How to Cook a Steak in a Cast Iron Skillet

Wonder how Restaurants Make Such Great Steaks? Learn How to Cook a Steak in a Cast Iron Skillet on your backyard grill (or in your oven).

Skillet Rib Eye Steak
Skillet Rib Eye Steak

Have you ever wondered why the steaks from fancy restaurants are so good? They use a number of tricks to get their steaks seared hot and fast.  It allows them to achieve that perfect medium rare internal temperature and still have a thick, caramelized crusty surface. Some restaurants use very expensive broilers to do this, and others use the method described here. The secret to the perfect steak is a combination of flavor and intense contact heat. One of the best ways to achieve high heat is with a heavy cast iron skillet. So, save yourself the luxury prices and make the perfect restaurant steak at home.

What you need:

  • A good steak
  • A heavy cast iron skillet
  • A gas grill with side burner (or an oven and stove top burner)
  • Butter
  • High-temperature oil, like avocado oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • A pair of long-handled tongs
  • A warm plate or cutting board
  • A large sheet of aluminum foil
  • Two heavy cotton kitchen towels and a heavy oven mitt or high-temperature grilling gloves
  • An instant-read digital thermometer

For the Sauce:

  • 3/4 cup red wine (dry preferred)
  • 2 medium shallots, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon Mustard
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Talk to your butcher about buying the right steak. I prefer a rib eye steak for this method; either boneless or bone-in. Strip steaks, fillets, or T-Bone steaks work just as well. The bone can reduce contact with the pan, so keep that in consideration. To get the best possible results, look for a ‘prime’ grade steak. If this is too much money, then choose a ‘choice’ cut.

CAUTION: This cooking method requires extreme temperatures. Standard oven mitts will not be sufficient. Use high-temperature grilling gloves and a thick towel when handling cast iron at high temperatures.

Step One – Oiling the Steak

Oiling Rib Eye Steak
Oiling Rib Eye Steak

Start by inspecting the steak. Snip away any excess, or loose pieces of fat or meat. If the steak has a thick ribbon of fat running along the side, make cuts through the fat. Fat contracts quickly when cooking and can cause the steak to bend or lose its shape.

Lightly coat the steak with oil. Use a good quality, high-temperature oil like Avocado, light Olive Oil, or Canola. Brush the oil over the entire surface of the steak. Doing so will improve contact with the cast iron pan.

Step Two – Seasoning the Steak

Seasoning Rib Eye Steak
Seasoning Rib Eye Steak

Once the steak is trimmed and oiled, it needs to be seasoned. It doesn’t require a lot, but salt is a definite must. Use coarse salt to maximize the flavor and lightly sprinkle it over both sides of the steak.

Black pepper is also a great addition.  Apply as much as desired. Again, it shouldn’t be a heavy dose, but an even sprinkling enhances the flavor.

Many restaurants add a light herb to their steaks. Because this is going to hit high temperatures, it should be dried. Thyme, rosemary, or basil will work perfectly. A teaspoon will be sufficient for two steaks.

Make sure to season the steak before preparing everything else. The steak should sit at room temperature with the oil and seasoning on for 15 and 30 minutes. This action helps to bring the temperature of the steak up and allows the salt to penetrate the surface; essentially aiding in the formation of a steak crust.

Step Three – Preheat the Grill (or Oven)

Grill Temperature 500
Grill Temperature 500

The secret of the perfect restaurant steak is the heat. That means getting the cast iron skillet as hot as possible. I’ve said before, and I will say again, your normal oven mitt won’t do. At the very least use a thick and completely dry kitchen towel with the oven mitt or high-temperature grilling gloves to handle the cast iron.

Use this method on the stove top, in an oven or outdoor grill. If the grill has a side burner, use that for the initial cooking phase. Light the grill (or oven) and preheat to 500 degrees F. Place the cast iron skillet on the burner or inside the grill, if you don’t have a side burner. Ideally, the skillet should be preheated to a temperature as high as 700 degrees F. Once that is achieved, and the skillet is heated, it’s time to begin.

