A treasured special occasion meal – Steak Dinner
One of my most favorite traditions that Chris & I have established for our life together is celebrating special occasions & significant moments with a special meal. The one special occasion meal we always come back to is steak dinner. It’s probably in part due to nostalgia, as several of our first dates were at different steak houses throughout the Milwaukee area, but I also think there’s something inherently special about a beautiful steak dinner.
Over the years I’ve learned that it’s pretty darn easy to make a beautiful steak dinner at home. That’s exactly what we’re doing today. Now, I’m the first to admit that cooking nice steaks at home can be kind of intimidating. But honestly? It couldn’t be simpler once you get the hang of it. The secret? A trusty ol’ cast iron skillet!
This Herb Butter Basted Cast Iron Skillet Steak is a recipe I’ve been tinkering with for years. It leans on a really straight-forward pan-sear to result in what I think is the perfect steak – one that is juicy & melt-in-your-mouth tender with a gloriously crusty hard sear & has tremendous rich flavor thanks to an herb & garlic butter baste.
Absolutely perfect, every single time. ♡ Read on to learn more about this Cast Iron Skillet Steak, or jump straight to the recipe & get cookin’!
Grilled vs Cast Iron Steak
The secret to cooking restaurant-quality steaks at home? A trusty ol’ cast iron skillet! While it may seem bold to state that cast iron steak is so much better than grilled steak, I stand behind it 100%! Here’s why ⇢ There’s no disputing that a grill absolutely imparts steak with wonderful smoky flavor. However, the beautifully golden & crusty sear you expect on a steakhouse steak is created when the steak comes into direct contact with an extremely hot surface (thanks to the Maillard reaction!). That’s a job for which cast iron is built.
A good cast iron skillet will retain its heat well & evenly. When you place a steak in a very hot cast iron skillet, its entire surface takes on a beautifully caramelized sear. When you grill a steak, the only part of the steak that takes on the sear is the little bit that comes into direct contact with the grill grates.
Cast iron steak cannot be beat. (& the icing on the cake? It takes about 5 minutes to cook!)
Key ingredients for this cast iron steak recipe & tips for choosing the right steak:
One of the awesome things about making cast iron skillet steak is that you just need a couple of simple ingredients:
- Steak, of course! More info on choosing the right steak below.
- Seasoning – I like keeping things simple, using just kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper.
- Oil – It’s crucial to use an oil with a high smoke point since the goal is to maintain consistent high heat as you sear the steak. I like using avocado oil or grapeseed oil, but any neutral vegetable oil should work just fine.
- Flavor-boosters – Namely fresh herbs, garlic, & butter, which are added at the very end to create rich flavor.
Choosing the right steak: The pan-sear method used in this recipe will work well with a variety of different steaks, so you have some freedom here to choose the steaks you’ll love most. A couple of things to keep in mind:
- Quality: The steak is the star of the show here, so now’s the time buy the highest quality you can find. Whenever I’m prepping for steak night, I head to my favorite local butcher shop & ask what’s looking good that particular day. Trust the experts, they won’t lead you astray!
- Cut: At our house, we gravitate towards ribeye (for its flavor & marbling) & New York strip (for its tenderness), but this recipe will work great with T-bones, porterhouse steaks, filet mignon or even a nice sirloin.
- Thickness: It’s important that your steak be nice & thick, about 1 1/2 – 2 inches, to ensure that it doesn’t overcook as you build the sear. Fair warning, this usually means that the steak is pretty hefty, but you can easily share a 2-inch thick steak between 2 people. (It’s date night, after all!)
Faux Dry Aging (aka how to make your steaks taste better!)
The first thing I do when I bring my steak dinner steaks home is give them a little faux dry age treatment. (Note, there’s a heavy emphasis on faux here, as real-deal dry aging is a really technical process that requires lots of time & very well-controlled temperature & humidity.)
This is a trick I first learned from Alton Brown wayyy back in the day, & it couldn’t be easier:
- First, generously season the entire surface of your steak with kosher salt. A good rule of thumb is 1 teaspoon per pound.
- Next, loosely wrap the steak with paper towel & place it atop a rack fitted in a rimmed baking sheet.
- Set it in the coldest are of your fridge for at least 2 hours, or up to 2 days.
Why it works ⇢ The salt draws out some of the steak’s natural water content, which will either be absorbed by the paper towel or drip down onto the baking sheet below. Since moisture is the natural enemy of a good hard sear, drawing the water out makes it easier to create a beautiful crust on your steak. Additionally, it concentrates the natural flavor of the meat, making for an even tastier steak. Double win!
