How to Cook Steak in a Cast Iron Skillet – The Flat Top King

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Want a big ‘ol juicy steak without the hassle of starting your grill? Learn how to cook steak in a cast iron skillet for next time a craving hits and you’re out of charcoal!

My wife NEVER orders steak at a restaurant. It’s not because she’s a cheapskate (though she really is!), it’s because she knows that I can make better at home. I’m not be cocky, I swear… That’s what she tells everyone herself….

“Why would I spend $30 on a steak dinner when my husband can make me a better steak at home for 10 bucks?!”

And she’s right… still not being cocky…

As a former Executive Chef at a high-end steakhouse, I’m used to cooking all cuts of meat over an open flame. But sometimes I’m just feeling plain lazy, and I don’t want to fire up the grill.

A perfectly cooked steak doesn’t HAVE to come from the grill! You can cook steak in a cast iron skillet to rival any steakhouse! Just be sure to follow these easy steps and you’ll be eating your favorite cut of meat in no time… even if the wind is blowing 80 mph outside and grilling just isn’t an option…

How to Cook Steak in a Cast Iron Skillet

1. Prep your meat

The most important step in prepping your steak is to take it out of the fridge for approximately 1 hour (depending on the cut of meat) and let the meat temperature come closer to room temp before you start cooking. This allows the steak to cook at a higher temperature for a shorter period of time, which means it can more easily develop that caramelized crust.

If you were to just put your steak in the cast iron skillet straight from the refrigerator, then it would start the cooking process at an internal temperature of about 37-40 degrees instead of about 65-70 degrees. So the steak would have to cook for longer, and the outside and inside of the meat would not cook as uniformly.

Another important step of how to cook filet in a cast iron skillet is TYING your meat. Most filets that you buy in the grocery store don’t come out of the package perfectly round and with a uniform thickness. If your filet has a thinner, oblong section, you will want to tie it up so that the whole piece of meat cooks evenly.

To tie a filet, simply form it into a cylinder shape, wrap a piece of butcher’s twine around it to hold it in place, and tie a knot.

2. Preheat your oven

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Although it’s a cast iron steak, the skillet can’t be expected to cook the steak all the way without some help.

The heat from the oven allows for a more even cook, because of the ambient heat surrounding the meat. If you were to try and cook a thick filet ONLY using a cast iron skillet, then it would have to cook for much longer, causing your pan juices to evaporate and the excess oils in your skillet to burn.

Picture this:

Cooking a Steak in a Cast Iron Skillet – Intense direct surface heat wherever the meat is touching the pan creating a nice crust AND your pan juices are evaporating into the air

Cooking a Steak in the Oven – Ambient heat surrounds your steak AND your pan juices are being absorbed by your steak instead of evaporating

That’s why I like to use a combination of skillet and oven cooking when I cook steak indoors.

3. Preheat your cast iron skillet

When preheating your cast iron skillet, don’t think that your stove has to be cranked on high to get your pan hot… a medium heat will work just fine. Just be sure to allow enough time to properly heat the skillet, probably a good 5 to 8 minutes. Once your pan starts smoking, then you are good to go.

When using a properly seasoned cast iron skillet, you should NOT have to add any oil or butter while your skillet is preheating. Just set it on the stove and let it go.

4. Season and oil your meat

After your steak has set out for approximately 1 hour and your cast iron skillet is preheated, NOW is the time to season your steak with your favorite seasoning. I prefer to keep my seasonings simple when cooking a good quality steak in cast iron. A light sprinkling of salt and pepper, and my favorite all-purpose seasoning Cavender’s Greek Seasoning, is all that I used to cook these filets.

Remember, when you’re cooking a steak in a cast iron skillet, your seasoning CAN burn so don’t heavily season.

Once your steak is seasoned, then oil your meat.

The reason why I don’t add oil to the pan is that most of the time that’s just extra oil that’s not needed, and it adds to the amount of smoke that your cast iron skillet will produce. If you oil your meat instead, then you should be able to control the smoke and excess oil much more easily.

Just add a very thin layer of oil on top and bottom of your steak. I used olive oil for my cast iron skillet filets.

5. Sear your steak

Now it’s time to start the cooking process!

But first… what the heck does “sear” mean?

When you sear meat, you cook it at a high temp until you get a nice, brown crust on the outside. (If you watch the YouTube video that goes along with this post, I’ll show you a perfect sear!)

Add your steaks to the preheated cast iron skillet. You can press down lightly on the top of your steak, just to make sure even contact with the bottom of the skillet, but after that DON”T TOUCH IT. You don’t need to micro-manage your meat. Just let the steaks cook for approximately 2-3 minutes, then turn over and sear for another 2 to 3 minutes depending on thickness of steak.

Then, add butter, garlic, rosemary, and thyme to the skillet, and stir until all of those ingredients are combined. This will make a great pan juice that you can use to baste your steak when it comes out of the oven.

6. Finish your steak in the oven

Now the home stretch… You’re almost done cooking steak in a cast iron skillet… Even though it’s going in the oven, it’s STILL in the skillet…

Transfer the cast iron skillet from the stovetop to the preheated oven. The amount of time that it will stay in the oven will vary depending on:

  1. the thickness of the meat
  2. the ACTUAL temp of your oven
  3. your desired doneness

*Why do I say “ACTUAL temp of your oven“? Because even though you have your oven set on 425 degrees, doesn’t mean that it’s 425 degrees! I learned that the hard way, and now I use a mini oven thermometer that I hang on the rack inside my oven to make sure that the digital display is the ACTUAL oven temp.

Using your thermometer (I prefer to use an instant read thermometer), check on your desired doneness. Refer to the handy temperature guide in the FAQs below to see what temperature to cook your steak to.

