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May 22, 2014 12:12 PM

New York Times salted cast iron skillet steak recipe

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:

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).