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How to Cook a Perfect Cast Iron Skillet Steak

Giorgio D'Antonio

Cook­ing a per­fect cast iron skil­let steak at home is incred­i­bly easy.  You can repli­cate a restau­rant qual­i­ty steak with just a few items; name­ly a qual­i­ty cast iron skil­let, a decent cut of meat, kosher salt, and clar­i­fied but­ter.  The meth­ods we explain are so good that you don’t need an expen­sive $20–30/lb steak to achieve a great result — a cut under $12/lb will do just fine.  We know this because the best steak­hous­es in the world use the exact same tech­niques and ingre­di­ents that we out­line below. 

Shown below are the ingre­di­ents that you’ll need to get start­ed.  

Ingre­di­ents:

  • 3/4 — 1lb rib­eye or sir­loin steak
  • 2 — 3 tbsp kosher salt
  • 3/4 — 1 tsp clar­i­fied but­ter
  • 1 tsp fresh ground black pep­per
  • olive oil
  • fine­ly chopped pars­ley

Step 1 — Purchase a Quality Cast Iron Skillet

cast iron skillet steak where to buy

The first thing you need is a qual­i­ty cast iron skil­let

There are a few key rea­sons you want to use cast iron vs. any oth­er mate­r­i­al for a per­fect cast iron skil­let steak.  The first and most impor­tant is heat trans­fer / con­duc­tion.  Cast iron con­cen­trates heat through­out the sur­face vs. in one place which allows for more even cook­ing to achieve a per­fect crust. Addi­tion­al­ly, cook­ing a steak requires a super high tem­per­a­ture (260 °C / 500 °F).  As a mate­r­i­al, only cast iron will allow you to cook at these high temps with­out burn­ing and give the steak a con­sis­tent heat trans­fer.  Last­ly, cook­ing on a cast iron skil­let allows the steak to cook in its own juices which adds even more deli­cious fla­vor.  The cast iron sur­face helps sear these juices into that deli­cious crust that’s formed.  We love cook­ing steak on a grill but all of those juices are lost as they fall through the grates.

In terms of qual­i­ty, you don’t need to break the bank to find a decent skil­let.  We’ve includ­ed three rec­om­mend­ed ones below that range in price.  The more expen­sive skil­lets fea­ture a more pol­ished fin­ish that is going to give you a bet­ter sear.

T-fal Pre-Sea­soned Non­stick (12″) Cast Iron Skil­let — $24

Lodge Sea­soned Cast Iron Skil­let (10.25″) with Hot Han­dle Hold­er — $61

Le Creuset Sig­na­ture (11.75″) Iron Han­dle Skil­let — $199


Step 2 — Purchase a Decent Cut of Steak

Note that we said DECENT.  We love grass fed, dry aged beef but with­out the right cook­ing method these pricey cuts are a waste.  Once you’ve per­fect­ed the tech­niques, you’re free to try more expen­sive, pre­mi­um cuts.  Our goal today is to show you how you can achieve a deli­cious, per­fect­ly cooked steak with­out break­ing the bank.

What you want to look for is the fol­low­ing:

1) Mar­bling — a decent amount of fat lines through­out.  Mar­bled fat through the mus­cle is what gives steak it’s fla­vor

2) Thick­ness — about 3/4 — 1″ decent is what you’re after.  If you go thick­er or thin­ner, the cook­ing tech­nique is going to be dif­fer­ent

3) A more pink­ish vs. red hue (deep red indi­cates excess water / mois­ture with­in the meat)

In terms of cuts, we love ribeyes and sir­loins.  They cook beau­ti­ful­ly, have a but­tery tex­ture, and can be very afford­able if you know what to look for.  If you’re in North Amer­i­ca, black angus is the type of cat­tle / beef you’re more than like­ly to find.  The steak below is a great exam­ple of what to look for and cost us just under $10.  Notice the pink­ish hue and the white fat mar­bling through­out.

cast iron skillet steak

An inex­pen­sive, qual­i­ty rib­eye steak with a great col­or and mar­bling

 


Step 3 — Preparation

After you’ve pur­chased the steak, you want to pat it dry with a paper tow­el.  The goal is to remove as much mois­ture as you can before it’s cooked.  To put it sim­ply, a dry­er steak is a bet­ter tast­ing steak.  Once this is com­plete, let the steak sit at room tem­per­a­ture for a min­i­mum of 30 min­utes.  You want the steak to be as close to room tem­per­a­ture as pos­si­ble before it hits the pan.

kosher salt skillet steak

Pur­chase a Qual­i­ty Kosher Salt

Once this is com­plete, you need to sea­son it lib­er­al­ly with a good qual­i­ty course kosher salt.  Kosher salt does not pen­e­trate beyond the top lay­er of the steak yet extracts a remark­able amount of fla­vor and taste.  There­after, coat both sides of the steak and the pan with a gen­er­ous amount of olive oil.  The oil is the “glue” which will helps form that deli­cious crust.  One ingre­di­ent we do NOT rec­om­mend dur­ing prepa­ra­tion is pep­per.  Black pep­per applied dur­ing cook­ing at this tem­per­a­ture will burn and cre­ate a very bit­ter taste.  We high­ly rec­om­mend adding pep­per only after the steak is cooked.

cast iron skillet steak with olive oil

Brush on a good amount of olive oil

 


Step 4 — Cooking a Perfect Cast Iron Skillet Steak

About 25 min­utes pri­or to cook­ing, turn on your oven and set the tem­per­a­ture to broil (~500 °F).  Place your already oiled cast iron skil­let in the oven while it’s heat­ing up so that it’s siz­zling hot when the steak hits the pan.

