My husband and I have discovered a delightfully easy and extremely delicious way to enjoy our filets – pan fried in a cast iron skillet. Like so many restaurants, this is the best way to get the most flavor out of your steak and to achieve that beautiful crispy outside. Let your grill take a winter vacation and move over Big Green Egg – grandma’s cast iron skillet is taking over.
Here are a few important things to keep in mind before you pan fry steak:
1. You’ll get a better result cooking steak that you’ve allowed to reach room temperature. Take the steak out about 30 minutes to an hour before cooking it. Otherwise, the steak will toughen when the cold comes into contact with the heat.
2. The best pan you can use to pan fry steak is a cast iron skillet. Cast iron retains heat better than any of the non-stick pans. So when you add the steak to the hot, hot pan, the pan won’t cool down. And so, you get a better sear.
3. Season slightly generously with sea salt and cracked pepper – that’s it.
Now that your steak is seasoned, here’s how you pan fry steak:
1. Heat a pan over medium-high to high heat. Add a little oil to coat the bottom of the pan. High smoke point oils like olive oil or grapeseed oil work best.
– If you like rare steak, set the burner to high. It’ll sear faster, but leave the inside less cooked.
– If you like it medium or so, set it to medium high. The inside will have a bit of a chance to cook before the outside sears.
– If you have herbs and spices that you think will burn, play it safe and sear the steak over medium high heat. Burnt spices really aren’t delicious at all.
2. When the pan is hot, add your steak. Let one side sear completely, then flip the steak over and cook it until the other side is seared. (About 5-7 minutes on each side)
3. Don’t move the cooking steak until it has formed a brown crust. It’ll stick at first, and if you move it you’ll tear off some meat. But it’ll lift off the pan as it sears, making it easy to turn.
4. Searing the meat and forming a brown crust is called the Maillard reaction, and it means flavor. That crust you get when cooking steak is what makes it outstanding.
When red juices start to seep through the top of the steak, you know your steak is rare. You can cook more if you want, or take it out of the pan right then.
5. If your steak isn’t cooked to your liking, reduce the heat to medium, and cook for a few more minutes on each side until it’s ready.
6. Do not cover cooking the steak or you’ll trap moisture in the pan, and your steak will not retain its flavor.
7. If you have a particularly thick cut of steak, instead of finishing it off in the pan, you can put it in an oven preheated to 350F. It’ll heat more gently than on the stove, and that allows the inside to cook without scorching the outside. Again, do not cover the cooking steak.
8. After you pan fry steak, let it rest on a warm plate for 5 minutes before serving. It’ll allow the juices to redistribute evenly.
9. Cover the steak in foil to keep it warm.
10. The steak will continue to cook a bit as it’s resting: its internal temperature will go up about 5 degrees. So be sure to take if off the heat just before you think it’s done.
Note: When you pan fry steak, always use tongs to flip the steak or move it around. Don’t use a fork, or you’ll pierce the steak and lose all the juices.
Testing for Doneness:
There are two ways to test if your steak is done: by touch and with a meat thermometer. And it’s pretty much universal, the best by far is the touch method, followed by the thermometer, try to avoid cutting if possible.
The Touch Test
Whether you pan fry steak or cook it on the grill, this is by far the best way to tell if it is done. Unlike a meat thermometer or cutting into the steak, you’re leaving the steak whole. That means that you won’t have any delicious juices dripping out, and the steak will be that much better. It takes a little bit of practice before you can tell how done a steak is just by pressing on it, but it is worth learning.
– Just press lightly on the surface of the steak. Be careful not to burn yourself.
– If the steak feels soft, then it’s still rare. You can press the steak before cooking it so that you have something to compare to. A rare steak won’t be all that much firmer.
– If the steak feels firm on the outside, but it’s still yielding on the inside, then it’s medium.
– If the steak is very very firm and doesn’t yield, it’s well done.
Using a Meat Thermometer
Using a meat thermometer is a reliable way of checking if your steak is done. Unfortunately, it makes a small hole in the steak, and the juices can get out through it, so your steak won’t be quite as juicy. Until you get the touch test down, a meat thermometer is great. Just stick it into the thickest part of the steak. Here are the different temperatures for steak:
– Very rare: 120F
– Rare: 125F
– Medium rare: 130F-135F
– Medium: 140F-145F
– Medium well: 150F-155F
– Well done: 160F
Note: If you really want to kick it up a notch, add a dollop of homemade thyme butter to each filet – click here to learn how to make your own butter.