Air fryer steak: Juicy, tender steak with a crisp sear

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Air fryer steak: Juicy, tender steak with a crisp sear
A 1-inch-thick steak will cook most evenly.Olivia/Getty Images
  • Air frying creates juicy, tender steaks with a nice sear, making it an underrated cooking method.
  • Ribeye and New York Strip are the best cuts for air frying, but tri-tip and top round also work well.
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You probably know that air frying is a great way to make crispy chicken wings, but don't miss out on a best-kept cooking secret: air fryer steak.

"The heat and air circulation sear the outside of the steak for a nice crust, while the inside cooks more gently so it stays juicy and tender," says food scientist Linda Larsen, the author of 50 cookbooks, including five cookbooks on air frying. "And there's less mess when you use an air fryer since the cooking is completely contained."

The versatility of the air fryer goes far beyond steaks, says Larsen. The kitchen appliance operates like a countertop convection oven, circulating highly heated air to help create a cooked product with a sear and crust similar to roasting or deep frying.

Best air fryer

Air fryer steak: Juicy, tender steak with a crisp sear
Jen Gushue/Business Insider

We tested over 40 models to find the best air fryers. Check out our favorites:

  • Best overall: Instant Vortex Plus Air Fryer Oven - See at Amazon
  • Best value: Beautiful Touchscreen Air Fryer - See at Walmart
  • Best toaster oven: Oster Digital Air Fryer Oven with RapidCrisp - See at Amazon

Choose your steak cut

Air fryer steak: Juicy, tender steak with a crisp sear
Marbled cuts stay moist while lean cuts should be marinated.Claudia Totir/Getty Images

According to Larsen, ribeyes and New York strips are the best types of steak to make in an air fryer because they are marbled and have great flavor. "Make sure that the outside fat is trimmed to 1/4-inch so that there isn't too much excess fat dripping off when the steak cooks," she says.

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Larsen also points out that top round and tri-tip both have wonderful flavor when prepared in an air fryer. She recommends marinating these and other lean cuts first for best results. Without a marinade, they're so thin that they might dry out.

While it's possible to cook a 2-inch thick filet mignon in an air fryer, Larsen says it is tricky from both a logistical and food safety perspective. "You can cook a thick steak in the air fryer; just be prepared to cook for a fairly long time, and you have to like rare or medium-rare doneness." For these reasons, it's best to begin with a 1-inch-thick steak before you venture on to experimenting with thicker cuts.

The USDA says steaks should be cooked to 145 degrees Fahrenheit minimum, which is medium, she says. "It's hard to get a thick steak to that temperature without overcooking the exterior. If you are at risk for food poisoning complications, always cook steak to that temperature."

How long should I cook a steak in an air fryer?

Steak temperatureMeat thermometer reading (after air frying)Meat thermometer reading (after resting)Suggested cook time for a 1-inch-thick steak
Rare120 degrees Fahrenheit125 degrees Fahrenheit5 – 6 minutes
Medium rare130 degrees Fahrenheit135 degrees Fahrenheit7 – 8 minutes
Medium140 degrees Fahrenheit145 degrees Fahrenheit10 – 12 minutes
Medium well145 degrees Fahrenheit150 degrees Fahrenheit14 minutes
Well150 degrees Fahrenheit155 degrees Fahrenheit16 minutes

Larsen recommends keeping one of the best meat thermometers handy to test the internal temperature when the steak comes out of the air fryer. Since meat rises in temperature while resting, she says it's important to account for this when calculating the final internal meat temperature.

"The finished steak should be put on a clean platter. Cover it with foil and leave it alone for three minutes. During that time, the temperature will rise another 5 degrees Fahrenheit from carryover cooking, and the juices will redistribute so every bite is juicy," she explains.

How to air fry steak

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Air fryer steak: Juicy, tender steak with a crisp sear
Air fryers tend to vary in their cook times, so err on the side of a shorter cook time and add more if needed.Complexio/Getty Images
  1. Season the steak. Marinate lean cuts for 30 minutes or more, then remove from marinade and pat dry. Brush steak lightly with olive oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. For marbled cuts, you may skip the marinade prior to cooking or apply a dry rub, if desired.
  2. Preheat the air fryer to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Not all air fryer models require preheating, but if yours does, get it nice and hot.
  3. Air fry your steak. Set your timer for five to 16 minutes, depending on your desired doneness. The chart above will tell you the proper cook time. Flip the steak halfway through cooking.
  4. Temp your steak. Using a reliable meat thermometer, insert the probe into the center of the meat horizontally to measure the internal temperature. Reference the chart above for suggested internal temperature readings. If your steak has not reached the proper temperature, continue cooking in two-minute increments until it does.
  5. Rest the steak. Remove the meat from the air fryer and place it on a clean platter. Cover it with foil and let it rest for three minutes prior to cutting and serving.

When and how to marinate steak for air frying

Air fryer steak: Juicy, tender steak with a crisp sear
Marinate lean meats to keep them moist and tender.Funwithfood/Getty Images

Larsen says it's important to marinate some cuts since they aren't as naturally tender. "Marinate top round, tri-tip, flank steak, skirt steak, and bottom round," she says.

The marinade you choose is entirely up to you. Your favorite combination of oil; an acid like soy sauce, lemon juice, or vinegar, and a variety of herbs and spices will do. Your steak should marinate for at least 30 minutes and up to several hours.

Once you're ready to cook, "Make sure you remove the steak from the marinade, discard the marinade, and pat the steak dry," says Larsen. "Then brush it with some olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper before you put it into the air fryer."

Tips for the best air fryer steak

    • Don't try to cook too many steaks at once. You want them to be able to cook thoroughly and crisp and sear evenly, which won't happen if you overload the basket to the point where they can't lie evenly on the bottom.
    • Try a dry rub. This simple mixture creates a beautiful, brown crust: 2 parts brown sugar with 1 part salt and pepper. Rub it on dry steaks and let rest for 10 minutes before cooking. You can mix in any additional spices you like.
    • Serve with garlic butter. To create an authentic steakhouse taste, combine a stick of softened butter and three cloves of chopped garlic in a mixer or food processor. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
    • Flip the steak. Set a timer to remind yourself to flip the steak halfway through cooking to ensure it browns evenly. Some air fryer models will remind you automatically.

Insider's takeaway

Air frying is a best-kept secret for preparing tender, juicy steaks with a nice sear and crust. Ribeye and New York strip steak tastes great when prepared in an air fryer, but many other cuts such as tri-tip, flank steak, and top round also work well. Marinate lean steak cuts prior to cooking, and try to stick with 1-inch-thick steaks for the best results.

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