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How to Cook Steak in a Cast-Iron Skillet

Mike has always loved to cook. His mother made sure he could cook when he was a child. These recipes or menus are old family favorites.

Cast-iron skillets are the best way to cook steak. Try this recipe and see for yourself.

Cast-iron skillets are the best way to cook steak. Try this recipe and see for yourself.

Great Steak Can Be Made at Home

With the current economy, not everyone has the money to eat out, so many people eat at home. But occasionally, you want to have a good steak. You don't have to eat out to get a mouth-watering, seared-to-perfection steak. I'm going to show you how to cook your steak to perfection at home in a cast-iron skillet. If you don't have a cast-iron pan, you can buy a new one at any decent store that sells cookware, but if money is an issue, you can usually pick up good cast-iron pans at second-hand stores, flea markets, and the like.

There are two ways to cook steak in a cast-iron pan:

  1. Entirely in the pan, or
  2. Sear it in a pan and then put the pan in the oven.

Whichever method you choose, you'll need the following utensils and ingredients.

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Utensils You Will Need

  • Seasoned cast iron skillet (see end of article for how to season a new skillet).
  • Tongs
  • Good, thick oven mitts are a must

I will assume you have a range and oven. It does not matter whether the range is electric or gas; good results can be had with either.

Ingredients

  • Steak: Any type of steak will work. In this example, I use a ribeye that is just thicker than an inch. Ribeyes have a good flavor, so they do not need a lot of added seasoning.
  • Safflower or peanut oil: Experiment with different oils and see which one fits your palette the best.
  • Sea salt or kosher salt

How to Cook a Steak Entirely in a Cast-Iron Skillet

  1. If you want your meat to be near room temperature before cooking it, remember to set it out about two hours before you want to start cooking.
  2. Pour a small amount of oil into the pan. Heat it until it's crackling hot.
  3. Set steaks in hot pan.
  4. Cook for 20-25 minutes on medium heat for a medium-rare steak. Cooking in a skillet takes longer if the pan isn't covered. Cook for 12 -15 minutes if you cover your pan. Turn as often as you like. Some people believe you should turn it only once, while others think you should turn it every 15 seconds or so. You can read more about this in the "Frequently Debated Questions" below.
  5. Let the steak rest for around 10 minutes.
  6. Slice and serve!

Step One: Get Your Skillet Crackling Hot.

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Step Two: Season Your Meat.

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Step Three: Cook for 12-15 Minutes Total (Time May Very Depending on Steak Size).

cooking-steak-in-cast-iron-skillet

Step Three (Still): Aim for a Nice, Crispy Golden-Brown Crust.

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Step Four: Remove Steak From the Pan Once It's Reached Your Desired Internal Temperature. Let Rest for 10 Minutes.

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Step Five: Slice!

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What Internal Temperature Should My Steak Be for Desired Doneness?

If you want it...It'll look ____ in the middleIt's done when its internal temp is near...

Rare

Mostly red center and possibly still mooing

125F/52C

Medium-rare

Mostly red center, but has a few cm of brown encircling the outer edges

135F/57C

Medium

About half red and half browned out edges

145F/63C

Medium-well

Mostly brown, a sizable red center

150F/66C

Well

Very little to no pink in the middle, all brown

160F/71C

Instructions for Cooking Your Steak in a Cast-Iron Skillet Using a Range and an Oven

Before You Cook the Meat

  1. Pull the steaks out of the refrigerator, and pat-dry them thoroughly.
  2. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
  3. While the oven heats up, put the cast-iron skillet on a large burner, and heat it up to high temperature.
  4. Meanwhile, place the steak on a plate and pour a little safflower, peanut oil, or whatever oil you prefer on it. Rub the oil in. Then add salt and pepper, and rub that in. This would be a good time to add any dry seasonings if you want any. Sometimes, I use a mixture of onion and garlic powder with seasoned salt.
  5. Turn the steak over and repeat. With both sides seasoned, it is time to cook.

Cooking the Meat

  1. Once your skillet is nice and hot, use the tongs to place the steak in the skillet, and sear each side for 30-40 seconds.
  2. Then, using your oven mitt, place the pan and the steak in the 450-degree oven.
  3. Luckily, everyone at my house likes their steak medium-rare, so all my steaks will have the same cooking time. For a medium-rare steak, let the steak cook in the oven for 2 ½ minutes per side (that is 5 minutes total).
  4. At the 2 ½ minute mark, you will pull the pan out of the oven, turn the steak over, put pan and steak back into the oven, and cook for 2 ½ more minutes. If your taste tends towards medium, you will want to go for a bit over three minutes per side, six or seven minutes total. Thicker steaks may take longer.
  5. Once it has cooked on both sides, take the pan out of the oven, and let the steak rest for a few minutes. If you have aluminum foil, loosely cover the steak with the foil while it rests.
  6. While you wait, you can plate your other side dishes. Once the steak's resting time has passed, take the tongs and put the meat on the plate. Enjoy.

FAQ (A.K.A. Frequently Debated Questions)

Meat-cooking enthusiasts often have loud and passionate opinions about how meat should be cooked. There have been many heated arguments about what's the best way to season meat, the best way to cook a cut, and if you should leave your meat out before you cook it. You'll find my suggestions (based on research and experience) below. If you have an opinion about one of these questions, feel free to add your opinion in the comments.

Should I wait until my steaks are room temperature to cook them?

The short answer: It doesn't seem to make a difference.