Next is our secret ingre­di­ent — clar­i­fied but­ter.  To those that do not know, clar­i­fied but­ter (or ghee) is milk fat ren­dered from but­ter which sep­a­rates the milk solids, pro­teins and water from the but­ter­fat.  What’s left is just the but­ter­fat.  Because clar­i­fied but­ter has no milk solids left, it can be stored indef­i­nite­ly and has no shelf life.  You’ll be able to find clar­i­fied but­ter in the Indi­an sec­tion of your local gro­cer.

Clar­i­fied but­ter has a sig­nif­i­cant­ly high­er smoke temp (250 °C / 485 °F) than reg­u­lar but­ter (163–190 °C or 325–374 °F) and is per­fect for cook­ing at very high tem­per­a­tures.  Reg­u­lar but­ter will burn and splat­ter much more due to the high water con­tent.  This is why we love clar­i­fied but­ter.  It doesn’t burn off and per­fect­ly emul­si­fies with the steak as it cooks.

clarified butter for your cast iron skillet steak

Our secret ingre­di­ent — 3/4 tea­spoon of clar­i­fied but­ter

Place approx­i­mate­ly 3/4 — 1 tea­spoon of clar­i­fied but­ter on the pan just before you place the steak.  You’ll notice that it liqui­fies instead of siz­zling, like you’re accus­tomed to see­ing with but­ter.  Once the but­ter has liqui­fied add the steak to the pan.  If the temp is hot enough, you should hear a won­der­ful ini­tial siz­zle.  There­after, close the oven door and set your timer for 3–4 min­utes (for medi­um-rare tem­per­a­ture).  After this amount of time has passed, use a pair of tongs and flip the steak del­i­cate­ly.  You should see the begin­nings of a nice crust / sear form­ing.  Set the timer for anoth­er 2–3 min­utes to com­plete the cook.

cast iron skillet steak in oven

How your steak should look after one flip

 


Step 5 — Finishing

Once the steak has fin­ished cook­ing, it should look some­thing like the pho­to below.  There should be a vis­i­ble char through­out along with a beau­ti­ful caramel brown fin­ish.  Addi­tion­al­ly, you should notice a gold­en foam / liq­uid form­ing around the edges.  This deli­cious mix­ture is an emul­si­fied com­bi­na­tion of the olive oil, clar­i­fied but­ter, and juices that have formed dur­ing the cook­ing process.  You’ll want to pre­serve a decent amount of this liq­uid gold as a top­ping pri­or to serv­ing.

perfect cast iron skillet steak

How the steak should look when you pull it out of the oven

Now that the steak has fin­ished cook­ing you’ll want to let it sit for approx­i­mate­ly ~5 min­utes.  The meat needs time to rest as the juices inside are still cook­ing.  After 5 min­utes have passed you’ll want to begin the final step … bast­ing the steak.

Place the same pan on your burn­er (low heat) and place approx­i­mate­ly a tea­spoon of crushed gar­lic and fine­ly chopped pars­ley in your pan.  Tilt the pan at a 20–30 degree angle and begin ladling the liq­uid mix­ture over the steak con­tin­u­ous­ly.

cast iron skillet steak brazing

The Final Step — Bast­ing the Steak with our but­ter / gar­lic / olive oil mix

Bast­ing adds a won­der­ful frothy, liq­uid glaze over the seared, charred sur­face — giv­ing you a per­fect final lay­er of fla­vor.  This process should take no more than 2 min­utes.

 


Step 6 — Plating & Serving

Using a pair of tongs, place the steak on a cut­ting board.  We then top the steak with more fresh pars­ley, fresh ground black pep­per, crispy onion flakes, and a bit more of the bast­ing solu­tion from the pan.

cast iron skillet steak complete

Our rib­eye ful­ly cooked and ready to be plat­ed

Now you’re ready to serve.

There are a num­ber of dif­fer­ent ways to plate and serve your steak.  We’ve always loved a tapas pre­sen­ta­tion, i.e. slic­ing it into indi­vid­ual slices for group ser­vice.  Take a sharp butch­ers knife and begin slic­ing the steak into 1/2″ slices against the grain.  A decent sized rib­eye should pro­vide ~9–12 sliced por­tions for serv­ing.

cast iron skillet steak serving

Carv­ing the steak against the grain and serv­ing

And that’s it!  If you’ve fol­lowed our instruc­tions, you’ll have cooked a per­fect cast iron skil­let steak that exhibits all the same char­ac­ter­is­tics that you’d find at a fine steak­house.  The inner part of the steak should melt in your mouth and the out­er sur­face should have a per­fect­ly charred, crispy fin­ish.  A hint of the but­tery, bast­ed glaze should also hit your taste­buds.  Once you’ve per­fect­ed this tech­nique it will be impos­si­ble to go back to eat­ing steak any oth­er way!

perfect cast iron skillet steak up close

Ten­der rib­eye slices ready to be served

 


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