Pan-frying a steak is one of the easiest things to do but also one of the easiest things to mess up! So. let's just keep it really simple and stick to the basics so no one has to get hurt, shall we?
Just sea salt and fresh ground black pepper is the way I like to roll. Sure you can rub in a little minced garlic, sure you can pour on some balsamic and soy sauce. Newman's Italian Salad Dressing is a great time-saver for those of you who like a wet-marinade. If you're marinating in wet, just massage it into both sides of your steak and wait 10-15 minutes. Any longer than that doesn't make much of a difference. Or, just do the good-old season and rub down and that's plenty fine (salt is essential).
*Important--If you use a wet or oil=based marinade of any kind, pat it dry prior to pan-frying. This one tiny step makes a big difference in how the meat cooks. If you're asking, "To fork or not to fork?" I do puncture the beef with a fork a few times when I'm marinating in wet, but I rub when doing dry. As to whether forking really works or not, chefs still can't agree.
#2--Use a Hot, Hot Pan
The job of the pan is to first sear the outside of the steak, thereby locking in juices and moisture rather than letting them run out of the meat during the cooking process. Cast iron works great for this but you can also use any, regular pan with even heat distribution. As for your oil, you're going to want to use something with a very high smoke point like peanut oil, canola, corn oil or vegetable. Like butter? First, start with a two tablespoons of oil and then add a bit of butter and combine the two with a spatula. This will keep the butter from burning while giving you that butter-flavor.
Skinny Steaks- Anything from Skirt Steak to Carne Asada to Round Tip, Top Loin, etcetera
This is usually how I fly. Thinner steaks fry up perfectly, season well and are so quick and easy to make, it's just a cinch. So if you've got anything thinner than .75 inches, just plop it in the pan and go. I'm a medium-rare to medium person. To get my steak the perfect temperature, all I have to do is flip it the moment I see the edges of the steak(s) browning, usually 30-45 seconds is all it takes. Doing a thicker cut? If so, then you're going to take a bit longer to sear each side, about 1-2 minutes each side. You want the outside of the steak to take on a deep brown color. After that, you're going to proceed to the next step.
#3--Finish in the Oven
If you've got a thicker cut, anything thicker than that first joint on your index finger (about an inch) you're going to want to finish off that steak in the oven. So, heat up that oven to 270°F (177°C). Make sure it's fully heated before you do anything else. If you've got an oven-safe frying pan without any plastic, just pop it in the oven. Otherwise, transfer to a baking sheet or roasting pan and cook as follows.
Rare -- 2-3 minutes or to 125°F
Medium rare -- 3-4 minutes or to 135°F
Medium -- 4-5 minutes or to 145°F
Medium Well -- 5-6 minutes or to 150°F
Well Done -- 7-8 minutes or to 160°F
#4--Let it Rest!
This is the step so many cooks are happy to skip but it's absolutely essential. You've got to let that steak rest or else it's going to lose much of that juice you're locked in with the sear. All you have to do is remove that steak from the burner or oven and plop a little foil on top. Wait for 3-5 minutes. You can proceed onto step 5 and make a great sauce for that steak or plate your vegetables and toss the salad during that time.
Want a little sauce to top off that steak? You've got all those wonderful brown bits of fat sticking to the bottom of that pan. Just turn the heat back up to high and add a little broth or stock to the pan and loosen those brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Use just enough liquid to cover the bottom of the pan about one-inch deep. If you're going with wine or anything with alcohol (like beer), you're going to want to bring that sauce up to boiling to burn off the booze. Now, run that mixture through a sieve and bring it back to the pan. Add a little Worcestershire or soy, a few spices, a little pepper and if you want a gravy or roux-type sauce, add a little flour (first) then stir and then the butter. Taste as you go.
Voila! Steak is served!