Once you remove your steak from the oven, immediately start spooning the pan sauce over the hot steak. When your steak is hot, the pores of the meat are open, allowing more of the pan juices to be absorbed. Then, let your steak rest for about 5 to 8 minutes, or just enough time to plate your sides, fix your baked potato, and add dressing to your salad.

If there is any pan sauce left over, spoon that bad boy all over the steak for some extra flavor.

FAQs about Cooking Steak

How long does it take to cook steak in a cast iron skillet?

The length of time needed to cook steak in a cast iron skillet depends on so many different factors like the cut of meat, the grade of meat, the beginning temp of the meat, and of course, how you prefer your steak cooked. But if you follow my guidelines above using the combination of stove and oven cooking, and you have a similar filet, then it should take approximately 10 minutes from start to finish.

What temperature do I need to cook my steak to?

The internal temperature of your steak will depend on the doneness that you prefer. Here is the temperature guide that I use to cook steak:

  • Rare – 110/115
  • Medium Rare – 115/125
  • Medium – 125/135
  • Medium Well – 135/145
  • Well Done – Aint even going to go there

* states that the SAFE minimum internal temperature of steak should be 145 degrees with a 3 minute rest time. Gotta tell you that!

What does Select, Choice, and Prime mean?

The USDA grades meat based on its fat content, or marbling. The more fat a steak has, the higher grade it will receive from the USDA. So here’s a breakdown of the categories:

  • USDA Select – This is the lowest grade because it is the leanest, meaning it has the least amount of fat. Great if you’re trying to watch your waistline, not so great if you’re looking for a juicy, tender and flavorful steak.
  • USDA Choice – This is a mid-grade beef. It has more fat and marbling than Select, but not as much as Prime. I typically buy USDA Choice beef because of the good mix of value and taste. And, you can often compare the cuts of steak that are marked as Choice and pick the one that appears to have the most marbling. I have often times bought steaks that were graded as Choice, but looked much closer to Prime level because of the heavy marbling.
  • USDA Prime – This is the Big Daddy premium beef. It has abundant marbling AND abundant flavor. Remember, fat means flavor! I typically only purchase Prime beef for special occasions, or if there’s a great sale.

*You can read more about USDA beef grades here.

Is a cast iron skillet the best pan to use for cooking steak?

Yes! If you are going to cook a steak anywhere other than directly on a grill grate, then I would recommend a cast iron skillet.

A cast iron skillet is great for cooking steak because it can handle high heats without damage and it cooks evenly. You can also transfer a cast iron skillet from the stovetop to the oven, which makes it the perfect pan for cooking thick cuts of meat like filet.

Tips for Cooking Steak in a Cast Iron Skillet

Cooking steak indoors is much easier than you may think! If you’ve got a good cast iron skillet and overhead exhaust fan, then you can make a GREAT steak dinner by following these tips:

Buy good meat!

Trying to cook the BEST steak with a crappy piece of shoe-leather meat is like putting lipstick on a pig. You can dress it up all you want to, but it’s still a pig… and we’re not cooking bacon! If you want a good cut of meat for a good value, I recommend a USDA Choice Ribeye or, if you’re grocery store has a good butcher, a Choice Sirloin is a less expensive option.

Also, meats with the same USDA grade will vary greatly. The ribeyes above are USDA Choice and priced at $8.99 per pound, but as you can see, Where’s the FAT? There is pretty much ZERO marbling running through the meat. The majority of the fat is concentrated to the outside of the ribeyes.

These ribeyes are ALSO USDA Choice, but are much better marbled for the same price per pound:

Always bring your meat up to temperature BEFORE cooking.

You can set your steaks (unopened) on a plate on the counter for approximately 1-2 hours first. This allows the internal temperature of your steaks to rise from 37 degrees (or whatever the temperature of your refrigerator is). If you put your steaks into the cast iron skillet straight from the fridge, then the outside will cook much faster than the inside.

Oil FIRST… butter later!

Oil has a higher smoke point, which means it can withstand higher temperatures for a longer period of time without burning. Don’t add butter to your pan at the beginning of the cook process, because the higher temperature needed to sear the steak will cause the butter to burn.

Instead, just add a very thin layer of olive oil (or your oil of choice) to the top and bottom of your steak – the surfaces that will come into direct contact with the pan.

After your steak is done searing, then you can add butter, garlic, and herbs to start developing the flavors of your pan sauce.

For thicker cuts of meat, finish in the oven.

Cooking steaks in a cast iron skillet AND the oven is not always necessary. But, if you are cooking thick filets or ribeyes, then it is best to sear them first on the stovetop and then transfer to the oven. The heat from oven cooking surrounds the steaks and allows them to cook more evenly.

Use an instant read thermometer.

An instant read thermometer is your best friend when cooking steak in a cast iron skillet, or even on the grill. When you think your steak is approaching desired doneness, begin to check the internal temperature of the meat by inserting the instant read thermometer into the center.

It is okay to remove your cast iron skillet steak from the oven when it is a few degrees under temp, and set the skillet on the stovetop. The steak will continue to cook a bit in the hot skillet.

Don’t forget about that pan sauce!

The great thing about cooking steak in a cast iron skillet is all the saucy goodness that you will have left over. The pan sauce created by adding butter, garlic, and herbs and seasonings to the pan is the perfect compliment to your cast iron skillet steak.

Be sure to baste your steak in the pan sauce IMMEDIATELY after it comes out of the oven. You can also spoon some of the pan sauce on top of your steak after you plate it… no steak sauce needed. Seriously… we don’t have a single bottle of A-1 or Heinz57 in our house.

Ready to try my tips for how to cook steak in a cast iron skillet? You can watch me cook my filets by visiting my YouTube channel… or print the recipe below!

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