The Cast-Iron Pan You Need For Perfect Grill Marks On Steak Right From Your Stove

If you're craving a grilled steak or charred hamburger and it's too cold to go outside — or you live somewhere where having a gas or charcoal grill isn't possible (like a small city apartment, which is my situation) — there's a tool that will get the job done on your stovetop. It's a cast-iron grill pan, and it's guaranteed to get those grill marks on your food without you even having to leave your kitchen.

A cast-iron grill pan is typically square or rectangular and features raised ribs that mimic grates on an outdoor grill. Brands like Lodge and Le Creuset are known for their versions of these cast-iron grill pans. The way they work is that the raised ridges keep the food off the bottom of the pan, apart from the areas that are touching. The most intense heat is transferred to those parts that touch the ribs, which results in burgers, chicken, steak, or veggies that are perfectly charred with grill marks. It will be difficult to tell if the foods were cooked outside or inside. The pans also emit a lot of heat so the contents get cooked through, too.

The biggest difference is you won't get that exact smoky grill flavor you're used to, but you will still have those charred marks thanks to the magic of the Maillard reaction. To get closer to that grill flavor you expect, brush the food with liquid smoke and seasonings like smoked paprika or salt before tossing it on the grill pan.

Tips for using a cast-iron grill pan

To grill on a cast iron pan, let it heat for at least five minutes over medium-high heat, depending on what you're cooking. For steak, you should cook it for at least two minutes on each side, flipping halfway through to ensure those grill marks on both sides. Continue to cook until it reaches your desired temperature — at least 145 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The cast iron is an important feature of this pan, because it retains and emits heat better than aluminum or stainless steel. That means once you have the pan to your desired temperature, it will continue to grill the food evenly. But cast iron does involve a little extra cleanup. As any home cook knows, you want to preserve the seasoning on your cast iron, so after your last bite of grilled filet mignon, don't throw the pan in the dishwasher. Instead, gently wash it with warm water and a little dish soap if needed. Then dry it, taking care to wipe away all of the water, or you risk it rusting. (Trust me, I learned from experience!) Lastly, rub it with oil or cooking spray before storing.

And if you need inspiration for other recipes to use with your cast-iron grill pan, try anything you might cook on a conventional grill, like chicken breasts, lamb chops, breakfast sausages, and burgers, as well as veggie options like slices of eggplant or squash.