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Question on cast iron cooking techniques

post #1 of 9
Thread Starter 
Hi all.. newb here with a question on cast iron.
First off, I love the stuff. I have a rather nice collection of five items. But I'm not entirely clear on a couple things I was hoping a pro chef could help me with. I'd like to know if there are any rules or guidelines that determine or dictate when and/or how you cook a piece of meat....

So, there are 4 basic scenarios as I see it.

1... 12" skillet (or griddle), high heat, sear both sides quickly, finish in oven at lower heat
2... Grill pan, high heat, sear both sides quickly, finish in oven at lower heat.
3... 12" skillet, low/medium heat, cook through on stove top.
4... Grill pan, low/medium heat, cook through on stove top.

Basically I'm not sure when it's best to A) sear and finish in oven vs B) cook all the way through on the stove top.

The other thing I'm not sure of is when to use a flat surface (skillet or griddle) vs a grill pan.

And in the case where you sear at high heat and finish in oven, how do you know whether to set the oven at a lower heat (say, 350) or a higher heat, like 450-500 deg?

I learned the basic idea of searing at high heat and finishing in the oven at 450-500 from Alton Brown's good eats in the eisode where he does a ribeye. But I've also seen pro chefs cook a thick cut (steak, for examepl) entirely on the stove top.

So when/how should you choose between surfaces and cooking techniques?

Thanks---and hope I was clear!
I excel at sauteeing onions.
I excel at sauteeing onions.
post #2 of 9
at home for lamb chops, racks, and fish and a very occassional steak I use a 5th method.

I put my grill pan under the broiler and when it is hot put the meat on and it broils from both sides, like that famous guy's grill.

for blackened fish, I put the seasoning on, spray a bit of olive oil on it and put that side down on hot grill pan and slide under broiler.

at work with pork chops or thicker cuts, I use the sear and finish in oven method.

post #3 of 9
Thread Starter 
Thanks Nan... appreciate the feedback. :lips:

Is there ever a time you would finish a cut on the stove top? Tonight as an experiment I took a frozen hamburg patty and cooked it on my grill pan at med heat. Came out not too bad at all... but surely its thin nature allows for it to be applicable to the grill pan/stove top method.
I excel at sauteeing onions.
I excel at sauteeing onions.
post #4 of 9
first I think one has to accept there is no "one right and only way" to do things....

I use the high heat sear both sides finish in oven technique. the grill pan produces marks, if you've got it hot enough, that's about all I've ever noticed about the ridged grill pans.

I find it possible to do a passable job on thinner steaks just on the stovetop. the exact thickness will depend on a couple factors:

how hot the pan is
was the meat at room temp or cold from the fridge
your own doneness preference

when the steak hits the pan, it cooks from the outside to the center. at some point the outside is done to your liking, leaving it longer to cook deeper into the meat = overdone / burnt outside. when flipped, the second side cooks a bit faster because the meat has warmed a bit.

the extreme example: if the steak is 12 inches thick, there's likely to be some red left in the middle when the outside is 'done'

on the approximate scale, thickness on the order of 1 inch will finish in the pan - putting it in the oven may reduce your options to 'well done' only. as I tend to hotten the pan to the max, I find it difficult to produce anything less than medium with a 1 inch thickness in the pan.

I like mine medium rare, so up to 1-1/2 inch works in the pan for me.
post #5 of 9
There's also the problem that some cuts cook faster than others, but mostly with steaks and the like it's a question of thickness.

It's worth noting that you can cook a thick steak quite slowly -- like 200 degrees -- until it's just a hair underdone, and then sear it in a blazing-hot pan to get a good crust. I mostly find that this is valuable with a VERY thick cut, especially one a little bit uneven like a chateaubriand.

For blackened fish, I use the method of its inventor, Paul Prudhomme. Turn on maximum heat -- he uses a direct propane jet, actually -- and wait about 10 minutes until you see flakes of white ash in the pan. If unsure, wait another 5 minutes: heat is everything. Season your fish, dip it in melted butter, and drop it in the pan. Ladle some more butter on top -- watch out, because it may flare. After 2 minutes for a thick fillet, flip it over and ladle more butter. After 2 more minutes, remove to a plate, ladle on some butter, and serve immediately. The outside of the fish should be lightly charred all over, and the inside should be just done at the core.
post #6 of 9
What is producing the ash Chris? The pan material itself or the seasoning? I've never gotten a pan THAT hot so just wondering.
post #7 of 9
Oh, it's all the old seasoning and stuff like that. This isn't a technique you do with that pan you've babied for its perfect patina for years and years. But the OP mentioned a big pile of cast iron, so I thought I'd mention it.

I think Prudhomme started doing this by using a propane "rig," such as is used in Louisiana for making crab boil -- basically a big Bunsen burner powered by one of those propane tanks you pick up and exchange at the hardware store. That'll get your pan REALLY hot!
post #8 of 9
Thread Starter 
A lot of good feedback here. Thanks... appreciate it!

So I guess I can boil it down ( no pun intended!) to this:

you can use a grill pan OR skillet to sear on high heat. Whether or not you actually finish on the stovetop depends on the thickness of the meat. The thicker it is, finish in the oven. The thinner it is, the more you need to turn down the heat, but at the same time, you can cook it all the way through (or until desired doneness).

Sound right?
I excel at sauteeing onions.
I excel at sauteeing onions.
post #9 of 9
Not sure what you mean by the bold-faced bit here. If you want a good crusty exterior on your steak, you use high heat no matter what. Whether you finish in an oven, or briefly in a medium-hot pan, or just rest the steak, will depend on your preferences, the thickness and pre-cooking temperature of the steak, and so on. I think that's what you mean, but I'm not quite sure.

I should say that I have heard some people insist that there is a real difference in the exterior crust between pan-seared and pan-grill-seared. I don't know whether that's true, but I've heard it said. So far as I can tell, the only difference between a pan and an actual grill is that the material burning in the grill imparts a little flavor, and if you use it covered you do get some ambient heat cooking (as in an oven) which you don't get much with an uncovered grill or pan.
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