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Olive Oil on Steak: Is It Better Than Butter, and Why?

Should you put olive oil on steak? If so, should it be before or after grilling? And if not, is there something else you should use instead? When you’ve finished reading our ultimate guide, you’ll be able to forge ahead with confidence.

Olive Oil on Steak

Olive oil has a mild, buttery flavor and a high smoke point, so it’s fine to put it on your steaks before you cook them. However, steer clear of extra virgin olive oil, except as a marinade ingredient. It’s not a good cooking oil, thanks to its low smoke point.

Why Put Olive Oil on Steak?

When you grill a steak, your goal is to create a crisp exterior crust that will lock in all those savory juices. Applying a thin coating of fat to the meat will help you achieve that goal. It also helps to prevent the steak from sticking to the cooking grates or pan.

The key is to choose an oil with a high smoke point. Otherwise, the meat will char before the insides have a chance to reach the optimum temperature. It’s also best to use oil that will impart a bit of flavor to the steak without overpowering it.

Can You Cook Steak With Olive Oil?

You can—but it’s important to use the right type of olive oil.

While regular olive oil has a light color and a mild flavor, extra virgin olive oil is characterized by a more robust flavor profile. It also has a low smoke point, making it a poor choice for cooking.

In order to attain the ideal texture, steak needs to cook rapidly over medium-high heat. Extra virgin olive oil will burn at these temperatures, giving the steak’s crust an unpleasant bitter flavor.

It’s better to save extra virgin olive oil for marinades and salad dressings. That way, the recipes will benefit from the rich taste. Since this product is relatively expensive, you’ll save money by using this technique.

Regular olive oil is another story. Since it has a smoke point of about 450 degrees Fahrenheit, you can easily use this as a grilling oil. It has more flavor than neutral oils like canola or peanut, but it’s not as overwhelming as the extra virgin variety.

Should You Use Olive Oil On Steak Instead of Butter?

Butter isn’t a good choice when searing steak, as it has a low smoke point and contains milk solids that will burn in a heartbeat. Even if you use clarified butter, which has had the milk solids removed, it’s not a good idea.

You can, however, add a pat of butter to the steak once it’s cooked. This will imbue the meat with flavor and richness. Olive oil will have a similar effect—the taste profile will just be slightly different.

Some chefs apply a second layer of olive oil to the steaks when they’re nearly finished cooking. The idea is to give the meat an extra boost of flavor and prevent the crust from drying out. If you’d like to try it, make sure to give the steaks a good sear on each side before taking them off the heat.

Pro Tip: When you want to serve your steaks topped with butter, try adding various seasonings to the softened butter before shaping it into a log and chilling it again. Lemon zest, freshly minced herbs, and pressed garlic are all wonderful options.

When To Use Olive Oil On Steak

Assuming that you’ve selected regular olive oil, you can brush some on each side of the steak before adding the seasonings. It will help the spices adhere, giving you an even more impressive crust.

Go easy on the oil during this step. You shouldn’t need more than 1/2 teaspoon of oil per side, though this can vary based on the size of the steak.

Olive oil also makes an excellent marinade ingredient. In this case, you can use extra virgin olive oil, but if you do, it will be even more important to pat the meat dry before you season it.

When To Apply Oil To Steak

Some people think that they can pour the oil directly into the frying pan when cooking steak. This will result in steak that’s fried rather than seared. While it won’t necessarily ruin the meat, it won’t give it the desired texture, either.

Instead, add the oil to the steak itself. Don’t use too much—you only need enough to help the spices adhere and to prevent the steak from sticking. If you’re grilling the steak, using a thin layer of oil will also reduce the risk of flare-ups.

Ideas For Seasoning Blends

Are you looking for unique ways to season your steak? Here are a few tips to get you started. A thin coating of olive oil will enhance each of these recipes.

Montreal Style

This is a classic steakhouse preparation, made from ingredients that will enhance the steak without overtaking the beef flavor. As a bonus, it’s made from pantry staples, so you might not even have to make an extra trip to the store.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons paprika
  • 1 tablespoon granulated garlic
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  • 1 tablespoon ground dill seeds
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl.

South Asian Steak Seasoning

This will lend an exotic touch to your steaks. Try serving them alongside coconut rice and steamed vegetables, topped with a sprinkling of freshly minced cilantro. If you can’t find the bell pepper powder for this recipe, substitute sweet paprika instead.

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons bell pepper powder
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 3/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground coriander

Combine ingredients in a small bowl and mix well.

Dry Chimichurri Steak Rub

Chimichurri is a popular South American condiment that’s usually applied to grilled and roasted meats. With this recipe, you can replicate those flavors in a seasoning rub.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon granulated onion
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and mix well. Store any leftovers in an airtight container.

Other Tips For Preparing Steak

Bring steak to room temperature for about 30 minutes before cooking. This will allow it to cook more evenly and keep the meat nice and juicy.

Wash your hands before and after handling raw steak, and clean any utensils that have come into contact with the raw meat before using them again.

Use freshly ground black pepper, not the pre-ground variety.

Pat the meat dry using paper towels before adding olive oil and seasonings, especially if it’s been in a marinade.

Allow cooked steaks to rest for at least 5 minutes before serving. Otherwise, the juices won’t have time to redistribute.

The Bottom Line

Can you cook steak with olive oil? Sure—as long as it’s the right type. Don’t be tempted to use extra virgin olive oil when grilling the meat, or you’ll wind up with steaks that are charred and bitter on the outside.

Best of luck, and happy grilling!