Salted Cast Iron Flat Iron
April 19, 2021
Loved one sick? Cook.
Going to a party? Cook.
The list could go on and on, but you get the point. I love cooking. It certainly helps get me through those long, harsh winter days. When it’s cold and dreary outside, I am happy as a clam to spend the entire day stirring pots of stew and baking bread, it’s a treat. Not that I dislike spending all day cooking this time of year, but with so many spring chores (and the fact that I’m thrilled to soak up every ray of sunshine possible!), I find myself in the kitchen way less often.
Busy weeknight? But also craving a steakhouse quality meal? Have no fear, the salted cast iron steak is here! In only 20 minutes from start to table, you will be enjoying a flat iron steak so good you won’t believe you didn’t even have to light the grill. No sides ready to go? No problem, keep reading for the mushrooms that won’t make that 20-minute timer budge!
I can’t believe that I went through most of my life without having eaten a flat iron steak. It is a uniformly thick, rectangular steak cut from the chuck, or shoulder, area. Meat from this area is known for its rich, beefy flavor, and the flat iron is a tender slice of heaven. Another excellent cut from this area is the Denver steak. The Denver is generally thicker, but equally as tender (if not more!). Another thing these two cuts have in common is their cooking method. Both steaks are ideal candidates for cooking “hot and fast” and should not be overcooked, as exceeding much more than medium-rare could yield tough results.
I have always loved steak on a grill, and always will. Gas, charcoal, pellet; I really don’t care, it’s all delicious! But I have also learned to love a steak cooked to perfection on a cast iron pan. I started off preparing them similar to how I’d go about cooking any other meat on the stove. Season steak with salt and pepper, maybe more. Preheat cast iron pan, add oil and bring to heat, throw in the steak, sear, flip. Possibly throw it into a preheated oven depending on the thickness, rest, serve. Easy peasy!
While there was nothing wrong with that, I happened upon another, slightly different, cooking style. One that I had never tried before, that seemed a bit strange, but I gave it a go. And I will never, I repeat, NEVER, cook a flat iron steak any other way again. The only real differences are salting the PAN instead of the steak, flipping more frequently, and not using oil. How do these basic changes make such a big difference? The frequent flipping ensures a more evenly cooked steak. I honestly don’t know how salting the un-oiled pan scientifically affects it, but whatever happens makes a drool-worthy crust!
In my usual style, I felt the need to mix it up and do a bit of an experiment this time around. I knew my 8.2 oz flat iron would be an all-star in this recipe as always, but I wanted to do a side-by-side comparison with another cut. I chose an 8 oz Denver steak, and treated it exactly the same. Both turned out delicious, but the flat iron is still the reigning champ.
Next time I prepare the Denver this way, I will simply transfer the pan to a 500-degree preheated oven after the initial flip for a more ideal doneness. You’ll see it is a literal side-by-side, as my cast iron obsession allows me to have two pans going at once. This is ideal for keeping the pan temperature high (since I didn’t have time to bring the steaks to room temp), but it certainly is not necessary.
If I only had one pan, I would prepare them together, being certain to space them enough in the pan to be sure they don’t steam. I’d increase the heat to high for the first couple of flips, then lower back to medium as normal. If the pan is anything close to crowded, cooking in batches will give you far better results (keeping in mind that cast iron builds heat, so your first steak will take the longest to cook). If I did not have ANY cast iron pans, I would certainly give this recipe a try with my heaviest bottom pan - and then order cast iron because it’s a kitchen game-changer!
You can see here when I tried to cook two in one pan, I used a staggering method. It was efficient, they both turned out perfect. But in order to finish the second steak, I had to drop the heat to low as the pan had built up too much heat.
Okay, so how does one make this affordable, rave-worthy steak? Run around all day like crazy working and trying to scratch everything off of your never-ending to do list. Race home, possibly in a panic, to your hangry (or maybe just hungry!) family asking you, “what’s for dinner?” before you can even get through the door. Here’s the good part – “30 minutes, tops” is your response, keys still in-hand, and you let out a sign of relief. Start by pulling your beautiful flat iron steaks out of the fridge and wrap them up with a paper towel. If you plan on making a dreamy compound butter, pull a stick of butter out now, too.
Pulling your steak from the fridge as soon as possible is helping us do two things; to allow the drying process to begin and to bring that beautifully marbled steak as close to room temp as possible. It is really important to get the surface of your beef as dry as possible to aid in the formation of the crust.
