Is Air Fryer Steak As Good As The Grill?

As much as I love firing up my grill and cooking over an open flame, there’s a good stretch of the year that backyard barbecuing is put on pause and my grill goes into hibernation. (Blame it on the Colorado snow that lasts well into spring!) So, I was curious: Could a steak cooked in the air fryer possibly measure up to one that’s grilled?

Up until now, my air fryer basket has been mostly used to crisp up panko-breaded chicken tenders, make some life-changing sweet potato fries, and assist with my weekly meal prep — like crunchy harissa-spiced chickpeas that are perfect salad toppers. But I’ve seen several recipes circulating for steak in the air fryer and decided to try out a couple of methods.

Food Network suggests that thicker cuts of steak, like sirloins, fare best in the air fryer because they get nice and brown on the outside, but remain tender inside. I grabbed a couple of top sirloins from Trader Joe’s that were each a couple inches thick.

“The first step to making a great steak, in an air fryer or otherwise, is to bring up the meat to room temperature,” culinary expert and recipe developer Chris Riley of Smoked Meat Sunday tells me.

So for each air-fryer steak that I tested, I pulled the meat out of the fridge and let it sit for about 30 minutes. Riley also suggests lightly coating the steaks in olive oil if you’re not using a marinade, which I wasn’t, and preheating the air fryer to about 400 degrees before putting the meat inside.

Adobe

A golden rule for cooking steaks in the air fryer, he says: Do not overcrowd the basket. “Overcrowding will prevent the hot air circulation and you won’t get that nice crust all around,” Riley says.

With that in mind, I fired up the air fryer. Keep reading to find out how “grilling” in my air fryer turned out!

Air Fryer Steak With a Garlic Crust

One of my favorite recipe creators, Gina Homolka of Skinnytaste, recently published an air-fryer steak recipe and says she went through some “trial and error” before landing on a good method. Her takeaway for making steak in the air fryer: Use a thick steak as thinner ones cook too quickly and don’t get brown, and, like Riley says, preheat your air fryer to 400 degrees.

I like my steaks cooked at a happy medium, and Homolka suggests cooking a 1-inch thick steak in a preheated air fryer for 12 minutes, flipping it at six minutes. But I needed to adjust for the thickness, as my steak was a little over 1 1/2 inches. I cooked it for about 16 minutes, checking in often with a meat thermometer and taking it out when it reached 140 degrees so that it could rest on a plate with tented aluminum foil and climb another 5 degrees.

I ended up loving this recipe, which calls for a garlicky, peppery rub that creates a nice seared crust on the meat. It’s tender on the inside and I had it for dinner alongside some broccoli and a simple salad with berries and raspberry vinaigrette.

Air fryer steak cut open
Brittany Anas/Simplemost

Air-Fryer Steak With a Garlic Butter

The next recipe I tried was from Food Network, and instead of a dry rub it calls for a simple shake of salt and pepper and then a topping of garlic butter. Like the Skinnytaste recipe, this one recommends preheating the air fryer to 400 degrees before putting the steak in.

Also like the first recipe I tried, air frying this steak is based on a 1-inch cut and my top sirloin was a little heftier, so I again needed to adjust the cooking time and be at the ready with a meat thermometer. The de facto recommendation, though, is to cook for about 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 that I ended up using for the top of the steak and that I mixed together as the air fryer was working its magic.

Air fryer steak recipe tested from Food Network
Brittany Anas/Simplemost

Steak in the Air Fryer: The Verdict

I ended up loving both recipes and am convinced that the air fryer makes a fine substitute for grilling steaks. One challenge is that cooking times can vary based on your cut of meat and the thickness of your steak. Also, unlike on the grill, you can only make one steak at a time (unless you have a huge air-fryer basket). But the pros are that cleanup is super-easy and you can get a darn good steak cooked in about 10 minutes if you’re using a 1-inch cut.

As far as the recipes go, the one from Skinnytaste comes out on top for me. It calls for flipping the steak mid-way through, which gives both sides of your steak a tasty sear. I also prefer the more generous seasoning because it gave the steak a nice crust.

Steak mid-way through cooking in the air fryer
Brittany Anas/Simplemost

Air-Fryer Steak Tips and Tricks

One of the first steaks I made, I overcooked and ended up with a super well-done cut of meat and quickly learned there’s a learning curve when it comes to air-frying steaks.

Here are a few helpful pointers I picked up during my tests:

  • Pat the steaks dry: If your steaks are too wet when you toss them into the air fryer, it will steam them. Do rub or spray some olive oil on them after you’ve dried them off with a paper towel.
  • Keep a meat thermometer handy: When I’m grilling for myself and friends, I keep a thermometer on hand so that I can get a good read on how done the meat is. (Rare is 125-130 degrees Fahrenheit; medium is 140-150 degrees; well is over 160 degrees). I recommend using a meat thermometer when cooking steak in the air fryer, too, keeping in mind that the temp will rise a few degrees while the meat is resting after you’ve taken it out.
  • Air fry steaks that have some marbling: Rib-eyes, sirloins and strip steaks are all great for the air fryer, says Jennifer Schlette, the founder of KitchenSubstitute.com. Boneless cuts of meat can get a little too dry in the air fryer, she says.