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New York Times salted cast iron skillet steak recipe

  • w

There was an article recently in the New York Times (NYT) food section recently about cooking steaks on a cast iron skillet, that involved salting the skillet, not the steak, cooking at high heat with the idea that it would create a nice crust on the steak.

The article is here: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/14/din...

I thought I would give it a try. I normally cook my steaks on the grill at high heat...pre salted steaks go on high heat for 3 minutes per side for med rare. It's been my go to method for as long as I can recall.

I thought i would give this method a try as it would be nice for rainy days, and when I didn't want to mess with the grill.

The recipe/technique in the NYT is kiss simple, easy peasy I thought.

I heated up my large well seasoned Griswold cast iron skillet on high for several minutes. I could feel the heat radiating from it. The steak was dry, I had even had it under a fan to insure that it was really dry. (I really wanted a nice crust on that steak...dreams of Peter Luger


I salted the pan, and then gracefully laid the steak in the pan. I was met with a satisfying sizzle that told me a sear was on its way......

That's when the fun started.

Accompanying the sizzle and sear was smoke. Not a little bit of smoke, a LOT of smoke. Like someone let off a smoke grenade in my kitchen. I have a small kitchen, with a recirculating fan above the stove, not a true exhaust fan. I had fans running in the house, but even these did not help with the volume of smoke that was being generated. I could barely see the skillet to flip the steak. To say my wife was alarmed is an understatement.
The steak was flipped as per the recipe, then taken out and rested under foil.

The results....

The steak's exterior was a bit too charred when the recipe was followed, though it remained a nice medium rare on the inside. I think you can get a the skillet too hot if you follow the recipe.

Smoke...Needless to say the house was full of it, and it was THICK. Don't try this recipe unless you have a good exhaust fan that vents to the outside of the house.

The recipe is a great concept, and may well work with some modifications, but I have to say I will continue doing my steaks on the grill....even if it is raining.

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  1. The same thing happens to me and my fan has a very high exhaust that vents directly outside.
    I've seen this method used in a restaurant I love in the Southwest but the smoke issue is one of the only reasons I don't do it at home.

    1. If this method chars the surface more than you'd prefer, you have a few options:
      - Use a slightly lower heat
      - Use slightly thinner steaks
      - Cook on the stovetop until the crust is developed to your preference on one side and aaallllmost there on the other side (the side that's down on the pan), and then put the pan into a preheated oven to finish cooking.

      I prefer the third option, due to the control it allows and the even doneness of the finished steaks.

      Smoke is an inevitable downside to this method. Nothing wrong with grilling a steak outdoors if you don't have the ventilation indoors (or even if you do - grilled steaks are delicious).

      There is little to no difference in effect between salting the steak immediately before cooking and salting the cooking surface (pan).

      1 Reply
      1. re: cowboyardee

        <There is little to no difference in effect between salting the steak immediately before cooking and salting the cooking surface (pan).>


      2. I got a great visual from your post, wabi. I've been in similar situations with all the smoke alarms going off and such.

        I agree with you - I'm not a huge fan of the cast iron skillet steak. I've tried it a number of times, and several different ways, but it does not replace direct fire to the meat. Maybe for very thin steaks on cold or hot nights. You can get similar heat by starting charcoal and then adding wood right before the steaks go on. Hickory, mesquite, or pecan wood chips. To me, the cast iron pan method doesn't have the flavor. They make chips for gas grills as well.

        1. My mom taught me to cook steaks that way, but I never got the skillet that hot. For about forty years that was how I cooked a steak, 2 1/2 minutes per side from room temperature and a minute or two to rest. Yes, it made some smoke, but we either had no smoke alarm or a good ventilator hood. Now I have a hypersensitive alarm (AND it calls the alarm company!) and my vent fan is permanently kaput, so I cook steaks outside. But I think a red-hot skillet is truly overdoing it.

          3 Replies
          1. re: Will Owen

            Maybe I was over doing it. My pan, on the propane burner outside, would get (literally) white-hot. Never seen that happen to an old, thick, cast-iron pan, but there was definitely a white circle in the middle. Cooking that way also results in a pan that needs to be thoroughly cleaned, another reason that I do not like the method.

            1. re: rudeboy

              That sounds like you may have gotten a good deal more heat than is needed for this method, though it's a good way to make a 'black & blue' or Pittsburgh-rare steak.

