Last Updated Feb 2020 – Having the right pan for steak can be the difference between a lackluster slab of beef and a juicy, flavorful delicacy that’s been seared to perfection. Steaks are definitely one of the few food items where technique can only get you so far. When you place the finishing touches on a marbled masterpiece, you’ll definitely want to put the right tool for the job.
So what is the right tool? Let’s dive into some of my favorite products for cooking steaks at home on a normal, consumer oven range and explore some of the more out-there options that I’ve encountered the years. By the end of this guide, you’ll be an expert on all of the cookware you can add to cook a perfect pan-seared steak.
What Pan To Use For Steak – The Basics
When evaluating how perfectly a frying pan can handle a perfect steak, I like to search for two very important step properties. Number one, the pan should be capable of handling high temperatures on the range. This is vital for producing a proper sear. When you’re cooking a perfect steak, you want to buy your pan as hot as you can. This means that any sort of non-stick coating that wimps out at 350 F is a no-go.
Number two, you want a good kitchen pan that’s oven safe. There’s one interesting caveat here – you don’t want this to be the same pan. Starting a dry steak on the stove and then moving it to the oven might sound like a perfect task for an easy oven safe pan, but still bear in mind that your kitchen pan will retain some amount of the tremendous heat you applied when you were searing it.
The reverse holds true for starting a perfect steak in the oven and then throwing it on the stove. If you use the same pan, you’ll have to wait for your pan to preheat properly on your range. This often takes a minute or two, and you definitely don’t want your dry steak to be slowly cooking from one side while you wait for your pan to reach proper searing temperature.
Well, you could remove the steaks from the pan while you set it on a plate and wait for it to cool off or warm-up, but still in both cases I find that it’s much better to simply place two kitchen pans. Besides, your oven temperature will be quite mild, so you can usually use a non-stick or ceramic pan (or even a pot) for the oven part and a stainless steel or cast iron pan for the searing part.
So what pans would I recommend, specifically?
Here are a few of my favorite pieces of cookware that are available right now for reasonable prices.
Why Cast Iron Pans Are The Best Pans To Cook Steak In
Cast iron pans have a big advantage when it comes to high temperatures. While they’re not necessarily complex in terms of construction, the iron in the pan is very good at retaining heat. A cast iron skillet pan doesn’t heat up very fast, but once it heats up, it stays hot for a long time.
As far as steaks are concerned, the thing you’re concerned about here is max temperature. A cast iron pan has no problems getting so hot it glows. You don’t need to sear every dry steak at this hot of a temperature, but it’s nice to know that your kitchen pan can handle the heat without problems.
So why this cast iron pan in particular?
Three reasons: it’s pre-seasoned, it’s reliable, and it’s cheap. The most important step for novice cast iron skillet users is the first one. Seasoning refers to a complicated, not easy process that involves applying cooking oil to your pan and then heat it up some time. When the process is done, you’ll have a heavy pan that’s somewhat non-stick under normal cooking conditions. Well, since this pan is pre-seasoned, you can skip this process entirely. You’ll naturally maintain the seasoning over time whenever you cook with fat in the pan.
Of course, you’re free to get rid of the default seasoning and season it yourself if you so desire – or if you accidentally wash the pan with soap. Because the seasoning on your pan is essentially a layer of special, cooked on fat, soap pretty much dissolves it on contact. This means that you’ll need to season your pan again if your housemates or guests decide to “help” by washing it. Re-seasoning is definitely not a giant deal, but it is somewhat confusing for beginners and can be time-consuming.
This Lodge cast iron skillet is extraordinarily reliable. For one, it’s a thick hunk of durable metal. Plus, it’s also one of the best cast iron skillet pans on the market, and Lodge has done an excellent job when it comes to quality assurance and customer care. This might not be the cast iron pan your grandmother used, but it may perfectly wind up being the one you give to your grandkids. Used properly (and stored properly), there’s no reason it can’t last for many good decades.
Cast iron has become a bit of a cookware trend in recent years. As a result, many high-end brands try to sell you cast iron pans for pretty ridiculous prices. Don’t even pay them. Cast iron skillet pans are quite similar, whether they’re made by All-Clad or Target. You’re essentially paying for a shaped hunk of heavy metal. While there’s some workmanship involved, you really shouldn’t be paying much more than the cost of this Lodge for any cast iron frying pan you pick up.
There are some disadvantages when it comes to cast iron. Well, the most obvious one is that cast-iron is pretty terrible for normal cooking. Fans of cast iron will tell you that they’re amazing for absolutely everything, which might not line up with your experience. In my kitchen, cast iron pans are okay for controlled low-temperature cooking, great for holding ingredients in the oven, and incredible for high temperature cooking.
