For the past several weeks I’ve been on an air fryer roll, trying to air fry just about everything. My new big hit is an air fryer steak. Seriously, who would have thought that air fried steaks would taste this good? And don’t even get me started on the convenience of cooking a steak in an air fryer. No other method comes close in the speed and convenience department. Surely, an air fried steak misses smoky flavor, grill marks and caramelization. But the highly desired meat tenderness and juiciness is there. More than that, an air fried steak does not overcook nearly as much near the surface because the meat does not come in contact with hot metal. The thin wire rack doesn’t count.
Preparing the steak for air frying
While you can just take a steak, put some salt and pepper on it and start frying it, I strongly suggest that you prep the meat first. Trust me, it will make a huge difference. If you have a few days at your disposal, put some salt and pepper on your steaks, throw them on a plate and refrigerate, uncovered. Flip the steaks every 12 hours or so and blot the liquids with a paper towel. The salt will penetrate inside the meat and flavorize it inside out. It will also tenderize it. A flavorful and a tender steak is a superior steak. It works on air fried pork chops as well. This process will also make the meat lose a fair amount of liquid, which will intensify the flavor of the meat. Think of it as a slightly dry-aged steak. It’s a very desirable thing for a steak. A dry-aged steak will also brown better.
If you don’t have a few days before cooking, even a few hours will help. If you don’t have even a few hours, that’s OK. Just make sure to salt the steaks right before cooking as the salt will start to draw out moisture and that will prevent any sort of browning you may get in an air fryer. Isn’t it the case when salting a few hours or days in advance too? Yes, but with longer time frames the meat will have an opportunity to re-absorb some of the lost liquid, and the rest will be evaporated. Humidity in fridges is very low so all that excess water will evaporate rather quickly.
Seeing amazing results with letting steaks rest after searing and before finishing them, I wanted to see how that could be implemented with air frying. I could not find a good way to do it. But, most importantly, I realized that there was no reason in doing that. You see, meat fibers shrink quite a lot during searing phase, all because of the meat touching a super hot surface.
That’s not the case in an air fryer. The meat surface temperature does not get hot enough to warrant an intermittent rest time. That’s the reason an air fryer steak does not have that intensely grey, overcooked area near the surface. That’s the reason you don’t see much of caramelization or charring. And that’s the beauty of cooking a steak in an air fryer - you can go from start to finish non-stop, without changing anything. No resting in between, no moving from a hot cast iron pan to a less hot oven.
Butter makes a tastier and a better looking steak
One thing to keep in mind when making an air fryer steak is that the meat surface will dry out during cooking. It’s not a piece of chicken that is protected by a fatty skin. The solution? Butter! Yes, brush some butter on the steak before putting in an air fryer and you are good to go. Just take a look at the picture below of a steak buttered half-way. Do you see the difference between the two halves? That butter will also add a lot of flavor.
How many steaks can you cook in an air fryer?
In my 6.8 quart air fryer I can comfortably fit a couple of trimmed strip loin steaks, or one large rib eye steak for example. I’ve tried fitting in three strip loin steaks but they were too crowded and got poor color, especially on the sides.
Additionally, I suggest cooking your steaks without flipping. If you do, you will get somewhat pale color on both top and bottom sides. If you just keep them on one side, you will get a decent color on top, even some caramelization in certain spots. For me, it's worth it.
Looking for more tasty air fryer recipes? Make sure to check these out:
- Air Fryer Chicken Wings
- Air Fryer Chicken Thighs
- Air Fryer Sesame Chicken Breast
- Air Fryer Shrimp
- Crispy Air Fried Brussels Sprouts
Equipment used and shown on the pictures above: Chefman 6.8 Quart Air Fryer.
- 2 strip loin steaks (1.25" thick; or use any steaks of your choosing)
- 2 tsp salt (plus more to taste)
- 2 tsp black pepper (plus more to taste)
- 2 Tbsp butter (melted)
- Sprinkle the steaks with salt and pepper, place on a plate and refrigerate for 2-3 days, uncovered. Flip every 12 hours or so, blotting the juices with a paper towel. This step is recommended for superior tenderness and enhanced flavor, but you can skip it if pressed for time.
- Remove the steaks from the fridge 45-60 minutes before cooking and let them sit at room temperature.
- Brush the steaks with melted butter on both sides, place on the rack of your air fryer. Cook at 410F for 15 minutes, without pre-heating, for medium doneness. Cook for about 1 to 2 minutes less for medium rare and rare respectively, and 1-2 minutes more for medium-well and well done respectively. The times will need to be adjusted further if air frying steaks thicker or thinner than 1.25" thick. These cooking times are approximate, so use an instant read thermometer in conjunction with the table in the Notes section.
- Remove steaks from the air fryer, wrap in foil or wax paper, and let rest for 10 minutes, then serve. Try serving with compound butter, it will add a ton of flavor.