              Like you, I actually prefer a well grilled steak, even if the crust isn't quite as developed. I prefer the flavor from grilling. Still, most people who have a cast iron pan and some way to deal with the smoke should be able to get decent results on a stove top with a little practice, using the method in the OP.

              1. re: cowboyardee

                I think that you are right. I was following someone's method - I do like the black and blue with gorgonzola-type steak, where one can see the transition from (slight) char to a pink center. The pan method just leaves a burnt taste, as opposed to wood or even gas grilling. I think that you and I are in the same "camp." hahaha

                For city dwellers who can't have a grill, especially a wood grill, there has to be an option for pan grilling. Small apts and smoke alarms are hindrances that we have to deal with. I've been buying thin cuts and quick frying in my crepe pan (as some may know). The pan gets hot, and if the fire is turned down quickly, one can get a good sear and save the medium rare in the center. I have not perfected that yet, but I'm getting better.

          2. Thanks wabi. I'm surely not going to try this method because I have a completely internal kitchen with not even a window to open to the outside (and no exhaust fan that vents outside either).

            1. I don't think the salt in the skillet is to blame.

              I always salt the skillet when I cook ground meat or sear steak.

              Searing and blasting is a great way to cook steak but it invariably produces smoke.

              Your heavy char was probably from a skillet that was just too hot.

              1. I'm missing something it seems-I don't want a nice crust of salt on my steak, flavor yes but this sounds like it could be more of a salt lick.

                3 Replies
                1. re: iL Divo

                  The method I was taught (actually second-hand from my maternal grandpa, the family's best cook and a true steak lover) calls for very little salt, maybe a teaspoon or so, sprinkled over the skillet's surface just before dropping in the steak. This does NOT give a char, which Grandpa K would not have liked, but a good sear. It also depends a lot on the kind of well-marbled steak he would have bought in the '50s, when even a Choice T-bone would provide more than enough of its own fat to make things interesting.

                  1. re: Will Owen

                    Thought I'd add that after having read most of what's posted here I found a package of three thin-cut boneless ribeyes in the Manager's Specials bin, and took it home. Used my old method (above) on one of them for a steak-and-eggs breakfast. That was so good I cooked both the others for lunch! Good beefy flavor and chew, despite their sojourn wrapped in plastic, and tender despite being so lean. Didn't set off the smoke alarm either!

                    1. re: Will Owen

                      I've been all over the thin-cut ribeyes for a steak and eggs breakfast or a midnight snack. A spread of curry paste is sublime.

                2. Turn down the heat.

                  The NYT recipe says not to oil the pan. Without a thermometer, you won't know how hot the pan is. My preference is for a light oiling, maybe half a Tbs, and when the oil starts to smoke, put in the steak.

                  if your house is full of smoke, you need to turn down the heat.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: jaykayen

                    I use salt so I don't have to use oil. Salt also keeps it from sticking.

                    It's definitely not a salt lick.

                    But my skillet is definitely not as screaming hot as OP's

                    1. re: C. Hamster

                      I always pre-salt my steaks, or "dry brine" at least overnight.

                      Oil transfers heat more effectively, giving me a better, more even sear. I would use more oil if I didn't have to clean up the splatters.

                  2. I feel your pain Wabi

                    when I lived in an apartment in NYC with a vegetarian roommate I would break out the cast iron and try to make a proper steak everytime I had the place to myself for a weekend - always the smoke and steak smell would permeate the apartment come Monday - I was always outed.

                    Turn down the heat a bit - get the char right and finish in the oven with a pat of butter - but it still is not quite the same as a grill - and recirculating hoods are a cruel joke.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: JTPhilly

                      I was just looking to try their recipe, and not having a good feel for how freaking hot they wanted the cast iron skillet...I followed the recipe as it was written. If I had written the article I would have commented about the smoke potential....

                      Lesson learned.

                      I too prefer a grilled steak.

                      Weber makes gas grills so we can fire up those baby's when we want to.

                      1. re: wabi

                        I haven't looked at the article in a few days, but in fairness I think the authors had a fairly robust Q&A feature with readers that at least partially addressed smoke.

