Searing Cast Iron Vs. Stainless Steel - What's Best For Your Steak?

December 15, 2022 5 min read

Searing Cast Iron Vs. Stainless Steel - What's Best For Your Steak?

Have you been thinking of cooking a steak, but it is too cold to do it on the grill? Well, you might not be aware that you can easily cook a steak on top of the stove.

Yep, no going out into the cold and freezing for the perfect ribeye, porterhouse, or filet mignon! It’s amazing! All you need is the right pan and the knowledge of how to sear a steak.

So, today, we are going to discuss which pan, cast iron vs stainless steel, is best for searing meat. Then we will share how to sear steak properly. 

The Best Pan for Searing Steak

When it comes to searing steak, it is best to use a cast iron or stainless steel pan. Some people prefer cast iron. Others will only use stainless steel. Yet, one of those two options may actually be better than the other. 

cast iron top view on wooden table

Let’s discuss each one and see if we can determine which pan comes out on top. 

Searing Steak in Cast Iron Vs. Stainless Steel

Searing Meat

When you sear meat in a cast iron pan, the pan will keep its temperature when the meat is added. This means you will have an excellent sear on both sides.

You'll read more about this below, but it is hard to "sear" a steak properly in a stainless steel pan - it doesn't retain heat as well as a cast iron, so you don't get a good sear on your steak. 

Oven Safe

A cast iron pan is also oven-safe at any temperature. You can easily sear a steak like a filet mignon on the stove top in the cast iron and then place the whole thing in the oven to finish cooking when you use a cast iron pan. 

A stainless steel pan is safe up until 500 degrees, however some of them come with a handle with rubber-like materials that would not appreciate 500 degrees heat.

frozen steaks

Searing Steak from Frozen

I never knew that you could do this, but you can cook steak directly from frozen (provided it's not more than 1 inch thick). I find that steaks thicker than 1-inch is hard to cook from frozen.

If you are searing steaks from frozen, sear both sides at high temperature for a few minutes, then finish it in the oven at 375 until desired doneness, around 6-8 minutes. 

You can't really do this with a stainless steel pan. Also, stainless steel does not retain heat as well as a cast iron, so you get a better sear with cast iron than stainless steel.

Durability

Cast iron is quite durable, thanks to its heavy weight. However, cast iron can be brittle, which means it can crack without a moment’s notice. This usually happens when a cast iron pan is really old and not very well taken cared of.

Another downside to cast iron is it rusts if it isn’t dried properly. Thankfully, it isn’t too difficult to resurrect a rusty cast iron pan. All you need is a little elbow grease and your pan will look like new again.

See our related guide on seasoning a cast iron without an oven, or try our cast iron seasoning oil - made without any chemical nastiness.

Cleaning and Maintenance

Cleaning and maintaining a cast iron skillet can be slightly labor intensive compared to stainless steel.

You clean stainless steel with dish soap and a soft scrub pad - and you can use a stainless steel scrubber to get out stubborn residue to make it look like new again easily.

Cast iron requires a little more TLC. Soap and abrasive cleaning tools are a no-go for cleaning cast iron. Using them will break down the seasoning you have built up on it. 

Simply use a brush and hot water to clean these pans. Coarse sea salt can be used for stubborn stuck on pieces that won’t come off.

Cast iron also needs to be re-seasoned frequently.

See related article: how to season cast iron with olive oil or can you season cast iron with butter

Pros of Cast Iron

  • Excellent thermal density, so the pans stay hotter longer
  • Adds iron to meals naturally
  • Long lasting
  • Durable and unlikely to break

Cons of Cast Iron

  • Handle gets extremely hot
  • Heavier than stainless steel
  • Needs re-seasoning occasionally
  • Pans take longer to heat up
  • Reactive to certain foods

Pros of Stainless Steel

  • Not too heavy
  • When paired with copper, stainless steel pans heat up quickly
  • Non-reactive to food
  • Easy to clean

Cons of Stainless Steel

  • Foods can stick
  • Poor heat conductivity
  • Oven safety temperatures is dependent on the pan

Our Recommendation

Given the fact that you can sear meat much better in cast iron, and the fact that you can sear a frozen piece of steak and finish it in the oven all in one pan, makes cast iron the clear winner here.

The downsides that comes with it - such as the cleaning and maintenance, is well worth it for a good piece of steak.

How to Sear Meat Properly

Now that you know which pans you should consider to sear all your filets, porterhouse steaks, and ribeyes, it is time to learn how to sear meat properly. 

Trust us, it's easier than it sounds. 

First, get your cast iron really hot. A high temperature inside the pan is needed if you want that caramelized sear on both sides of your steak. 

Once your pan is hot, it will be time to add a thin coating of oil. Vegetable oil has a high smoke point, so it is the oil we recommend the most. However, any high smoke point oil will do.

You want to make sure the oil coats the bottom of the pan to create an even caramelization. 

You should never crowd the pan when adding your steak. Overcrowding can lead to some steaks being cooked through and the others raw. Leave a few inches of space between each steak for the best results. If you cannot do this, cook your steak in batches or choose a bigger pan. 

As your steak is searing, avoid messing around with it. Don’t lift it up to check. Don’t flip it before it is ready. Basically, leave it alone until when you shake the pan, the steak releases itself from the bottom. 

As soon as the steak has been seared on both sides, you can transfer it to the oven to finish cooking if necessary. 

The Best Cuts of Steak for Searing

cow parts and steak cuts

You might have realized we already mentioned a couple cuts of steaks that work well for searing in this post. However, to make sure you always purchase the best steaks to sear, we thought we would share the best cuts. 

You will always want to choose from the following cuts of steak:

  • Ribeye
  • Strip Steak
  • Filet Mignon
  • T-Bone
  • Top Sirloin
  • Porterhouse

Don’t freeze outside this winter cooking your steaks. Instead, purchase either a cast iron or stainless steel pan and start searing them inside the house. The steaks will taste delicious and you won’t suffer from frostbite, as you dream of your first juicy bite. 

Related Articles You Might Like

How to Trim a Brisket

What is Club Steak?

Cooking Bacon in Stainless Steel Pans

 

Related Products You Might Like

View our entire collection of dark wood walnut cutting boards - there are many shapes and sizes to choose from. 

Our cutting boards are reversible - it has a juice groove on one side to catch blood from your juicy steak! The other side is smooth with no juice groove. 

For steaks such as porterhouse, ribeye, or sirloins, the 17x11 is the perfect board for you. If you're doing a brisket or turkey or ribs, the 18x24 might be better.

 

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