There is going to be a good deal of smoke created in making this steak. Smoke alarms may go off. Be prepared. In fact, have everything, including the sauce ingredients ready before putting the steak in the pan. From here, the process will only take about 10 minutes, depending on how done you like your steak.

Step Four – Preheating the Skillet

Preheating Cast Iron Skillet
Preheating Cast Iron Skillet

To make this whole process work you will need a smoking hot cast iron (or heavy duty) skillet. Smoking hot means smoking hot. It also needs to be clean and without any oil (other than what was used to season the cast iron skillet), or cooking spray. All the oil you need is already on the surface of the steak.

To test the heat, place a single drop of water on the pan. If it dances for a second before disappearing, the pan is hot enough. Make sure to have the steak, a clean plate, a heavy-duty grill mitt, a pat of butter and a pair of tongs ready. You won’t have a chance to step away once you start the cooking process.

Step Five – Starting the Sizzle

Rib Eye Steak in a Skillet
Rib Eye Steak in a Skillet

Get a large pat of butter. One to two tablespoons will be perfect. It will go on the steak as soon as it is turned, so it must be close by.

Now place the steak in the pan. Ensure that it is in complete contact with the metal. There will be a lot of popping, sizzling, and smoke; this is normal. Let the steak cook for two minutes. Do not lift the steak away from the pan or try to move it. Watch the clock and wait.

Step Six – Flipping the Steak

Rib Eye in a Skillet with Butter
Rib Eye in a Skillet with Butter

Once the two minutes have elapsed, turn the steak and quickly place it back in the pan. Keep the heat on high. Make certain that the steak is set firmly on the metal. It should continue to sizzle, and there should be a good amount of smoke.

Place a pat of butter on top of the steak, then allow this side to cook for an additional two minutes. The surface of the steak should be a rich, brown color, and there should be signs of caramelization. Take a minute to admire it, but not too long. Have a towel, mitt, or gloves ready. When the two minutes have elapsed, move the pan quickly into the grill (or in the oven) and close it.

For those who like their steak very rare, it is done. It will take a few more minutes (about four to five) to reach medium rare.

Step Seven – Transfer and Temperature Check

Temperature Testing Skillet Steak
Temperature Testing Skillet Steak

With the steak on the grill (or in the oven) have a warm plate ready with the aluminum foil and the other kitchen towel. Also, have the sauce ingredients handy. Have an instant-read thermometer in hand and get ready to check the temperature.

For a medium rare steak, the internal temperature should be around 130 degrees F (55 degrees C) when it comes off the heat. The internal temperature will continue to climb by about 5 degrees F before it is ready to eat. For medium, look for an internal temperature around 140 degrees F.

Open the lid and check the temperature in the center of the thickest part of the steak. When it reaches the desired doneness, remove the steak with a pair of tongs and place on the warmed plate or cutting board. Place the foil over the steak and the other kitchen towel on top of that. Put the steak in a warm place and let it rest while putting together the sauce.

Step Eight – Making the Sauce

Skillet Steak Sauce
skillet_steak_eight

The cast iron skillet is still going to be very hot, but this sauce requires a good deal of heat as well. It should only take about two minutes to put it all together and reduced to the thickness of a paste. The skillet can be returned to the burner or left in the hot grill. If you are doing this in the oven, of course, return it to the stove top burner.

Steak Sauce Recipe

  • 3/4 cup red wine (dry preferred)
  • 2 medium shallots, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon Mustard
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Pour the shallots and garlic into the hot skillet and stir to brown. Add the remaining ingredients.

WARNING: The wine can cause a flash of flame when it hits the grill. Do not stand directly over the pan when adding the wine to the sauce.

Stir together all of the ingredients over high heat until the sauce thickens.

Step Nine – Top and Serve

Finished Skillet Rib Eye Steak
Finished Skillet Rib Eye Steak

With the sauce ready, remove the towel and foil from the plate. Place the steak on a serving dish and cover with the sauce. It is best to be ready to eat right at this point. Enjoy!

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