The Preheating Tip That Will Give Your Steak The Perfect Sear

There is something incredibly satisfying about biting into a perfectly seared steak, its exterior is crusty and golden-brown, while the inside remains tender, succulent, and dripping with juices. However, for many, achieving that restaurant-quality sear at home remains elusive. The secret isn't just in the quality of the cut of steak or the seasoning; it lies in the preparation of your skillet.

The cast iron skillet is a culinary workhorse that has stood the test of time. Revered for its even heating, naturally non-stick surface (when properly seasoned), and ability to retain heat, it is an indispensable tool for chefs and home cooks alike. Yet, where steak-searing is concerned, there's a specific method used to harness the full potential of the cast iron, and it all starts with how you preheat it. Yes, preheating your cast iron skillet until it's very hot is the game-changer that separates a mediocre sear from a sublime one. The reason is simple but crucial: When a steak meets a supremely hot surface, the Maillard reaction is swift and thorough.

The Maillard reaction, for the uninitiated, is a chemical reaction between amino acids and sugars in food. In simple terms, it's what grants a steak that appetizing brown crust and enhances the meaty flavors. A lukewarm skillet simply can't induce this reaction as effectively, often leading to steak that's overcooked on the inside before it can develop a good crust on the outside.

How to preheat the cast iron skillet for the perfect sear

First, ensure you have a well-seasoned cast iron skillet since it not only prevents sticking but also promotes better searing. Take your steak out of the refrigerator and let it come up to room temperature. This ensures even cooking. In the meantime, place your skillet on a burner set to high heat and preheat it for about five minutes. To know if your skillet is ready, you can use the water droplet test where you flick a few drops of water onto the pan's surface. If they start simmering immediately upon contact, the skillet is ready. Alternatively, if you hover your hand a few inches above the skillet, you should feel an intense heat radiating off it.

While the skillet is getting up to temperature, pat your steak dry and season it with your preferred seasoning. Once the skillet has reached searing temperature, add a little oil with a high smoke point (like grapeseed or avocado oil) to the pan. Carefully lay your steak in the skillet. You should hear a satisfying sizzle upon contact. This sizzle is the sound of a perfectly preheated cast iron skillet, transforming the surface of your steak into a deliciously caramelized crust. Let it sear for one or two minutes then flip and repeat for the other side. Continue to cook your steak while flipping occasionally until it gets to your preferred level of doneness.