How to Cook a Steak in Cast Iron Skillet

Kitchen Expert Paul Z. details what you need to cook a steak in a cast iron skillet, and explains the best method to cook your next steak to ensure the best flavor.

Fixings with steak on a plate

Getting the fixings prepped. Photo by Paul Z.

Wondering how to cook a steak? Most will fire up the grill outside and sizzle up their steak on the barbecue, but pan-searing is the most effective method for a juicy and flavorful steak.

To accomplish this, you need a quality cut of beef, pantry ingredients, and a 12-inch cast iron skillet. Here is a surefire steak recipe for medium-rare pan-seared steak, which is my preference. (Of course, if you enjoy a more browned steak, just up the cooking time.)

Pan-Seared Steak Ingredients and Tools

Pouring oil onto the pan

Oil in the pan is always important. Photo by Paul Z.

To get your steak off right, here is a list of ingredients and kitchen utensils you should have on the ready.

  • 2-3 prime cut steaks such as a boneless ribeye steak, strip steak, tenderloin, or T-bone
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp fresh cracked black pepper
  • Fresh herbs such as rosemary and/or thyme
  • 3 pats of unsalted butter
  • Smashed garlic cloves
  • Minced onion (optional)
  • 1 cup wine (optional)
  • 12-inch cast iron skillet
  • 1 pair of tongs
  • Paper towels
  • 1 cutting board
  • 1 sharp knife

Pan-Seared Steak Cooking Directions

Fresh cut steak on a cast iron skillet

Fresh cut ready to go. Photo by Paul Z.

A quality recipe is no quality at all if the quality of the uncooked foods, selection of spices, and cooking methods are lackluster. So, you want to look deeply into each of those elements to cook your way to success.

1. Prep Your Meat Beforehand

Choose a quality grade of beef. Spring for prime, but if that's too deep for your pockets, some excellent choices are available. A ribeye steak is a popular choice, but I sometimes go by what is available. Tenderloin, T-bone, striploin, or boneless ribeye steak will all cook in a cast iron skillet.

For this article, I am searing a strip steak. This cut goes by a few different names, such as New York strip steak, or sometimes called by its primal class, striploin. The striploin is a cut of beef along the spine in the hindquarter, running from the rubs to the rump. It's a cut packed with flavor and priced slightly less than a boneless ribeye steak. Strip steak also has excellent consistency in portion sizes.

Remove your steak from the refrigerator, and let it rest for about 20 minutes before cooking. In other words, you are tempering your steak, an important step. Temper just means bringing it closer to room temperature so it will cook evenly.

Start by patting your steak dry with paper towels to remove surface moisture from the steak.

2. Prep With the Seasoning

Next, season your steak. Pro tip: Season your steak well ahead of time. I often season my steak up to 24 hours in advance, and I find the seasoning penetrates the beef thoroughly, savoring every bite.

Coarse ground kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper are all you will need. Fresh cracked black pepper will work if you do not have a pepper mill. Sprinkle both sides liberally with salt and pepper. If you are unsure, add a teaspoon of each for steaks cut 1.5in thick. Make sure you cover the entire steak from top to bottom. You want the salt and pepper to penetrate the beef.

3. Bring on the Preheat

Preheat your 12in cast iron skillet. You want to cook your steak at a medium-high temperature, and preheating your skillet will ensure an even cooking temperature throughout the process.

There are a few ways to preheat your cast iron skillet. You can place it on a medium-high burner and bring it to a temperature. You can also preheat your oven to 500℉ and place your skillet inside to get to temp. I prefer the burner method, and I can tell my cast iron skillet is ready to cook when it starts to produce a light smoke.

4. Time to Start the Sear

Steak sizzling in the pan

Sizzling in the pan. Photo by Paul Z.

Once your cast iron skillet has reached medium-high heat, it's time to cook. You can shorten the cooking time for a rare steak (rather than this article’s upcoming medium-rare directions) by a minute on each side. You can also increase the cooking time by one additional minute per side for medium, medium-well, and well-done steak, respectively.

Add a tablespoon of olive oil to the skillet and give it a swirl. Next, transfer the steak to the pan using tongs, so you are careful not to burn yourself.

Then, here is the challenge: Leave your steak alone, and let it cook on medium-high heat for six minutes per side for a medium-rare steak. If you're like me and forgetful, set a timer for six minutes. Let the steak sear and have some sips of red wine, a cold beer, or whatever refreshment you are partaking in.

Once those initial six minutes are up, it's time to work on the second half of pan-searing steak. To do so, reset the timer for six minutes.

Using your tongs, flip the steak over, and there should be a dark brown crust on top of the steak. Now, add a pat or two of butter to the steak, and throw in the freshly crushed garlic cloves and fresh herbs such as rosemary or thyme. I had some fresh oregano in my garden that worked fine. The point is to bring aromatics to your steak and create another layer of complexity.

Pan-searing steak removes much moisture from the beef, so it's crucial to add more liquid in the form of fat for a more flavorful steak. So now that the butter is melting, use a kitchen towel to grab the handle of your cast iron skillet, and tilt it slightly. Using a stainless steel spoon (the bigger the better), begin basting your steak with the melted butter and juices.

Finally, check the steak for your desired tenderness. Using a meat thermometer, insert into the thickest part of the steak; the internal temperature for a medium-rare steak should be 130℉ to 140℉.

5. Let Your Pan-Seared Steak Rest

Resting is essential because your steak is still cooking and sealing in the juices.

After five minutes, remove your steak immediately from the cast iron skillet, transfer the steaks, and rest them on a cooling rack or cutting board.

You can cover foil to keep warm if you prefer. About three minutes rest for a rare steak and 5 minutes rest for a medium rare steak.

6. Slice the Steak

Cooked steak cut up

The finished product. Photo by Paul Z.

After your steak has had time to rest, it is time to slice the steak.

Cut against the grain. What is grain? Simply put, grain is the direction of muscle fibers in your steak. You are cutting against the direction the threads run.

Cutting with the grain lengthens the fibers and shreds the meat, making it difficult to slice. However, cutting against the grain will shorten the fibers and should produce a clean slice of the knife through the beef. If your knife is not penetrating through the slice, you are cutting with the grain.

7. Enjoy With Sides

Serve your complete pan-seared steak with a sauce (to step your recipe game up), roasted potatoes, salad, or roast cherry tomatoes, and pair it all with your favorite red wine.

Create the pan sauce from the leftover pan drippings. Simply add some minced onion and a cup of wine.

Then deglaze the pan by scraping up the leftover bits (this is called pan frond, which is packed with flavor). Adding a pat of butter, continue deglazing, reducing the liquid by half.

Once satisfactory, remove the skillet from heat. Now you have a pan sauce to compliment your pan-seared steak.

Help Is Also on the Menu

Beyond just knowing the items and directions for executing a well-done meal, placing your food in the correct cookware is the major key from the start. For instance, you probably wouldn’t want to sear your steak in a stainless steel pot–unless, you want a fun challenge.

Are you looking for a suitable cast iron skillet to cook the perfect steak instead? Ask a Curated Kitchen Expert to assist you in finding the right cookware and cutlery to step up your kitchen game.

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Written By
Paul Z.
Paul Z.
Kitchen Expert
I love to cook. I love to eat and I love to eat the delicious meals I cook for my family. I caught the cooking bug early as a child. My whole family cooked growing up. I spent the weekdays in the 'burbs watching my mom cook anything from scallop potatoes and pork chops to chile verde and enchiladas....
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