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How Long to Rest Steak, and Why it’s Important

As you explore the world of barbecue and try to enhance your skills, you’ll uncover no end of “secrets” to better grilling. Even something that seems basic –cooking a steak– has insider tricks and tips for the best results. Read on to learn how resting a steak is key to serving it at its peak.

Last Updated: October 7, 2021

A steak resting under foil on a cutting board

To help you serve the best steak possible, we’re going to teach you today how long to rest steak for the optimal results after grilling.

The older I get, the more I realize kids that fight their nap time are daft — what I wouldn’t give to have the hours in a day to catch a few extra winks! At best, I can try to take a few minutes to rest after I’ve been working hard. But it’s better than nothing and leaves me feeling closer to my best self.

Cue the segue.

And, did you know your grilled steaks are also better after a short rest? It’s true!

We’re all after that perfect barbecued steak experience, and this vital information will help you get there. I’m going to share with you the optimal amount of time to rest your steaks after taking them off the grill. Then I’ll tell you why we let steak rest, and exactly how to do it. We’ll finish with some do’s and don’t to wrap it up.

Ready, set, REST!

How Long to Rest Your Steaks

A grilled NY Strip steak resting on a cutting board

Let’s get this out of the way right now. There are many opinions, guidelines, and rules of thumb (rule of thumbs?) out there. I’ve tried them all, and here’s what I have concluded:

A five minute resting period is plenty for any steak of at least 1-inch thickness.

You could go longer (you’ll read “5 minutes per inch of thickness” on many sites, which would be 7.5 minutes for a 1.5” steak), but you won’t see or taste enough difference to make those extra minutes mandatory or worth it

Now that you know how long to let steak rest, let’s learn why we’re doing it.

Why Rest Your Steak After Grilling?

A sliced steak with juices running on cutting board
Don’t rest your steak? Then you will lose juices, moisture, and flavor

Here’s something I’ve learned about marketing: what looks good sells; but, what looks good isn’t always what’s best.

For example, if you cut into a steak and juices flow out and create a puddle on your plate, you think, “Wow, what a tender, juicy steak! This will be delicious.” And yes, it was a tender and juicy steak — right up until you let all the moisture out.

It might still be ok, but it won’t be as good as it could have been.

What Happens to Steak During Cooking?

Meat is muscle, and muscle is full of bundles of protein fibers that expand and contract as needed when the brain asks the muscles to work.

Exposing the fibers to high heat during cooking causes them to contract. Contracting fibers squeeze out moisture (raw beef is about 75% water), forcing most of it towards the center of the steak.

What Happens During the Resting?

Once the steak comes away from the heat, the fibers relax, allowing the moisture to redistribute more evenly.

That means when you cut into it, the bulk of the fluids will stay in the meat instead of leaking onto your plate. You’ll enjoy a far juicier steak, with a better mouthfeel and more intense flavour.

Something else that happens when you rest your steak is Carryover Cooking. Meat absorbs heat as it cooks, and it doesn’t simply disappear when you take it off the grill. The residual heat will continue to cook your steak from the inside while it rests. Give our article on Carryover Cooking: What Is It and Why Is It Important? a read to learn more.

Do all Steaks Need Resting After Cooking?

Different raw steaks spread across a long cutting board

Yes, we recommend resting all your steaks, no matter the cut. This especially applies to the best thick, juicy steaks for grilling (1½ inches is optimal). You could probably sear a very thin steak (½ inch or less) and then dig right in without losing much fluid or flavor.

And if you are one of those people who like a well-done steak, by the time you’ve cooked it that much, there isn’t much moisture and tenderness left to preserve.

How to Rest Your Steak

“Resting steaks ain’t like dusting crops, boy”

– Han Solo

Ok, so the captain of the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy didn’t say that. But I can imagine he’d be intense around the barbecue. Regardless, here’s a step-by-step list of how to rest a steak.

  1. Remove the steak from your grill.
  2. Place the steak on a clean plate, platter, or cutting board. (Never reuse the plate you brought the raw steak to your BBQ on.)
  3. Leave your steak uncovered someplace safe from bugs, pets, impatient guests, etc. (Some people tell you to tent it with aluminum foil, but naked on the counter is just fine. For your steak.)
  4. Do something else until the required rest time elapses.
  5. Serve the now perfect steak immediately.

What Happens if You Don’t Let Steak Rest Long Enough?

As I said earlier, the contracting fibers in a cooking steak cause the water and other fluids trapped inside the meat to concentrate near the middle. When you slice into the steak with your knife, all that collected moisture (and flavour) escapes onto your plate, leaving you with a less tender, less tasty cut of meat.

The effect of slicing right away without letting steak rest is not huge, but it’s there, and it does make a difference, with some steaks more than others. So just rest them all.

Can You Rest Steak Too Long?

Not really.

The worst that could happen is your steak is no longer warm when you go to eat it. Which does suck, of course. If that happens, and assuming you haven’t left it so long that it’s not safe to eat (about 2 hours), try tossing it on the grill again for a minute or so on each side just to get that sizzle back.

Final Thoughts

The simple technique of resting steak (you’re literally doing nothing) makes a huge difference to the taste and everyone’s enjoyment of the meal. When it comes to steaks, patience is a virtue that pays off.

Everyone at FoodFireFriends believes that understanding the science of grilling makes you a better, more confident barbecuer. Thanks for trusting us with this part of your BBQ education. Be sure to check out our other skill-enhancing articles to make the most of your grill time.

Now, go rest up from all this learning!

Hi, I’m Jim! I’ve been grilling for nearly 20 years over charcoal, wood, and gas. Now I’m happy to share my experience and discoveries with you.

When I’m not writing about barbecue, I’m usually writing about food anyway, at a food marketing agency. Aside from my family and the perfect steak, my passions include travel and all things Disney.

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