Cast iron skillet and steak
So I love my lodge cast iron skillet...use it to fry stuff up all the time. Except when it comes to steak. How I make steak in the skillet is, I turn the heat so the skillet is scorching, and cook steak accordingly. Problem is, the middle of my skillet where I cooked the steak is all cruddy with burned on bits. When I try to wash it off, the middle of the skillet turns a bit greyish, so I'm pretty sure I've scorched and cleaned off the seasoning. This happens when I use oil/butter when cooking the steak and when I don't use anything.
So what's happening? I find that if I use medium heat to fry stuff in the skillet, nothing sticks and it cleans up nice. But when I cook a steak on high heat, the seasoning takes a kicking. Am I using too high a heat? If so, I've always read that when cooking steak in a cast iron, it should be very hot...but is it possible to get the pan so hot that the seasoning burns off?
"This happens when I use oil/butter when cooking the steak and when I don't use anything."
So this happen when you use oil/butter or not use oil/butter?
"but is it possible to get the pan so hot that the seasoning burns off?"
Sure, when the bare cast iron starts to smoke, it when it is vaporizing the seasoning.
Your heat is too high if you have burned on bits in a quantity that affects the pan's seasoning. All you really need is a healthy sizzle.
But the initial temperature and thickness of the steak are also important variables, so I don't want to say much more than this: try medium-high heat.
I'd say the heat is too high. I go medium high for steak and I get a nice sear, perfect medium rare and clean up is easy enough - a little hot water, brushing, and finish off with a swipe of oil
Right... The pan is too hot... I use my Lodge and get GREAT steaks...
I do a 5-5-5 rule, or a 4-4-4...
What that means is---- I heat my cast iron skillet on the stove at medium-high for 10 or so minutes...
Then 5 minutes per side (1-1/2" thick) in oil/butter then 5 minutes covered in foil to rest...
This resting releases the steaks juices and helps deglaze the pan, allowing the bits to come up into, and flavor the bread-sopping liquid which makes clean-up easier...
Usually this'll get me to medium rare...
Thinner (or leaner) cuts might get a 4-4-4...
I don't know what the problem is. I use the method described by Alton Brown. Put the skillet in the oven, preheat to 500. Once the oven is preheated, take it out and set it on a burner on high. Throw the steak in to sear, about 30 seconds to a minute on each side, then into the oven for a few minutes on each side depending on how done you want it. I've never had a problem with stuff burning onto the pan.
Do you throw the steak in and not ouch it until it browns? Maybe the burned on bits are from trying to move it before it naturally releases?
I'd bet dollars to donuts (~89 cents on the dollar) that the OP has either an electric stove top or a high-output gas stove. Some people cant really get their pans much above 500. Sounds like that's what the OP is doing. The gray he/she described is the telltale sign.
For the OP - the skillet doesn't have to be quite as hot as you're making it to build a good crust. If you really want a super high heat crust on a steak at home, a way-too-hot, too-much-charcoal-in-it grill is the way to go.
You might also want to consider picking up a cast iron grill pan just for your steaks. Yum!
PS. I agree with the other posters that medium-high is a good temperature for steaks. It won't damage the seasoning. Also, I pour a cup or two of hot water into my grill pan after taking out the steaks. After it cools down, cleanup is a snap with a stiff natural fiber brush.