You can cook your steaks right out of the fridge. Letting them sit out for even two hours doesn't seem to make any noticeable difference in the internal temperature of the meat. Sure, the internal temp may have changed by two or three degrees, but that small difference doesn't seem to translate into a more evenly-cooked piece of meat. J. Kenji over at Serious Eats did some meat-myth debunking, including whether or not your steaks benefit from being room temperature, if you want to know more. Disagree with his findings? Say as much! Let's talk about.

How long should I cook my steak?

The short answer: until it's done.

"Done" depends on a lot of factors, such as thickness, cut, and the meat's temperature. So you should monitor your steak closely and use a meat thermometer to gauge exactly how done your meat is. That being said, a medium-rare, 1/2- to 1/4-inch boneless ribeye steak should be seared on each side for about 30-40 seconds, and then put the steak straight into the oven, cooking it for 2 1/2 minutes on each side. You may need to adjust the time according to desired doneness and your steak's thickness. And remember, this is an art, not a science. You'll learn as you go.

How many steaks can I cook at once?

The short answer: one or two per pan at most.

You probably want to shoot for cooking one or two steaks at a time. If you need to cook a bunch, use more pans—don't just throw more steaks into the pan. Too many steaks in one pan means they'll get steamed, rather than seared. They need enough space to release the steam that they create as they're getting cooked.

What type of oil is best to sear the steaks in?

The short: anything except butter by itself because it gets burnt too quickly.

This is a really contested question. I'm not lambasting butter. Butter is great. However, butter gets burnt. It'll burn before your steaks are cooked. So, you'll want to cook in the oil of your choice. If you're really into butter and want to use it to add color and crunch, start cooking with an oil, and then add butter when you're about halfway done searing. The steak will take on the flavor and texture without the butter burning. You'll also want to keep an eye on extra virgin olive oil for similar reasons to the butter: it has a low smoke point, meaning it burns quickly. Some people like this; some people don't. So really, what's "best" is whatever tastes the best to you. I recommend trying a few different oils (at different times, not all at once) and oil/butter combos to find what suits your palette best.

How often should I flip my steaks when searing them?

The quick-and-dirty: It's up to you.

I have always been taught you let your steaks cook and turn them at a specified time in the recipe and that doing so will result in a juicier steak. Who is right? Who knows? The one positive I can point to from personal experience is that some foods will be more prone to stick until later in the cooking process. Some people think you should flip your steaks frequently because doing so will give you the beautiful crust you're after and cook your steaks more evenly. When you flip them frequently, you don't give the steaks a chance to cool, so they cook more evenly. But some people might think that all of this flipping is excessive, so if it suits you better, you probably won't notice too much of a difference between a steak that was flipped once and one that was flipped a whole bunch.

How do I season my new cast-iron pan?

The short answer: brush with oil and cook at 450 degrees for an hour.

If you just acquired your cast-iron pan, you will need to season it properly. Most cast-iron pans these days come seasoned, but if yours is not, it's easy to do it yourself. Set the oven to 450 degrees. Brush cooking oil on the inside surfaces of the pan. Put it in the oven for one hour. When it comes out of the oven, let it cool, and wipe any excess oil off. Your pan should look black when it is properly seasoned.

What size cast-iron pan should I cook my steaks with?

The short answer: the size that most closely matches the size of your stove's burner.

Larger tends to mean heavier, which doesn't necessarily mean better. Depending on your stove range, your cast iron might heat unevenly if the pan is too big. Dave Arnold over at Cooking Issues has a wonderful article that explains how heat interacts with cast-iron pans. A 12-inch pan will likely be the best bang for your buck: big enough to handle almost anything, but not so big that it's a nuisance to use. Plus, it's more likely to heat evenly. Leave the 18-inch pans to the professionals who have to cook en masse! A smaller pan might even work for you if you're only cooking for one person or if you have smaller burners.

What difference does cooking meat in a cast-iron pan make?

The most succinct answer for this recipe: it can go in the oven.

Most aluminum, teflon, and whatever-material-your-pan-is-made-of pans have a plastic- or rubber-encased handle. This means that the pan can't go in the oven because the handle will melt right off! So for this recipe, you need to use a cast-iron pan if you want to cook it using the second method. More generally speaking, cast-iron pans pans:

  • retain heat better than their counterparts. (Note that this doesn't mean that it heats more evenly, because it doesn't.)
  • are built to last a looooooong time.
  • become non-stick over time.
  • sometimes leak iron into your food, which is great because you need iron in your diet (especially more than you need Teflon).

Steak-Cooking Tips

  • Dry Your Steaks: Dry your steaks as thoroughly as possible. You can best achieve this either by patting your steaks dry before you cook them if you're short on time, or you can pat them dry, salt them, and leave them uncovered in the fridge for a night or two so that the moisture has a chance to evaporate. This will help your steaks brown better.
  • Beware of Overcrowding: If you overcrowd your steaks, they won't sear properly. They'll just boil. When things get cooked, they release their water as steam. So if you have a bunch of steaks smashed up together, they end up steaming each other instead of getting that beautiful brown sear you're after. How many steaks you can cook at once depends on the size of you pan. You want to make sure the steaks have ample room to breathe.

Questions & Answers

Question: When cooking the steak do you preheat cast iron pan with or without oil?

Answer: I wipe the pan with a light coat of oil when it is clean, and preheat it.

© 2009 Mike Bouska

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