You’re Reheating Steak Wrong. Here’s How to Do It so It Doesn’t Dry Out – CNET

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If you’re lucky, you’ve got space to grill this summer and good grill to do it on. We’ve got tops for grilling and advice for finding cheap cuts of beef that taste expensive. If you’ve pulled off a backyard bash and find yourself with leftover steak, I tested a few ways to reheat it so it doesn’t dry out during it’s encore presentaton.

I spend most of my days cooking and testing meal kits, grocery delivery services and meat subscriptions, which means a fridge perpetually filled with leftovers. Because of that, I’ve honed some skills in not just cooking food but also reheating it the next day. 

To warm up cooked noodles, rice or pizza, these are the best ways to reheat every type of takeout. But what about last night’s rib eye steak that you grilled over charcoal or seared in blazing cast iron? Nothing beats a quality steak, but as anyone who’s tried knows, it can be tricky to reheat it without overcooking.

Medium rare steak on cutting board

If you want great steak the next day, make sure to cook it right the first time. 

David Watsky/CNET

I tried three methods for reheating steak: In a cast-iron skillet, in an air fryer and in an air fryer wrapped in aluminum foil to see which one turned out the tastiest meat.

For the reheat test, I used a roughly 1-inch thick grass-fed rib eye steak that I had cooked medium rare the night before using a cast-iron skillet. I portioned the day-old cooked steak into even thirds and used three methods to reheat the beef.

three pieces of leftover steak on a cutting board

I used a cast-iron skillet and air fryer to see which reheated steak the best. 

David Watsky/CNET

It’s best to let it come to room temperature before reheating, no matter which method you use to reheat steak. Do that, and the steak will warm through faster without having to cook for as long which lowers the risk of drying it out. 

The best ways to reheat steak

Method 1: Cast-iron skillet

steak in cast iron skillet on stove

Using a cast-iron skillet is my favorite way to reheat steak, but it’s usually a bit messier than using the oven.

David Watsky/CNET

The first method I tried to reheat my rib eye was pretty much the same way I cooked it.

  • Step 1: Remove the steak from the fridge and allow it to come to room temperature.
  • Step 2: Put your cast-iron skillet over high heat with a drizzle of cooking oil that has a high smoke point, such as flaxseed or peanut.
  • Step 3: Gently place the leftover steak into the skillet.
  • Step 4: Cook for about two minutes on each side to warm the steak through. Watch carefully to make sure the steak is not cooking much in the middle.
  • Step 5: Remove the steak and let it rest for two minutes before slicing and serving.

This method for reheating steak worked extremely well. The steak emerged from the pan a perfect medium rare, just like it was when I first cooked it. There was no dryness or toughness, and the meat was heated through completely. As a bonus, the steak’s crust became even more pronounced.

Method 2: Air fryer, uncovered

piece of steak in air fryer basket

The air fryer did a fine job reheating the steak and there was almost no mess to clean after.

David Watsky/CNET

In this attempt, I used the air fryer in place of the large oven. One reason is that an air fryer or countertop oven preheats much faster than a standard oven. For such a quick task, I wasn’t interested in waiting for the oven to preheat. 

An air fryer is essentially a small convection oven, but because we want to reheat the steak gently, I chose my air fryer’s “bake” mode instead of actual air-frying. Air frying uses faster, more intense heat that could risk drying out the beef, which is famously temperamental. 

  • Step 1: Let the steak come to room temperature.
  • Step 2: Preheat the air fryer or toaster to 250 degrees F on its bake or warm setting (not air fry).
  • Step 3: Place the steak on top of the cooking rack or in an air fryer basket.
  • Step 4: Heat for 10 minutes, checking every few minutes to ensure the middle of the beef doesn’t overcook.
  • Step 5: Remove from the oven, slice and serve. 

This attempt rendered my leftover steak just as tender and juicy as the cast iron above. The steak was cooked through with no signs of toughness. The only difference between this steak and the one warmed in a skillet is that there was no enhanced crust.

Method 3: Air fryer, wrapped in foil

steak in foil on counter

Wrapping the steak in foil netted the least delicious results of the three methods I tried.

David Watsky/CNET

This method is essentially the same as the previous one but with the steak wrapped in aluminum foil. Indirect heat is often an efficient way to reheat food without overcooking it. But, as you’ll see, reheating steak is a little different from warming other foods.

  • Step 1: Let the steak come to room temperature.
  • Step: 2 Wrap the meat in aluminum foil.
  • Step 3: Preheat the air fryer to 250 degrees F on bake or warm setting (not air fry).
  • Step 4: Heat for 15 minutes.
  • Step 5: Remove from the air fryer, slice and serve.

This method worked OK, but there was a noticeable toughness to the steak that wasn’t there before. The crust had also been diminished, likely due to a bit of steam that built up inside the foil. It also takes the longest of the three methods I tried. 

A cast-iron skillet or grill is the best way to reheat steak

steak in skillet

Reheating steak quickly in a cast-iron skillet will only serve to enhance the already caramelized crust. Just make sure you watch it carefully so as not to overcook. 

David Watsky/CNET

Reheating beef — or any cut of meat — the same way you cooked it originally is likely going to net the best, juiciest results. For steaks, using a cast-iron skillet or a hot grill or griddle top is favorable, since it reinvigorates the crust and heats the inside without overcooking the steak. 

When employing this method, be sure to watch carefully to ensure the meat doesn’t cook much in the center. You can use a nonstick pan, but the surface won’t ever get as hot as cast iron so don’t expect much in the way of enhanced crust.

An air fryer or toaster is the cleanest way to reheat steak

steak in foil in air fryer

Steak wrapped in foil and reheated in the air fryer was the least successful method I tried. 

David Watsky/CNET

While the cast-iron skillet proved the best way to reheat steak, it was also the messiest. Using an air fryer means only having to give a quick rinse to the nonstick basket afterward. Cooking steak in a cast-iron skillet required me to clean a pan that couldn’t be put in the dishwasher. While we’re on the matter, here’s the best way to clean cast-iron cookware.

For me, having to clean one pan is worth it for a better reheated steak with an invigorated crust. 

Don’t use a microwave to reheat steak

Hand opening microwave door

Skip the microwave when reheating steak.

Getty/Grace Cary

Avoid reheating steak in the microwave at all costs. Even the juiciest beef with dense fat marbling will dry out when confronted with those electromagnetic waves. Microwaves also heat food unevenly, and fatty meats such as steak and pork often explode, making a greasy mess inside the appliance.

Cooking it right the first time will help with the reheat

slices steak on platter

If you reserve some of the undercooked steak from the first round, it will be even easier to reheat without drying it out.

Brian Bennett/CNET

If you suspect you’re going to have leftover steak, you might consider cooking some of it less than you normally would. Example: Cook a few pieces of beef rare instead of medium rare or medium rare instead of medium. This practice will give you more wiggle room on the reheat.

To nail the doneness of your rib eye, skirt steak or New York strip on the first cook, use this sneaky trick that professional chefs use to tell when a steak is cooked to their liking. Spoiler alert: It doesn’t require any gadgets; just your hands and a little know-how. If you do end up overcooking it, try slicing it especially thin with a super sharp knife (across the grain, of course). That should mitigate some of the stringiness. 

How long does steak last in the fridge?

steak in plastic food storage container

The USDA recommends eating steak within four days of cooking it. 

David Watsky/CNET

The USDA recommends consuming cooked beef within three to four days as long as it’s kept refrigerated at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or less. Unfortunately, steak begins to lose moisture and flavor after even a day, so the sooner the better. 

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