15+ Secrets to Making the Perfect Cast Iron Skillet Steak

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cast iron skillet steak

Restaurant and TV chefs make cooking steak look easy, producing mouth-watering meat within a couple of minutes. If you’ve got a heavy cast iron skillet and a juicy steak, you’re halfway there. Let’s find out the secrets to making the perfect cast iron skillet steak.

For the perfect cast iron skillet steak, start with a prime quality steak. Dry and season the steak. Sear it in a smoking hot skillet. Flip the steak a couple of times per minute until it almost reaches your preferred doneness. Finally, add aromatics and butter and cook for two minutes. 

The secret to making a perfect cast iron skillet steak is out and it’s simple. Heat your pan until it is dangerously hot. There’s a little more to it, so read on to discover the alchemy that produces restaurant-style steak.

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Buy Boneless Cuts

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No matter how excellent your cooking technique, you can’t make the perfect steak without starting with a really good quality cut of meat.

Prime grade steak is the best quality, while choice grade is still good quality, but more affordable.

Choose boneless beef steaks, about an inch thick so that they can cook evenly and quickly on top of the stove. Bone-in steak reduces the meat’s contact with the pan, so you get less caramelization.

Good cuts for frying in a cast iron skillet are strip, rib-eye, flat iron, chuck-eye, hanger or outside skirt. Pick out a steak with a generous amount of marbling, as the fat makes the meat tender and juicy.

Dry The Meat Well

The day before you cook the steak, remove it from its packaging and pat it dry with paper towels. You want the steak to brown and sear immediately, not release water and steam or boil.

You are also preparing the surface for the dry brine or salting process.

A dry steak surface also helps with caramelization.

Dry Brine Overnight

One approach to getting the softest steak is to dry brine overnight. Dry brining means seasoning the steak with salt or a slat mixture and setting it aside so that the salt is absorbed into the meat, dissolving proteins and thus tenderizing the steak. You’ll notice that a dry brined steak has a deeper color because of this process.

To dry brine a steak, you need kosher salt, because the crystal size facilitates absorption into the steak’s outer layer. You also need freshly ground coarse black pepper. 

There are seasoning mixes that include herbs and spices, but if you’ve got a gorgeous steak, you want to taste the meat, not the seasoning. It’s also possible to burn these seasonings when searing the steak, so steer clear of them.

Thoroughly coat the steak with salt and pepper – you should be able to see the seasoning. Massage the steak and rub in the seasoning to work the flakes into the meat.

There are chefs who choose to oil the steak before adding seasoning, arguing that the oil will hold the seasoning in place. This step isn’t necessary.

Lay the steak on on a rack over a plate or baking sheet in the refrigerator overnight, letting the dry brine do its magic. Leave the steak uncovered. It does dry out superficially, but it won’t influence the flavor.

If you don’t have the time, season the steak and set it aside for 40 minutes. 

Season Before Cooking

If you are not planning to dry brine the steak, season it immediately before cooking. 

Season very generously because you lose around one third of the seasoning when the steak hits the pan. 

Start With The Steak At Room Temperature

For steak to cook perfectly, you need to begin with a room temperature steak. A cold steak will take longer to cook, and cook unevenly because the outside will overcook waiting for the inside to heat up.

Remove the steak from the refrigerator 20 to 40 minutes before cooking. This is a good time to season your steak if you haven’t been able to dry brine it.

Heat The Skillet

Utopia Kitchen 12 Inch Pre-Seasoned Cast iron Skillet - Frying Pan - Safe Grill Cookware for indoor & Outdoor Use - Chef's Pan - Cast Iron Pan (Black)

Heating your skillet until it literally smokes is the crucial step in a perfect cast iron skillet steak. Cast iron and stainless-steel pans can withstand being heated like this – you will ruin a non-stick pan at this heat.

The heating process is most effective if you’re cooking on gas, and even then, it may take 5 to 8 minutes for your skillet to be hot enough.

Salt The Skillet

There are fans of dry brining and seasoning the steak before cooking. However, some chefs prefer a radically different approach when cooking with a cast iron skillet.

Instead of salting the steak, they will salt the skillet with a hearty measure of coarse or kosher salt. When the steak is placed in the hot skillet, the flipping motion spreads the salt and seasons your steak.

Use Oil Not Butter

Crisco Pure Vegetable Oil, 32 Ounce

Once your skillet is hot, add a a generous dash of oil to help sear the meat. 

Even if you have seasoned your cast-iron skillet, it won’t be completely smooth so the oil helps create an even base for the steak to cook on and conducts heat to cook it.

There is some debate about whether butter or oil is the ideal searing medium. In this case, oil wins because you need a wickedly hot pan and butter has too low a smoke point. Your butter will burn and turn black, even if you add oil to it. Choose a neutral-flavored oil with a high smoke point.

Keep the butter for a later stage in the cooking process.

