Updated February 2020 – Cast iron skillets are one of the most versatile and durable kitchen tools you can own as a cook. They are an affordable alternative to stainless steel, and they also let you reap the benefits of nonstick pans without the short shelf life.
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Cast iron skillets can last decades with proper care. They’re also more versatile than popular Teflon pans, as they can withstand heat over 500°F and can even be placed in a broiler.
Why cast iron for steaks?
In terms of cooking your steak, the capacity for high temperatures and evenly distributed heat of the cast iron skillet is perfect for cooking and searing. You’ll get a juicy, flavorful, perfectly browned steak every time with the right skillet.
Below are some factors to consider when buying your cast iron skillet, as well as three of my recommendations.
Since cast iron skillets are so thick, you’ll get about 9 to 10 inches of actual cooking space for a typical 12-inch skillet. That’s about enough to fit a rib eye steak. If you can find larger, that might be better for cooking steak.
Searing requires a good amount of space around your meat so that steam can escape and the crust can thicken up and brown properly. You probably won’t be able to cook multiple steaks in one 12-inch skillet, so keep that in mind as you’re planning your meal.
Ease of Use
There are a few factors to consider when thinking about ease of use for your cast iron skillet. These include the weight, the handle, and the pour spouts.
Any cast iron cookware you’ll get is very heavy. Some can be 10 pounds, I like the one that’s around 8 pounds. Heft is an advantage for steaks since the thick, heavy metal holds in heat much longer and much more efficiently than thinner cookware. But this can be a factor to consider when thinking about what you’re personally comfortable with and capable of carrying/holding.
One way that most cast iron skillets make up for the weight is its handle. Since it can get so heavy and very hot, handle comfort and protection is extremely important when considering your options.
A rounded handle that’s easy to grip and won’t cause sliding with an oven mitt is the best option. You may also want a helper handle opposite the primary grip handle if you want help distributing the weight.
I prefer slightly rounded stick handles that allow for a natural grip around the base. Make sure these are large enough to grip with an oven mitt.
Cooking your steak will produce grease in the skillet. To effectively get rid of this leftover grease, find a pan with efficient pour spouts on either side of the pan. They should create a functional funneling/pouring mechanism that takes a lot of the mess out of the cleanup of cooking a steak.
A “seasoned” skillet has a surface that has been treated with fat. This makes it stick-resistant and more durable. You can season a skillet yourself by treating it with fat and heat to create hardened layers.
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Most cast iron skillets actually build this up over time anyway, but many skillets come pre-seasoned they just tend to cost a bit more than unseasoned skillets. You can decide if you’re comfortable seasoning your own skillet or not, but pre-seasoned ones are nice because they come ready to use. Cast iron will last forever — if you take care of it.
A typical 12-inch cast iron skillet is one of the most economical pieces of cookware, making them cost effective as compared to stainless steel or copper cookware. Since they last so long and they create deliciously seasoned, browned, seared steaks (and other dishes) they’re a great investment for your kitchen.
As you’re shopping for the best cast iron skillet for your steak, be sure to consider size, ease of use, seasoning, and price when determining what to buy. Find what works for you, and get cooking!
Image credit via Flickr Creative Commons: Nayotake M.