The temperature part is a plus, but not necessary here. Allowing the steak time to completely rise to room temp itself does two things; it lessens the cooking time and promotes a more tender final product. I like to think of it as the muscle that it is – you take a cold muscle and throw it on a piping hot pan, of course it’s going to tense up. Did you ever roll around in the snow in a bathing suit as a kid then jump into a steaming hot tub? Probably not. But I had two older brothers so I definitely did, and let me tell you – it hurts! It’s like a body-wide Charley horse. While I would more strongly advise against one treating their coveted Delmonico or Filet Mignon like that, the flat iron is a bit more forgiving.
Remove the now-wet paper towels from your steaks and season with pepper. I used freshly ground black pepper and Aleppo pepper. I fell in love with Aleppo pepper when I first had it in a creamy, roasted brussels sprouts dish and I think that goes to show you how versatile of an ingredient it is. It’s a sweet, slightly sharp pepper that has been dried and coarsely ground. It adds just the little extra something I like, but is certainly no reason to make a special trip to the store. You could alternatively use only coarse ground black pepper or a seasoned pepper blend (just be sure to look out for added sugar if that’s something you’re concerned about).
If you’re opting in for the compound finishing butter, thinly slice ¼ cup (½ stick) of butter to allow it to soften more quickly.
Mince two cloves of garlic and finely chop a small sprig of rosemary (about ½ teaspoon). If using dried rosemary, you will want less, maybe just ¼ teaspoon. Put garlic and rosemary into a small skillet or pan over medium-low heat with a light drizzle of EVOO. Allow to soften and become aromatic, about 5 minutes, being careful to remove from heat before it begins to burn.
Depending on how many steaks you’re cooking, you will likely not use all of this butter. I typically toss my roasted or steamed vegetables in it, as well as the mushrooms, and still have leftovers. Feel free to cut this batch in half, but I think you’ll be happy to have the leftovers in the fridge. Covered, it keeps well for up to a week.
While that is slowly cooking, place your cast iron pan over medium-low heat to begin warming. This step takes longer on an electric stove. Use fresh paper towels to pat your steaks dry once again (don’t worry, most of your pepper will stay in place). Increase your burner temp to medium-high, and fire up your exhaust fan or open a window (it’s about to get a bit smoky!).
Likely, your garlic will be softened by this time and you can pour that mixture into your butter in a bowl, stir, and place in fridge.
Your pan should be scorching hot by now. Add about ½ teaspoon of coarse sea or kosher salt (also variables in my side-by-side experiment, but the differences were nothing to write home about).
Paying attention to the time, add your steak to the pan, on top of the salt. Cook for 2 minutes, flip, cook for 90 seconds. During that first flip especially, drag your un-seared side through the scattered salt on the side of the pan.
Lower heat to medium and continue to flip steak every 30-60 seconds for another 3-5 minutes (this is totally dependent on the heat your burner produces, the beginning temperature of your steak and/or the number of steaks being prepared in the same pan). One thing that’s so nice about cooking on cast iron is that if your meat is sticking, it simply needs more time to cook before flipping. It will release way more easily when seared, and you don’t want to go about shredding your precious steak. When it is done, a thermometer inserted into the center will read 120-130 degrees Fahrenheit.
Keep in mind that the steak will continue to cook once removed from the heat. Allow your steak to rest under tented foil for at least 5 minutes.
There are many times in which I do not take the time to check my meat with a thermometer for doneness. This recipe, however is NOT one of those times. If you can get the center of your flat iron or similar cut to that 120–130-degree mark right off of the heat, you have guaranteed, fork cutting perfection. Anything beyond medium? It would likely be a shame. And this is coming from someone who prefers most steaks’ doneness closer to medium. Just please use that thermometer!
One of my favorite accompaniments for flat iron steak is sautéed mushrooms. Not only do the flavors pair so well that it lends a gourmet feel, but they can be whipped up in the time it takes for your steak to rest. Simply add a tiny drizzle of oil with a high smoke-point such as avocado, vegetable or clarified butter to your pan, throw in your sliced mushrooms of choice and sauté over high heat for a few minutes until done to your liking. This time I used a mix of oyster, shiitake and crimini mushrooms and they certainly didn’t disappoint! Remove them from the heat and toss with a scoop of compound butter.
Hopefully those hungry mouths (now even hungrier from the amazing aromas filling your home) have helped to set the table because it’s time to eat! When slicing your steak, it’s important to cut against the grain to yield the most tender bites. Top with a few small scoops of garlic-rosemary compound butter or mushrooms, or even just as-is since it’s that delicious!
This cooking style has me excited to experiment with different cuts. Next time, I think I’ll try it with a skirt steak, but the options are endless. If you try this recipe with a different cut of beef from Grand View Farm, please comment below, we would love to hear about it!