I find that cast iron’s ability to retain heat gets in the way of me adjusting my cooking temperature if I’m cooking anything that requires me to touch the burner controls. Plus, my cast iron pans also heat up much more slowly than my stainless steel ones, meaning cooking ingredients on medium heat can take a fair bit longer.
Overall, this Lodge kitchen cast-iron pan is a cheap, reliable option that’s brilliant for searing steaks. As far as having a high-temperature cooking surface, there are only two things that will beat this: a rack just above the flame on your grill, and a cookie sheet and a blowtorch. If you want the best option for cooking steak in a cast iron frying pan, this Lodge cast iron skillet pan is a solid choice. Just pat the steaks with paper towels before you add them to the pan
Can You Cook Steak In A Stainless Steel Pan?
Cooking steak in a stainless steel pan is admittedly somewhat suboptimal. While stainless steel can handle high heat best, it’s top-end temperature tolerance lags behind cast iron somewhat, especially when you buy a tri-ply kitchen pan like this one.
If you leave it on your stove with the heat up as high as it will go, you might find that you wind up with some heat damage that might even be permanent. You can scrape off some amount of cosmetic damage with a stiff brush, sure, but you’ll probably want to stick to more moderate searing temperatures in a stainless steel pan to avoid having to go through the trouble.
Know that Pan cooked steak isn’t the only thing this cast iron frying pan is good for, however. While you might not need to get this frying pan quite as hot, I find it much more useable for cooking pretty much everything other than cooking steak. It’s my go-to for stir-fries, other meat (like chicken, burgers, and more), vegetables, sauces, and pretty much anything else that doesn’t need a lid.
If you do want a lid, check out this pan, which is quite similar in a way but will provide you a bit of added versatility when it comes to cooking with steam or boiling liquids.
The reason for this has to do with the materials used in tri-ply pans like these. Cast iron offers a lot of thermal weight, meaning it heats up slowly and then stays hot. Stainless steel, by contrast, heats up quicker and stays hot for less time.
Aluminum heats up even faster.
It’s one of the best skillets and metals as far as conducting heat goes. This frying pan uses a layer of aluminum sandwiched between two layers of steel to allow heat to freely flow throughout the whole cast iron frying pan, preventing any hotspots and helping the whole thing heat up very fast. This also means it cools down fast, which is important if you want to start off a dish by toasting some peppers around high heat and then reduce things to a simmer to let flavors blend together.
Like the cast iron pan above, this Cuisinart pan features another great blend of price, performance, and durability. Thanks to its easy, all-metal tool that won’t need to be replaced under normal use conditions for many years.
The stainless steel exterior is practically impervious to damage from metal cooking utensils and it won’t rust unless you continue to do some pretty silly things to it. Even if it is damaged, which takes some doing, you can simply scrub off a little bit of metal and reveal even more stainless steel underneath.
The biggest downside to this cast iron frying pan is probably the lack of non-stick properties. There’s no seasoning involved with stainless steel pans, only proper temperature control and plenty of cooking fat. This is something that you’ll have to get used to if you primarily put non-stick cookware to use. Once you get the hang of it, however, you’ll find that cleaning up after a bout of cooking takes only a few seconds longer than cleaning a non-stick pan.
Now, there’s one big question left to answer with this cast iron frying pan, and that’s how much worse the steaks are. Not a lot. A few degrees of heat during a critical part of the cooking process will certainly impact the exterior of your fresh steak, but it won’t ruin things. If you cook a good cut of meat to the right internal temperature and make a good-faith effort to sear it on a high-temperature cooking surface, it will turn out great. A cast iron pan simply gives you a little bit more of sizzle and turns things up by a subtle amount.
Overall, this is one of my best and most favorite kitchen pans to own, period.
It’s a smidge worse for fresh steaks due to the lower temperature tolerance, but it’s great for performing other cooking tasks. If I had to choose a single pan between this and any cast iron skillets like the option above I would absolutely go with this tri-ply Cuisinart pan.
Grill Pans: A Stovetop Grilling Alternative
The primary advantage of cooking steak on a grill pan is cosmetic. You get grill lines. This is a beautiful option, for sure, but when I’m cooking pan grilled steaks I’m much more ready in producing a beautiful, crispy exterior that’s browned to perfection.
For me, having an easy uneven cooking surface makes that task more difficult. The steak recipe might not look as beautiful to some people, sure, but I’m actually quite partial to having an easy evenly color (black, white, red, etc.) exterior on my steak recipe – it means the whole flavor will taste delicious.
