Overcooking a steak is one of the most defeating, frustrating things you can do in the kitchen. It should be a simple task, in theory, and yet it’s easy to mess up. Once overcooked, it is really tough to salvage a steak.
In this post, we’re going to explore 9 signs that your steak ended up overcooked. And we’ll also talk about what you can do to prevent those disasters so that you get a perfect piece of meat, every single time.
Load up with the right gear for your particular grill, and let's get searing. But not too long! Here are 9 signs your steak is overcooked:
1. It’s Bone-Dry When You Bite Into It
Steaks come juicy, with plenty of moisture and a generous level of flavor. If you overcook that steak, moisture levels are going to slowly drop. Think about the moisture level of your steak like a beautiful little bell curve. It’s like math for flavor science. When you start to cook your steak, you’ll slowly be increasing the level of moisture and flavor in the steak. As it sits in its own juices and takes on additional flavor from olive oil and butter, it gets juicier and more flavorful.
But keep cooking that precious jewel and it will slowly lose flavor and moisture. The delicate balance will tip, and it will char and the moisture will evaporate in the heat. You’ll cross onto the other side of the bell curve and you’ll lose taste. It’ll become bone-dry and inedible.
The perfect steak is cooked right up until just before the peak of the bell curve so that it cruises into the top while it rests.
2. You’re Dousing it In Sauce
Listen, we love BBQ sauce. We’re not those people that think you have to enjoy your meat with nothing on it. A proper aioli or a quality sauce can take a good steak into the stratospheres of flavor. If you’re looking for some inspiration, our awesome homemade BBQ sauce is the perfect complement to any red meat that you’re cooking up.
But if you take one bite and immediately reach for that tangy sauce, something went wrong. Your meat should be able to take on the additional pep of the BBQ sauce, but it certainly shouldn’t require it to be edible. If you’re posting up with the bottle and hitting your steak with a little extra each bite, something went wrong.
All your steak should need is an excellent, secret-recipe style rub that wows your friends.
3. There Weren’t Many Liquids in the Cooking Process
Tell us your cooking process for the steak, without even telling us how long or how hot, and we’ll tell you whether or not things are going to be overcooked.
The key to searing a perfect steak in a cast-iron pan is a generous drizzle of avocado oil followed by a couple of dollops of clarified butter after the steak has hit the pan.
If you need to step up the flavors in short cooking time, you can even combine elements like butter, rosemary and garlic. Our amazing garlic rosemary-infused olive oil can really improve the cooking process from the first sizzle to the first bite.
4. You Got Scared It Was Undercooked
Foodsafety.gov, the U.S. site helping people with food safety best practices, recommends that you hit 145F with your steaks and add a rest time of 3 minutes. For context, a medium-rare steak is cooked to about ~130-135F internal temperature. You should also let it rest for about 3 minutes.
Now, we’re certainly not recommending that you’re unsafe with your food. Get your meat from good (preferably local) sources, cook it at high temperatures, and definitely use a food thermometer to make sure it’s done. But if you’re like most people and consider a lack of pink to mean overcooked meat, then you’ll have to undershoot the 145F recommendation.
It’s a tough balance but toss on your BBQ & Bottles trucker cap and sear confidently.
5. You Cooked at a Low Temperature… or a High One
When we grill our reverse-seared rib steaks on the Cuisinart pellet grill, we set the temperature to 250F and grill until the steaks hit an internal temperature of 120F. Once that hits, we remove the steaks and turn up the grill to 500F to sear then on each side for 2-3 minutes. By the time you’re done, the steaks should hit 128F degrees.
Ultimately, what matters is the temperature inside the steak and not the temperature outside of the steak. The goal of the temperature outside is just to raise the temperature inside, after all. But how you get there matters. If you’re slow cooking, make sure to keep the temperature low. If you’re going for a sear, get high, up to that 500-700F zone. Temperatures in the middle can make the process go too long or too short, which overcooks the meat.
It’s all a little bit trickier if you’re searing your steak in a pan. Keep in mind that you aren’t going to hit the 500F degrees that a grill or oven can hit for a broil. It varies by the stove, but most electric pans will hit 400F and gas can hit 375F on high.
Temperature is critical, especially when you’re tearing into a 60oz Tomahawk Steak. Check out our recipe on that one. It’s wild and super tasty.
6. You Somehow Cooked it Longer than 10 Minutes
If you’re not slow cooking, and you’re going straight for the sear, your steak shouldn’t be on the hot surface longer than 10 minutes. If it is, you did something wrong—it’s going to be overcooked.
Steak should hit around 130F degrees to be medium-rare. If you’re cooking at high temperatures on a cast iron pan, or at high temperatures in a grill or broil in the oven, then this should take well under 10 minutes to reach.
The trick here is to cook a little longer on the first side than the second side. The second side will always cook quicker because the total temperature of the steak is already higher by the time that the second side hits the pan or grill. If you grill for 4-5 minutes on the first side, the second side should be 3-4.
7. Lack of Pink
Here’s an obvious one—if you cut into your precious steak and find that it’s a dull gray-brown all the way up and down, you’re in trouble. Maybe you like the steak well or even well done. If so, then maybe it’s perfect? Hard to believe though. Most people love a steak that has at least a strand of pink through the middle.
8. You Let it Rest Too Long
Good steaks are served hot. If you let it cool down and rest too long, it will keep cooking and will become tough by the time you’re trying to serve it, which is no good. Around 5-10 minutes tented in foil is the ideal rest. Longer and it will go cold.
9. You Start Trying to Figure out How to Clean the Pan
If you sear your steak correctly, the pan should be fairly easy to clean at the end of the process. A quick scrub in warm water with soap should do the trick. But if you’ve overcooked things, you might be looking up ways to clean a scorched pan. Once you’re reaching for the baking soda or the harsh brushes, you know that you overcooked your meat along the way.