How to cook steak in a cast iron skillet – Creating the perfect sear with the frequent-turning method!
Once you get the hang of it, a cast iron skillet will be your go-to method for cooking steak at home. It’s incredibly easy, consisting of 3 key steps: preheating the skillet, searing the steak, & finishing with a baste.
Note: Full Recipe Directions with step-by-step photos are provided in the Recipe Card, below.
First, preheat the skillet:
Place a 12-inch cast iron skillet over high heat. Preheat for a good 5-7 minutes, until the cast iron is very hot. Why it works ⇢ As discussed above, a hot surface is crucial in building a gloriously thick & crusty sear. Because cast iron is so heavyweight, it takes a bit of time to preheat. A good 5-minute preheat make both the surface & the core of the skillet roaring hot, ensuring it maintains its temperature once the steak is placed in it. Note: For these reasons, it’s important to use a good, well-constructed cast iron skillet. This one (pictured) is my favorite.
Sear with the frequent-turning method:
Place the steak on one side of the skillet & cook for 30 seconds. Carefully flip the steak to the opposite side of the skillet & cooking for 30 seconds more. Continue flipping the steak to the opposite side of the skillet in 30 second increments.
Why it works ⇢ By frequently turning, you have better control over the temperature of the steak’s surface, preventing it from getting too hot or too cold between flips. This results in a more even & gradual cook, & also builds a delicious crust on the surface of the steak with each turn.
A helpful analogy is to think of frequent turning in terms of sunbathing. If you sunbathe for an hour, you’ll get a more even & golden tan if you turn every 10 minutes. If you only turn once 30 minutes through, you’ll probably end up with a gnarly sunburn.
Finish with a baste:
After you give the steak its last flip, reduce the heat to medium-low. Carefully add butter, garlic, & fresh herbs to the skillet. Tilt the skillet toward you & use a large spoon to continuously baste the butter over the steak. Why it works ⇢ Firstly, basting infuses the flavor of the browned butter, herbs, & garlic into the steak (which, up until this point, has just been very simply seasoned). Secondly, it allows you to spot treat any areas of the steak that might still be a little pale since the hot butter will quickly brown them up.
How long to cook steak in a cast iron skillet & steak doneness temperatures:
The cook time for cast iron skillet steak varies greatly based on the temperature of your skillet, the thickness of your steak, & your desired level of doneness.
Nothing’s worse than spending a lot of money on a nice steak & accidentally overcooking it! Eliminate all of the guesswork by using an instant-read thermometer to measure the internal temperature of the steak. (Note: the steak’s carry-over heat will cause its internal temperature to increase by 10-15 degrees as it rests. Pull the steak from the heat well before it reaches your desired temperature!)
A quick guide to steak doneness temperatures:
- Rare (red & cool center): Cook to an internal temperature of 105-110 degrees F. The steak’s carry-over heat will cause the internal temperature to rise to a final internal temperature of 120-125 degrees F. Approximately 4 minutes total cooking time.
- Medium-rare (red & warm center): Cook to an internal temperature of 115-120 degrees F. The steak’s carry-over heat will cause the internal temperature to rise to a final internal temperature of 130-135 degrees F. Approximately 5 minutes total cooking time.
- Medium (pink & warm center): Cook to an internal temperature of 125-130 degrees F. The steak’s carry-over heat will cause the internal temperature to rise to a final internal temperature of 140-145 degrees F. Approximately 6 minutes total cooking time.
- Medium-well (slightly pink center): Cook to an internal temperature of 135-140 degrees F. The steak’s carry-over heat will cause the internal temperature to rise to a final internal temperature of 140-145 degrees F. Approximately 7 minutes total cooking time.
- Well-done (cooked through with little to no pink): Cook to an internal temperature of 145-150 degrees F. The steak’s carry-over heat will cause the internal temperature to rise to a final internal temperature of 150+ degrees F. Approximately 8 minutes total cooking time.
What to serve with your steak dinner:
Once rested to perfection, next comes the best part of making cast iron steak: carving & serving!
Tips for carving steak:
If you cooked bone-in steak, first slice the steak away from the bone. Next, take a good look at the steak to judge which direction the grain* is running, & slice against the grain into 1/4-inch thick strips.
*To identify which direction the grain runs, look for the parallel lines of muscle fiber that run throughout the steak. To cut against the grain, slice the steak perpendicular to the parallel lines. If needed, check out this post, which has helpful visuals & offers further explanation.