Now, this isn’t to say that you can’t use a stovetop grill pan for your recipes. It’s just to say that it’s not my preference. I’ve quelled my personal issues with these already useful cooking implements by choosing a good pan that lets me simply ignore the raised parts of the grill and slap my steaks down on a solid griddle. This Lodge option is multi-purpose, affordably priced, and features a tremendous number of advantages when it comes to searing and browning steaks.
What are these advantages?
For one, it’s made of solid cast iron. This lets you get it really, really hot. It’s essentially the cast iron skillet pan from above with a different form factor. This means it’s one of the best made tools to use for any extremely high-temperature cooking.
The second advantage is that this grill pan easily fits across two burners. If you’ve ever wanted to cook a family size amount of steaks in a single pan, this is the option to set in mind. Even a fairly long size cast-iron frying pan can quickly get crowded when you throw a couple of T-bones in there – if they’ll fit at all. This roomy Lodge grill pan has no such issues.
Finally, you have the ability to flip this grill pan over and use either side. On one side, you buy a flat cooking surface that’s great for cooking eggs, pancakes, and steaks without grill lines. On the other side, you get raised ridges that produce dark areas and change the way your food will heat up somewhat. It’s arguably more reminiscent of a traditional grill and it certainly helps funnel fat away from things like burgers in a jiffy.
There are a few things about this grill pan that are worth talking about. So, follow us. For one, it doesn’t have a handle, so it’s pretty darn hard to move while it’s hot. This is a common feature among grill pans, of course, but it’s worth noting that some people might find it awkward to use when compared to a conventional black colored pan.
The second issue is that it’s cast iron, which means you’ll think to keep it seasoned or be willing to spend some hours cleaning it after you use it.
Take notes. It’s not really a perfect egg or pancake griddle, at least when compared to a conventional multi-ply or aluminum pan, since it takes a while to heat up and making fine temperature adjustments can be difficult.
Despite these minor downsides, if you want to cook lots of steaks at once or you want to receive grill marks without using your grill, this Lodge grill pan is a perfect option. It’s quite close to the cast iron skillet pan above when it comes to searing and browning steaks on high heat, and it’s got an easy extra mode of cooking, making it a killer choice for any family that likes the extra cooking surface.
Stovetop Steak Tips: How To Get The Best Results From Your Pan Grilled Steak
These days, reverse searing steaks is all the rage. This is a simple technique that involves two parts: you preheat the heck out of your pan, sear both sides of the steak over very high heat with as little cooking time as you can, and then throw the steak into your slow cooking device of choice until it reaches the internal temperature of your desired doneness.
This can be done in the oven on low heat, in a sous vide machine, or even in a smoke. I find that using a cast iron frying pan for the first part is ideal, since it’s another great way to quickly sear both sides of your steak without cooking the middle.
There are a few other ways to cook steak, however.
The most obvious one is to reverse-sear it in reverse (or normal sear, I suppose): you start by getting the steak to the internal room temperature you want in a slow cooking device then throw the steak on the grill (or on a good pan) to sear the outside. This technique has the minor disadvantage of cooking the steak a little bit after it’s reached the perfect internal temperature. It’s not a huge deal for most people, but you may find it harder to precisely control the doneness of your steak with this method.
The final method I want to cover involves just a frying pan and some patience. You can cook a beefy New York strip steak entirely by simply flipping it over at the total time. This means you’ll have to be careful with both heat and cook time. You’ll definitely want an easy-read thermometer handy if you want to pull your steak off when it’s rare or medium rare. Taste tests suggest that it doesn’t matter how many times you flip your steak as long as it’s cooked evenly as a nice food.
For cheap cuts of meat (or if you prefer your steak perfectly done), the last method is actually perfect. Choose thinner steaks and simply sear the crap out of both sides, ignoring the middle. You won’t get that nice, tasty rare part in the center, sure, but you’ll have two wonderfully seared sides that are seamlessly joined in the center.
As far as preparation and fat go, make sure to generously salt your steak (preferably kosher salt) before you cook it (ideally about a day in advance, but 30-minute or even 10 minutes makes a noticeable difference). Butter has been consistently found to be the best cooking fat in blind flavor taste tests, but make sure to use whatever cooking oil you’d like if you prefer. After all, you’re cooking for you and your guests, not those flavor taste testers!
Stovetop Searing Success
When it comes to steaks, getting the temperature as high as possible is the name of the game. Cast iron pans (especially the above option from Lodge) are some of the best tools in the business, followed closely by tri-ply stainless steel pans.
If you want grill marks, search for a cast iron grill pan and use it. By choosing the right tool, you’ll give yourself a leg up and you’ll have a bit more fun making wonderfully tasty dinners for yourself and your household. If you like this type of content, please share it with your friends.