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Oct 31, 2012 07:06 PM

Cast iron pan-seared steak and butter - is it OK

I love a great steak, and have recently come close to mastering a steakhouse quality steak. I usually season with salt and pepper or Montreal Steak Seasoning and then top with delicious butter. I generally sear with a bit of canola oil patted onto the surface of the steaks, but thought why not sear with butter. However, I do know that butter has a fairly low smoking point compared to other oils. Would it be OK to pat the steaks with butter or add a few pats to the pan or will just result in burned solids with the high heat of the pan?

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  1. That's the only way I cook steaks in cast iron, with butter. I believe many restaurants do it that way too. It's especially good to tip your pan and get the butter goodness with a spoon, and spoon it over the steaks while cooking.

    6 Replies
    1. re: juliejulez

      I imagine since the cast iron holds heat pretty well that the tipping won't affect cooking time too much. Why is it that there is less concern with butter solids burning with seared steak vs. other recipes cooked at high heat and it seems it's recommended to use a higher smoking point oil?

      1. re: fldhkybnva

        There isn't less concern, there is equal concern, which is why I wouldn't and don't do it. If the pan is hot enough to sear a steak properly it will be more than hot enough to burn the milk solids in the butter almost immediately. Instead, simply brush the steak with a neutral tasting oil like vegetable oil, sear it in a smoking hot, dry pan, then finish the steak with butter once it's cooked.

        My question wouldn't be why not sear with butter, but rather why sear with butter?

        What you could do is sear your steak off using your preferred method, then finish it in a pan of butter on a lower heat while basting all the while as it comes up to temp. This method is called poele (pwa-LAY). I know for certain the Ritz-Carlton Lodge at Reynolds Plantation uses this method as it is where I learned it. However, most steakhouses do not use this method (actually, no top tier steakhouses that I know of do). They, instead, simply broil their steaks and many do finish them with butter.

          1. re: 1POINT21GW

            I don't normally lower the temp of the pan before adding butter - it doesn't burn immediately, just quickly.

            "My question wouldn't be why not sear with butter, but rather why sear with butter?"
            Adding butter right at the end helps even out and deepen the browning of the steak (honestly, I'm not sure exactly how, but it does), and the browned butter is a nice bonus in itself.

            1. re: 1POINT21GW

              1POINT is right on. Your skillet has to be very hot and butter will burn.

            2. re: fldhkybnva

              I've never had a problem with it. Sometimes I even put the cast iron in a 500 degree oven ahead of time, so it's screaming hot. It does create a lot of smoke so either have a good vent fan or open the windows/disconnect the smoke alarm. I'm going to do it this weekend in fact. I will say if your steaks are thicker, like filets, you will want to use the oven to almost finish the cooking and then take them out and do the butter part towards the end.

          2. The problem with using only butter for searing is that if you get the pan hot enough for a good sear, you're gonna burn the butter long before the steak is cooked. Conversely, if the pan is cool enough not to nuke the butter, you're not going to get that great steakhouse style sear.

            Try this instead. Sear in very hot oil as usual. As you are getting close to finishing your cooking (possibly after a stint in the oven if the steak is thick enough to need it), throw a pat of butter in the pan, and baste the steak with a spoon as you finish it. It'll brown but not burn before the steak is done that way. Here is a Gordon Ramsay video where he demonstrates:

            2 Replies
            1. re: cowboyardee

              Wow, I just watched this video and that steak looks amazing, although it seems like it might be a bit too buttery if there is such a thing but definetly will try out this method.

              1. re: cowboyardee

                This is the video inspired us to use butter to finish off the steak. It was one of the best home cooked steaks we've had. The butter added a lot flavor and seemed to increase the unami-ness of the steak.

                Use oil to achieve the sear and finish with butter.

              2. My favorite pan seared steak recipe was from the Dean and DeLuca cookbook. A mixture of butter and olive oil in a screaming hot pan, sear both sides, and finish under the broiler. Made great steaks, but make sure all of your windows are open. I've set off many a smoke alarm with this recipe...

                1. Have you thought of using clarified butter/ghee?

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Vidute

                    I did consider that, but have never made/used either so was a bit hesitant. Also does anyone top steaks with brown butter? It seems like it would give it a great flavor! Thanks for the replies. I think that my thought that finishing the steak with butter is best still holds, so I guess I'll stick to searing with a bit of canola oil

                    1. re: fldhkybnva

                      My way is to dip or brush the seasoned steak with clarified butter and pan grill. Then brush with more clarified butter before turning.

                      The absolute best steak I've done is to sous vide cook a seasoned steak to 132F internal and then pan or flame brown the exterior the top with brown butter.

                      1. re: fldhkybnva

                        Rather than using butter or any type of oil.....I used reserved fat trimmings from the steak. Render the fat in a hot pan and add your steak. After the steak is finished, you remove the steak to a plate and cover.....during this time you can make your pan sauce and sautee any aromatics or mushrooms....add wine and finish with butter.

                    2. Good steak does not need butter.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        What is your secret to the perfect steak?

                        1. re: fldhkybnva

                          It's no secret.

                          Start with quality beef. At least 2 inches thick. Preferably prime. Season with generous amounts of kosher salt (and pepper if you prefer, I don't).

                          Preheat your oven to about 350-400F

                          Get a CI pan, and get it screaming hot on your stovetop. Sear the steaks on each side for about 1 minute, then finish off in the oven until your desired doneness.

                          Sometimes, I will reverse the process from searing-oven to oven-sear (i.e., "Reverse-Sear"), as I noted here in this previous thread: