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Why You Shouldn’t Use Butter to Sear Your Steak

Cooking pan seared ribeye steak with rosemary in Korean granite stone coated frying pan.
Boontoom Sae-Kor/Shutterstock.com

If you’ve ever cooked or seared yourself a steak at home, you probably know that you’re supposed to use some sort of cooking fat in the pan to aid in the cooking, add flavor, and make your pan easier to clean afterward.

Butter and various cooking oils are the two most popular choices. Which is better has been a point of contention among steak lovers for quite some time. We hate to break it to you, butter lovers, but the pro-oil crowd seems to have the upper hand in this one.

It all comes down to the different smoke points between butter and common cooking oils. The smoke point is the temperature at which a cooking fat or oil starts to let off lovely acrid smoke that sets off the fire alarm.

Higher smoke points are considered more desirable for cooking since it means the fat or oil in question is much less likely to burn your food. And butter, as it turns out, has a lower smoke point than other common cooking oils.

cuisinel Cast Iron Square Grill Pan with Glass Lid

With this cast iron pan, you can get those coveted grill marks on your steak without firing up the grill itself.

Butter’s smoke point is around 300 degrees F, as compared to most cooking oils; avocado oil, for comparison, has a smoke point of 520 degrees Fahrenheit. Even famously smoky olive oil has a smoke point of 350 to 410 degrees F (depending on its quality). Thus you’re better off using cooking oil.

That’s not to say you can’t use butter to cook your steak at all; you’ll just have to be a lot more diligent about monitoring your stovetop’s temperature and your meat as it sears in the pan. And you can always melt a dollop of butter overtop your steak to season it just before you take it out of the pan, so you get that nice buttery taste without the risk.

Meghan Herlihy Meghan Herlihy
Meghan Herlihy is a full-time writer for LifeSavvy and How-To Geek and has written across a wide variety of topics, genres, and formats, including radio talk shows, local sports journalism, and creative original fiction. She received her bachelor's degree in communications from Ithaca College and a master's in writing from Johns Hopkins University. When she's not writing, you're most likely to find her reading a book, petting every dog within eyesight, and indulging in her love of travel. Read Full Bio »
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