Here’s Your Ultimate Guide to Cast Iron Pans (Featuring Steak)
My love affair with cast iron pans started when I witnessed the perfection that resulted when a cast iron pan was used to cook a steak.
Ever since our introduction, my own cast iron pan has been used to make countless perfect steaks for friends and gatherings. I’ve taught so many people the Ten Ten Ten method of steak cooking. Cast iron pans not only make the absolute best steak, but they are perfect for searing and braising chicken, pork chops, fish or tofu. I make an amazing tofu cutlet, loved by vegetarians and meat-eaters alike, and that is due in large part to my beloved pan. When I go out of town, I often hide the pan, because as you cast-iron-lovers know, it requires special care.
I’m a purist when it comes to cooking.
I don’t own a microwave or any non-stick pans. Cooking with radiation and on plastic isn’t something that works for me. It’s probably why I love the cast iron so much. I believe in the energy–the energy in the food, and yes, even the energy in the pan. I know that my love goes into the food as I cook it. Just as in any love story, alchemy plays a part too. Me, my cast iron bff, the cut of beef my butcher recommends, always on the bone, are all part of the story. Then there’s cornbread, mirepoix, shakshuka, frittata, skillet cookie, chilaquiles, and any meat on the bone, which are results of the alchemy that happens in the cast iron pan.
I also love the giant wooden salad bowl that I’ve had for 25-plus years. It has held space at all my family functions, the sad and the happy, and it holds the vibration and richness of so many poignant moments. After my parents died, the items that were important to me were the ones we shared over many family meals–such as my mom’s big wooden salad bowl. The memories stay alive for my family’s next chapter, because items like this hold the vibration of family and love. When I use my wooden salad bowl and my cast iron pan I feel the circle of love given and received over the years–and I know that’s what people take in when they eat what I cook.
The love it has absorbed over the years contributes to the alchemy of my cast iron pan. I leave it out on the stove and see it every day, whether I use it or not. People love cast iron for the way it heats and how spectacularly it braises and sears meat, but it’s more than all of that. Cast iron creates that certain magic that I’m looking for when I cook. My pan feels like an old friend that has respectfully shared the journey with me. It knows about all of my faults but loves me anyway. We’ve been through a hell of a lot together. It’s tough and tumble, and can stand the heat and use, but it’s also got a need for tender loving care, like re-oiling when necessary and using only hot water to wash.
Tip: One of the things I love most about cast iron pans is how hot they get and how they can maintain the heat. The trick is to allow them to heat for at least 10 minutes on the stove, or a half hour in the oven. Let it get unfathomably hot–then you know it’s hot enough.
Tip: A well seasoned cast iron pan is essentially naturally nonstick. (I know teflon is even more nonstick, but I am not enamored with the ingredients.)
Learning to make a life changing (perfect) steak should be in every cook’s repertoire.
It’s a dish every young person needs to know before going out on their own. I have taught this amazing steak to many young people. I believe in people having signature dishes. Even if cooking really isn’t your thing, a person still has to eat, and it’s important to have a half dozen things that you can do for a small group or a special dinner guest that look great and are delicious. I would encourage you to go joyfully out and find yours. Each dish should be something you love to eat and something you’re proud of; find the dish that you can really master, so that you know you will confidently do a great job every time. This is one of those half dozen dishes. It isn’t hard to cook, but it requires finesse and using your eyes and nose and other cooking senses for the alchemy to truly work. It also entails a butcher (with a ruler) who can cut you a perfect steak on the bone at 2 1/2 inches.
Ten Ten Ten
- a 2-1/2 inch bone-in ribeye or bone-in strip (this is larger than the ones in the case, so have the butcher specially measure and cut it)
- kosher salt
- fresh black pepper
- 1 tablespoon grapeseed or olive oil
- cast iron pan
Very generously salt the steak all over on every square inch of it: top, bottom, front, back and every crevice–don’t hold back; This isn’t the time for restraint.
Preheat the oven to as hot as it can get for 20 minutes.
Once it’s preheated, turn the stove burner on high and let the cast-iron pan heat for 10 minutes until it’s very hot. Its going to smoke some so put on the exhaust fan and open a window. I like a cast iron with a lid and if you put the lid on now and just remove before you add the oil, it will cut down the smoke during the preheat process.
A minute before you put the steak on, and once the pan on the stove is very hot, add the oil to the pan. Then, place the steak in the pan.
For the next ten minutes, you’re going to sear the steak.
You essentially want to brown every side you can so that it’s seared front, back, top and bottom. It goes something like 3 and a half minutes on each side, then 90 seconds on top and bottom. It’s a little like a relay race and the challenge is: you have 10 minutes to sear the steak all over. When you are searing the smaller parts you will likely need to hold the steak in place with tongs so be prepared to do that and know that it’s hot so you will need to pay attention and use both caution, and a timer.
Grab the cast iron pan handle with a hot pad. Take it off the heat, open the oven, and stick it in as fast as possible, in the very middle of the oven, then close the door. Set the timer for ten minutes. Get your wooden board out because you certainly wouldn’t be putting that exquisite steak on a plastic board to rest, now would you? While you wait, rip off some large pieces of aluminum foil and prepare to tent the steak.
Remove the pan from the oven, remembering to use a hot pad. Have your board next to you and take the steak out, being careful not to pierce it–so don’t use a fork! I prefer metal tongs. Place on the wooden board. Quickly tent the steak with foil to cover completely and allow the meat to rest so the steak will stay juicy. I recommend a wooden board with a well that will keep your precious meat juices from running off.
It’s ready to enjoy, so leave it on the board and bring it to the table. Perfect served on a bed of arugula with a simple potato. Reserve that lovely au jus and pour it over the steak.
Tip: if you prefer a very RARE steak, you can do the same thing but quicker: EIGHT, EIGHT , EIGHT
Tip : if you prefer a steak well done, then this isn’t your recipe