly-seared steak with melted butter.

Melting butter on your steak—especially if we’re talking about salted butter, garlic butter, or herb butter—gives it that richness and decadence that you only get when eating out at a great steakhouse.

Contrary to what most people think, you don’t do this by cooking the steak in butter. Butter has a low smoke point (350°F, to be exact), which means that it breaks down and burns at a lower temperature than most cooking fats do.

Since steak needs intense heat to brown, caramelize, and form a flavorsome crust, butter isn’t a good choice of cooking fat for preparing it. An oil with a high smoke point, such as avocado oil or rice bran oil, which smoke at 520°F and 490°F, respectively, is your best bet.

Learn more about the smoke points of cooking oils if you want to always reach for the right kind in your pantry.

How to top your steak with melted butter:

Bring a knob of butter to room temperature. Though many will try to convince you otherwise, the best way to get this done is to take it out of your fridge and rest it on your counter for 30 minutes.

Grill, fry, or broil the steak to your desired level of doneness as you’d normally do. As soon as you’ve taken it off the heat, top it with the butter and let it rest for three to four minutes before serving.

This simple trick adds sophistication to your steak and elevates its smell, taste, and texture to new heights.

How much butter to add to your steak?

It boils down to A) the size if the steak and B) your personal preferences. Obviously, you don’t want to drown the meat in butter. Some may be fine with not much more than a knifeful; others may want to get more decadent than that.

Melted Butter vs. Browned Butter

Some cooks prefer to turn off the heat and brown the butter in the pan, basting the steak with it as it melts by scooping it up with a spoon as it runs and applying it to the top of the meat.

Doing so deglazes the pan, releasing those savory bits and pieces of meat that have stuck to the bottom and sides and infusing the butter—and the steak—with their aroma and flavor.

Both ways of adding butter to your steak are legit, and each yields a different outcome. Topping the steak with a room-temperature lump of butter adds a clean creaminess to it, whereas browning the butter gives it a deep, caramelly feel.

Just make sure that your skillet is not overly hot if you try out the latter technique. It’s too easy to burn the butter, in which case it will come out blackened and acrid.

When to Melt Butter and When to Brown It

As a general rule of thumb, garlic butter and herb butter taste better when melted. In contrast, plain butter and salted butter are best when browned, as they will pick up the depth of flavor from the bits and pieces of meat stuck to the bottom of your skillet.

The reason behind that is simple: when you’re using garlic butter or herb butter, you want to make the most of those fragrant, flavorful alliums and fresh herbs. Exposing them to the high heat of your frying pan will get you away from that—not closer to it.

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Jim is the former editor of Home Cook World. He is a career food writer who's been cooking and baking at home ever since he could see over the counter and put a chair by the stove.