Master the Cast-Iron Skillet
You’re an adult. Don’t be intimidated by cooking in a cast-iron skillet. Read this post for instant prowess. And the best part? Delicious steak even when it’s too cold to grill outside – searing in a cast-iron pan is our favorite way to cook a steak indoors. Skip to the bottom to see our quick video on cooking the Perfect Cast-Iron Grass-Fed Steak.
Cast-Iron Skillet Care:
How to Clean and Season a Cast-Iron Skillet… and Cook the Ultimate Cast-Iron Steak
Modernity is overrated. Cast-iron cookware has been a staple in cooking for centuries, and it’s having a welcome renaissance. We love cast-iron pans for everything from baking to scrambling eggs – and especially for cooking a grass-fed ribeye (see below and get after it).
For the uninitiated, cast-iron pans might seem a bit scary to handle. With all the new technology, why cook with something so antiquated?
Let us count the virtues of the cast-iron skillet:
- Heat retention: it gets hot and it stays hot. An aluminum pan can lose hundreds of degrees of when you throw on a steak, while cast iron maintains almost the original temp. It’s a perfect choice for browning, searing, pan frying, and multiple other uses, leading us to…
- Versatility: a well-seasoned pan is usable in or on any heat source but the microwave. Braise, bake, fry away.
- Durability: a cookware superhero. Indestructible.
- Better with age: the more you cook, the better it gets. Repeated use creates a natural, nonstick surface that’s less toxic and longer-lasting than a Teflon pan.
Of course, nobody is perfect. There are some easily managed challenges with cast-iron skillets:
- Uneven heating: iron is not a good conductor of heat. Give plenty of time to preheat on the stove or oven to make sure the heat is evenly distributed.
- Neediness: cast iron requires a certain level of care and maintenance. A few simple rules, and it’s easy (promise).
- *Almost* completely versatile: if you buy a traditional cast-iron versus enameled, generally avoid cooking overly acidic foods for prolonged periods of time. These can strip seasoning from the pan and impart a metallic taste.
- Weight: it’s a fact, cast iron is heavy as hell. The weight, however, is part and parcel to its indestructibility.
Seasoning Your Cast-Iron Skillet
What does it mean to “season” your cast-iron skillet? Cast iron has microscopic pores where food can stick and attach to the pan. Seasoning with oil and heat creates a smooth, non-stick surface for your cast-iron skillet. Heating polymerizes the fats in the oil – that is, the molecules break down and bond to the iron to create a smooth, solid layer.
With this protective layer, food is released easily. The coating also prevents rusting and reactivity with acidic food. The more times you season the pan, the thicker the layer gets and the better it works.
Most cast-iron pans nowadays are sold pre-seasoned from the factory. When you first buy it, season your pan anyway, at least a couple of times. For maintenance, do this at least a few times a year.
How to Season a Cast-Iron Skillet
- Step one: clean the pan
Clean all surfaces of the pan, including the bottom and handle. Scrub with ½ cup of kosher salt and a paper towel, then wash thoroughly with hot water and mild dish soap. Dry thoroughly.
- Step two: oil the surface
Rub every surface (again, including the handle and bottom) with a paper towel soaked in vegetable oil. Flaxseed oil is ideal, but canola oil is a less expensive alternative. Wipe off excess oil with the clean side of the paper towel.
- Step three: heat in oven
Place the skillet upside down in the oven at the highest temperature it can go (450 – 500 degrees) for ~one hour.
- Step four: repeat
Repeat oiling and heating steps 3 – 4 times.
Maintaining and Cleaning Your Cast-Iron Skillet
Myths abound regarding cast iron care. It’s finicky, but once seasoned, the surface is resilient.
Don’t wait to wash. Clean pan immediately after use.
- Wash without being abrasive.
- For easy jobs, simply wash out with hot water, remove stuck food with a spoon, and wipe out any other pieces with a paper towel.
- For more oomph, scrub with kosher salt and hot water with a non-metal scouring pad or the scrubby sponge. If necessary, a little mild dish soap is fine.
- DON’T soak the skillet and DON’T ever put it in the dishwasher.
- Dry it thoroughly and re-oil. After rinsing, set the pan on a burner (or in the oven) and heat until it dries. Rub the inside with a paper towel dipped in oil. Once almost dry to the touch, take off heat and let cool.
To touch up the pan, simply re-season from scratch.
Buying a Cast-Iron Skillet
In lieu of inheriting a family heirloom, you’ll need to purchase the real thing. Do NOT assume the most expensive cast-iron skillet is the best. You might find a deal on a vintage cast-iron skillet, but there’s no need to drop $150 on a so-called classic.
Modern cast-iron skillets are almost always pre-seasoned, but still benefit from seasoning and improve with use. Enameled cast-iron skillets are another popular option; these feature a porcelain coating that eliminates rusting and skips any need for seasoning.
Our choice? We agree with the testers at Cook’s Illustrated: the Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet is our winner – and a steal at $33.31. However, if you want the hottest kid on the cast iron block, check out Butter Pat Industries.
The Perfect Grass-Fed Cast-Iron Steak
Time to put it to use. With your cast-iron skillet, you don’t need to sacrifice a beautiful steak just because it’s too cold to grill.
Watch the full video instructions here:
Remember grass-fed beef is leaner than grain-fed beef (and healthier!) – which means less overall cook time.
1 – 2 TBP olive oil
Verde Farms grass-fed ribeye, sirloin, or strip steak
Kosher salt and pepper
Spice rub (optional)
Get steak to room temperature
Brush with olive oil
Salt liberally and add pepper (or spice rub)
Oil cast iron pan and get to HIGH heat
Sear steak on high for two minutes on one side
Flip and sear two – four minutes on the other side to finish
Test for doneness – aim for 10 degrees less than you would for grass-fed. For medium-rare (our preference), 120 degrees is the target
Take steak off pan and let rest at least 10 minutes before serving.
Enjoy with your favorite side. Relish in your class and taste.