                        Either way: Yeah, there's no reason to expect that you're going to pan-char any reasonably thick cut of meat and keep it rare or medium-rare without a metric eff-ton of smoke. If smoke in the house is an issue it's definitely not the way to go. We've always found it a small price to pay (and opened some windows and faced fans outward). Once upon a time it was just because we didn't have another option, but now we actually prefer the pan to the grill.

                    2. I tried it, following the directions in the article. I didn't get too much smoke, but I did burn the seasoning off the pan. The steak was ok.

                      1. Tried this tonight and I don’t understand why so many have had problems or less than successful results. For me, it was a total winner.

                        I preheated my CI skillet over high heat for about 8 minutes, sprinkled maybe two teaspoons of Kosher salt in the pan, put in the boneless, 1¼-inch, prime strip steak, and kept turning it until my Thermapen read 120F. It wasn’t too salty, it had almost exactly the right amount of crust, and after resting about 5 minutes it was perfectly medium rare. Yes, there was smoke, but it was manageable; I’ve had more smoke from a Zuni roast chicken. And my fan is just a crappy over-the-range microwave fan; nothing the least fancy or powerful.

                        Since outdoor grilling is not an option for me, I’ve been trying all sorts of indoor methods for a long time, my most recent favorite being sear and finish in the oven. But this recipe got me where I wanted to go without having to turn on the oven and I’ll be coming back to it whenever the steak craving hits.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: JoanN

                          I agree, I tried this method this weekend and it worked well for me. It was pretty smoky but I have a decent exhaust fan. It is similar to my other method, which is exactly the same (salt the pan, no oil) but involves a transfer to the oven. The primary reason to transfer to the oven IMO is to reduce smoke but in the summer I don't like to turn the oven on unnecessarily. This stovetop method is also faster. On the other hand the oven finishing method offers about 10 minutes of unattended cooking time which can be useful for putting together the other components of the meal.

                          I really need to bite the bullet and get one of those thermapens.

                          1. re: Westminstress

                            Re: the Thermapen. They have them on sale with some regularity, sometimes in off colors, but often not. You might want to sign up for their e-mail so you could get notifications of any sales.


                            It took me a long time to decide to spring for one and now I can't imagine how I ever lived without it.

                        2. Today I used a variant of the seriouseats pan-seared steak, and it's a good one for kitchens without great ventilation.

                          Salt the steak several hours ahead of time and leave to dry uncovered on a rack in the fridge. Fry in about 1/3" or 1cm oil at med-high heat, which can be lowered if the surface is cooking too fast, making sure to flip frequently and brown edges. It doesn't need super high heat. When at the right temp, blot oil, brush steak with butter, and rest.

                          The result is an excellent steak, with little of the smoke that can be a problem even with the stove to oven method.


                          3 Replies
                          1. re: VitalForce

                            I tried Kenji's method before I tried the NYTimes one and wasn't thrilled with it. All that oil in the pan made me feel as though I was frying my steak, not grilling it. In so many ways, its the same method. Salt the steak or salt the pan? To each his own, but I preferred salting the pan and eliminating the oil.

                            1. re: JoanN

                              Yes it is pretty much a fried steak. But because the oil browns the meat's exterior so quickly and at lower heat, you can have a perfect browning and the full range of interior temperatures to choose from, while having very little smoke or smell.

                              1. re: VitalForce

                                What works for me is to add a small amount of grapeseed oil (very high smoke point) to my enameled cast iron pan, then wipe it with a paper towel until the entire interior has a nice sheen but there is no oil pooled on the bottom. I salt the steak, get the pan nice and hot (not too hot, you don't want it to burn before it's done), add the steak and don't touch it for at least three minutes, then start checking for char and turn when ready. Very little smoke, great steak.

                          2. This is helpful! Thank you.

                            1. Thanks for the post. Without it I probably would have preheated my skillet for 15 minutes like the article says instead of the 5-8 minutes suggested in the linked step by step recipe...... at least that's the way I read the two.

                              Not to mention that (to me) the still photos look way less charred than the steak I the video.....if I served one like in the video, I'd be saying "Sorry, I ruined the outside but the inside's still ok"

                              1. I made this last evening -chef's cut rib eye and it turned out perfect. I could not find cast iron pans and used my coated 5 year old pan and the smoke factor was less than when I season the meat and heat oil in the pan. I was in heaven, juices flowed (from the meat) and all was well in the world.