Once sliced, serve immediately. I like to top steak with a generous sprinkling of flaky, crunchy Maldon salt & a good drizzle of the browned butter from the pan, though you could use any sauce you love (like truffle oil or chimichurri). Plate it up with your favorite side dishes – here’s some inspiration:
- Mashed potatoes! If you ask me, a nice, juicy steak practically begs to be served next to a generous pile of creamy potatoes. This Roasted Garlic Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes recipe is forever our fave!
- Roasted veggies – Maple-Mustard Roasted Brussels Sprouts are always a hit. Or, roast up some cauliflower, haricots verts, or asparagus & hit it with a quick squeeze of fresh lemon juice – so simple, so good!
- Greens – Keep things classic with a good ol’ wedge salad, or whip up a quick batch of PWWB’s All-Purpose Vinaigrette & toss together a simple salad with your favorite greens.
- Other impressive side dishes: If you’re really aiming to impress, try this Cheesy Butternut Gratin, this Creamy Porcini Mushroom Risotto or this festive No-Stir Risotto.
I cannot wait for you to try this Cast Iron Steak. You (& your honey!) will love it. If you do give it, be sure to let me know! Leave a comment with a star rating below. You can also snap a photo & tag @playswellwithbutter on Instagram. I LOVE hearing about & seeing your PWWB creations! Happy cooking! ♡
More Recipes Like This:
Special Date Night Meals
The secret to cooking restaurant-quality steaks at home? A cast iron skillet! This Herb Butter Basted Cast Iron Steak recipe will teach you how to use a cast iron skillet to cook the perfect steak every time – juicy & melt-in-your-mouth tender with a beautifully browned & crusty sear, & finished with a rich, flavorful herby garlic butter baste. A go-to stovetop steak method!
- one (1) 1 1/2 – 2-inch steak of choice – ribeye, New York Strip, T-bone, etc. (see Recipe Notes, below)
- kosher salt & ground black pepper, to season
- 1–2 tablespoons avocado oil (or other high smoke point oil of choice)
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced into small cubes
- 2 cloves garlic, smashed open
- 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 8–10 sprigs fresh thyme
- Steak prep: At least 2 hours (or up to 2 days) before you’d like to make your steak, prep the steak. If your steak has a nice fat cap, use a paring knife to cut score marks into the fat cap. Liberally season all sides of the steak with kosher salt. A good rule of thumb is 1 teaspoon per pound. Loosely wrap the steak in paper towel. Place on a rack fitted in a rimmed baking sheet. Set in the coldest area of your fridge. 30 minutes before cooking the steak, remove from the refrigerator & set on the counter to come up to room temperature.
- Preheat the cast iron: Place a 12-inch cast iron skillet over high heat. Preheat for 5-7 minutes, until the cast iron is very hot. Meanwhile, pat the steak completely dry with paper towel. Season with ground black pepper, as desired.
- Sear the steak, utilizing the frequent-turning method: If your steak has a nice fat cap, you can begin by rendering it slightly. Use long tongs to hold the steak upright, placing the fat cap in direct contact with the hot skillet. Cook 2-3 minutes, until the fat cap is rendered slightly & begins to develop nice golden brown color. Remove & set aside for a moment. Carefully add the avocado oil to skillet, adding just enough to coat the bottom of the skillet nicely. Once the oil is hot & begins to smoke, carefully place the steak on one side of the skillet. Cook for 30 seconds. Carefully flip the steak to the opposite side of the skillet & cook for 30 seconds more. Continue flipping the steak to the opposite side of the skillet in 30 second increments. Five minutes total cooking time will yield medium rare doneness. (Refer to the blog post, above, for more guidance on doneness temperatures.)
- Baste: After the last flip, reduce the heat to low. Carefully add the butter, garlic, rosemary, & thyme to the skillet. Tilt the skillet toward you, so the butter pools alongside the edge of the skillet nearest you. Use a large spoon to baste the butter over top the steak repeatedly for 30 seconds.
- Rest. Transfer the steak to a plate and set aside to rest for 10-15 minutes.
- Carve & serve. Cut the steak away from the bone. Slice against the grain into 1/4-inch thick strips. Serve immediately, topped with flaky sea salt & browned butter from the pan (or with another steak sauce you love, e.g. chimichurri).
- A note on steaks: Whenever you’re making steak at home, buy the highest quality steaks you can find. The steak is really the star of the show here! (Plus, no matter what, I guarantee you’ll spend less on your steak than you would for a steak dinner at a nice restaurant!) We love New York strip or ribeye at our house, as both are tender with great flavor. This method will work for tenderloin & sirloin, too.
Recipe & Food Styling by Jess Larson, Plays Well With Butter | Photography by Rachel Cook, Half Acre House.
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