Lay The Steak Away From You

When laying a steak in a sizzling hot pan, always lay it away from you. This way, you won’t splash hot oil on your arms. You also have more control over the placing of the steak.

Sear The Steak

Searing is the ideal cooking method for steak and needs a really hot pan. By searing, you create the contrast between that luscious brown crust on the outside and the pink moist meat on the inside fo the steak.

Place your room temperature steak in the pan. Do not crowd the pan, as you will lower the temperature and prevent searing, so rather cook in batches if you’re doing more than one steak.

You will hear a wonderful sizzling sound as the meat begins searing. If your skillet isn’t hot enough, your steak will stick and begin to steam.

Don’t touch or move the steak for 30 seconds to one minute so that the steak can brown. This gorgeous caramelization is what gives your steak that mouth-watering flavor you get in restaurants.

Flip The Steak Early And Often

Another secret to cooking a steak in a cast iron skillet is that you flip it early and keep moving the steak around. Use a pair of tongs rather than a fork, so that you don’t pierce the meat.

If you’ve been taught to leave the steak to sear so that it seals in juices, you need a new approach. Searing a steak adds flavor, color, and texture, and doesn’t form a seal.

Moving your steak around as it cooks and flipping it every half minute to minute allows the meat to cook evenly, rather than ending up with an overcooked section.

Press your steak against the pan occasionally, making sure the meat has even contact with the skillet.

If your steak has a nice fatty edge, flip the steak on its edge to render the fat.

Flavor The Steak

At this point you can add aromatics and flavors to your steak. For example, add some whole cloves of garlic, fresh herbs (e.g., thyme and rosemary), and a wedge of butter.

Continue to flip the steak in the melting butter, allowing it to be basted by the butter. You only need a couple of minutes to get that delicious brown buttery flavor on your steak. Take care not to burn the butter.

Check For Doneness

Your steak will need around four minutes of cooking time. 

When it’s done, the steak will have shrunk a little and have developed a fragrant brown crust. The meat should feel springy, not squishy.

Avoid slicing into the meat to peek in and see if it’s done. This method releases the steak’s juices and is inaccurate. As the juices seep out, the steak will look less done than it is, and you may end up with an overcooked steak.

Use a meat thermometer to ensure that the steak is cooked to your preference. Insert the thermometer into the center of the steak. For rare, the steak will measure 125⁰F; for medium-rare, the thermometer should read 135⁰F; medium is 140⁰F; and medium-well is 145⁰F.

Remember that the steak will continue to cook for a short time after removing from the heat, raising the temperature as much as 5⁰F.

Take care not to overcook your steak, as it can dry out and toughen. Most chefs recommend cooking a steak to medium-rare.

Rest The Steak

Take the steak off the heat. Place it on a cutting board and cover with an aluminum foil tent.

Rest the steak for at least five minutes to settle the juices.

Slice On The Diagonal

To serve the steak, slice it on the diagonal. Lean the top of the knife towards your body and cut away from your body. For skirt or hanger steak, slice across the grain.

Slice the steak thickly rather than thinly, to retain juiciness and flavor.

Finish the steak with another scattering of flaky sea salt to add flavor and crunch.

How Long Do You Cook Steak On Cast-Iron Skillet? 

If your skillet is hot enough, a thin steak will take only three minutes for rare, four minutes for medium-rare, and five minutes for medium to well done. If your steak is 1 ½ to 2 inches, your cooking time will increase to six to eight minutes.

Can You Cook Steak In A Cast-Iron Skillet?

You can cook steak in a cast-iron skillet very effectively, so long as you heat the skillet to very hot before cooking. The advantage of cooking steak in a skillet over a grill is that you can brown it more evenly and create a thick brown crust on the outside.

How Long Do You Cook A Steak In A Cast-Iron Skillet For Medium Rare? 

For a medium-rare steak, cook it for three to four minutes in total, that is, one and a half to two minutes per side. For medium-rare, a digital thermometer should read 135⁰F.

How Does Gordon Ramsay Cook Steak In Cast-Iron Skillet?

Gordon Ramsay begins by taking the steak out of the fridge at least 20 minutes before cooking so that it can reach room temperature. He then heats his cast iron skillet so that the steak will sear, not boil.  He liberally seasons the steak with coarsely ground salt and black pepper, rubbing the seasoning into the meat. 

Once the pan is smoking, he adds a little oil and lays the steak in the pan facing away from him. After 30 seconds, he turns the steak with tongs. After flipping the steak and searing the fat to render it, he adds some whole cloves of garlic and fresh thyme. To finish the steak, he bastes it with melted butter and rubs it with the garlic. The steaks then rest and he slices them to serve.

Conclusion

The secret to a deliciously cooked cast iron skillet steak is a combination of meat, salt, and heat. Choose good quality boneless steaks, and dry them well. Season the steaks thoroughly before searing them in an incredibly hot skillet. Flip the meat often until done. Allow the steak to rest and dig in to a luscious, juicy steak.

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