As much as I love firing up my grill and cooking over an open flame, there is a good stretch of the year when backyard grilling takes a break and my grill goes into hibernation. (Blame it on Colorado snows that last well into spring!) So I was curious: could a steak cooked in an air fryer possibly rival a grilled one?
So far, my air fryer basket has been used primarily to crisp up panko breaded chicken breasts, make some life-changing sweet potato fries, and help with my weekly meal prep — like crispy harissa-spiced chickpeas, which are perfect salad toppings. But I saw several air fryer steak recipes and decided to try a few methods.
Food Network suggests that thicker cuts of steak, like sirloin, do best in the air fryer because they brown nicely on the outside but stay tender on the inside. I grabbed a couple of Trader Joe’s Top Sirloins, each a few inches thick.
“The first step to cooking a great steak, whether in an air fryer or otherwise, is to bring the meat to room temperature,” says cooking expert and recipe developer Chris Riley of Smoked Meat Sunday.
So for every air fryer steak I tested, I took the meat out of the fridge and let it rest for about 30 minutes. Riley also suggests brushing the steaks lightly with olive oil if you’re not using a marinade, which I didn’t, and preheating the air fryer to around 400 degrees before placing the meat in.
He says there’s a golden rule for cooking steaks in the air fryer: don’t overfill the basket. “Overcrowding prevents the hot air from circulating, and you don’t get that nice crust everywhere,” says Riley.
With that in mind, I fired up the air fryer. Read on to find out how the “grilling” turned out in my air fryer!
Air fryer steak with garlic crust
One of my favorite recipe creators, Skinnytaste’s Gina Homolka, recently posted a steak air fryer recipe and says she went through some “trial and error” before landing on a good method. Her bottom line for preparing steaks in the air fryer: use a thick steak, as thinner ones cook too quickly and don’t brown, and as Riley says, preheat your air fryer to 400 degrees.
I like my steaks cooked on a happy medium, and Homolka suggests cooking a 1-inch-thick steak in a preheated air fryer for 12 minutes, flipping it after six minutes. But I had to adjust to the thickness as my steak was just over 1 1/2 inches. I cooked it for about 16 minutes, checking it often with a meat thermometer and removing it when it reached 140 degrees to let it rest on a plate lined with aluminum foil and rise another 5 degrees.
I landed loving this recipe that calls for a garlicky, peppery rub that creates a nice seared crust on the meat. It’s tender on the inside and I ate it for dinner along with some broccoli and a simple salad with berries and raspberry vinaigrette.
Air Fryer Steak with Garlic Butter
The next recipe I tried was from Food Network, and instead of a dry rub, it calls for a simple salt and pepper shake and then a garlic butter topping. As with the Skinnytaste recipe, this one recommends preheating the air fryer to 400 degrees before placing the steak.
Like the first recipe I tried, this steak’s air roast is based on a 1-inch cut, and my top roast beef was a little beefier, so again I had to adjust the cooking time and have a meat thermometer on hand. However, the de facto recommendation is to cook around 10 minutes for Medium Rare, 12 minutes for Medium and 14 minutes for Medium Well.
I had some whipped butter and a garlic spread from Trader Joe’s in my fridge, which I ended up using for the top of the steak and tossing them together while the air fryer worked its magic.
Steak in the air fryer: the verdict
I loved both recipes and believe the air fryer is a good substitute for grilling steaks. One challenge is that cooking times can vary depending on the cut of meat and the thickness of the steak. Plus, unlike the grill, you can only cook one steak at a time (unless you have a giant air fryer basket). But the pros are that cleanup is super easy and you can have a pretty darn good steak in about 10 minutes if you use a 1-inch cut.
When it comes to recipes, Skinnytaste cuts it short for me. It requires turning the steak mid-cooking, searing both sides of your steak flavorfully. I also prefer the more generous seasoning because it gives the steak a nice crust.
Air fryer steak tips and tricks
I overcooked one of the first steaks I made and ended up with a super well done cut of meat and quickly learned that there is a learning curve when it comes to air frying steaks.
Here are a few helpful pointers I picked up during my testing:
- Pat steak dry: If your steaks are too wet when you throw them in the air fryer, they will be steamed. Rub or spray some olive oil on them after drying them with a paper towel.
- Have a meat thermometer ready: When I’m grilling for myself and friends, I have a thermometer ready so I can see how well the meat is done. (Rare is 125-130 degrees Fahrenheit; medium is 140-150 degrees; good is over 160 degrees). I also recommend using a meat thermometer when frying steaks in the air fryer, being aware that the temperature will rise a few degrees while the meat rests after you remove it.
- Marbled Air Roasted Steaks: Rib eyes, sirloins, and strip steaks make great air fryers, says Jennifer Schlette, founder of KitchenSubstitute.com. Boneless cuts of meat can get a little too dry in the air fryer, she says.