How to Cook a Ribeye Steak

The Secret is Using the 4-3-2 Technique and a Cast Iron Skillet

How to cook a ribeye steak
Cooking a boneless ribeye steak in a cast iron skillet.

The question of how to cook a ribeye steak reminds me of the old joke about how to get to Carnegie Hall:

Q: How do you cook a ribeye steak?
A: Medium rare, medium rare, medium rare.

Easier said than done, right? Well, it really is that simple, and I'm going to tell you exactly how to do it.

My favorite technique for cooking a boneless ribeye steak is on a cast iron skillet using the 4-3-2 method:

  1. Sear it on a dry skillet for 4 minutes.
  1. Flip it and sear the other side for 3 minutes.
  2. Let it rest for 2 minutes.

Note that this technique is best for when you're cooking one or at most two ribeyes. And you can really only do two if you have an extra-wide skillet.

If you need to do more than two, you'll need to cook them on the grill instead. Or maybe you have multiple cast iron skillets, in which case great.

The Goal: A VERY Hot Pan

What you're trying to do is avoid overcrowding the pan, because it needs to be absolutely smoking hot. Dropping too many steaks into a hot pan will instantly cool it off, causing your steaks to sort of steam rather than sear.

I recommend cast iron specifically because it gets very hot and it holds its temperature for a long time.

By the way, the reason this technique works best with a boneless ribeye is that you want to get a nice tight seal between the meat and the pan. Sometimes the bone can get in the way.

Finally, the 4-3-2 technique assumes that your ribeye steak is an inch to 1 1/4 inches thick. If it's thicker, you'll need to cook it longer. And under no conceivable circumstance should a ribeye steak be thinner than an inch.

Also see: Why You Need to Have a Great Butcher

Let's break down the technique in more detail:

  1. Let the steak sit out at room temperature for 30 minutes. Season it on both sides with Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Press the salt and pepper firmly into the steak.
  2. Heat an empty, dry, cast-iron skillet over high heat until it's smoking hot. Use your hottest burner and just let it heat up for as long as necessary, even if it's 15 minutes.
  3. Place the steak in the pan, pressing it firmly against the surface of the pan. Then don't move it or touch it for 4 minutes.
  4. Flip it over with a pair of tongs and cook it another 3 minutes on the other side, again without touching it.
  5. Remove it from the pan, transfer to a warm plate, cover it loosely with a piece of foil and let it rest for 2 minutes. Then serve and enjoy.

NOTE #1: It's going to get very smoky in your kitchen. So turn on your vent fan and open windows, back doors, skylights and so on, as necessary. Likewise, if you have a door between your kitchen and the rest of your house, you might want to keep it closed.

NOTE #2: If you're doing this in the winter, and you've opened your back door to let the smoke out, you might want to rest the steaks in a warmer room.

For more about ribeye steaks, including how to select a good one, see What is a Ribeye Steak?