Pan-seared cast iron skillet flank steak means you can have a restaurant-quality dinner in 15 minutes or less (5 minutes if you’re eating a bagged salad with it). Intensely flavorful flank steak seasoned and quick-cooked in a cast-iron skillet is a great alternative to more expensive cuts of beef allowing you to get your “steak fix” in just 5 minutes and spend less. Pair this steak with a loaded baked potato and a side salad, or make it surf n’ turf. It’s also great for a steak and egg breakfast, sandwiches, and quick fajitas, tacos, or quesadillas.
There’s No Need for Takeout or Expensive Steak Restaurants — Pan-Seared Flank Steak is Easy to Make at Home
Beef is a favorite in our house although we eat much less of it nowadays and when we do, we get it from our local butcher, Bruno who sources sustainably. The meat tastes great and we get to support local Italian farmers. But since we eat less of it, when it is on the menu, I want to make sure that it gets treated right especially the more expensive steak cuts. Below are a few tips for how to cook perfectly pan-seared steak so you can avoid any blunders.
- Use a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet or another heavy-gauge skillet. It helps to use a heavy-bottomed pan with good even heat distribution (cast-iron, carbon steel, 7-ply stainless steel like All-Clad, or even All-Clad heavy-duty aluminum with multiple layers).
- Dry the steak before you cook it. No wet beef here. You need to have dry steaks so that when they hit the hot oil, they will start to brown. If you don’t dry the steaks, they will have blood (moisture) that will start steaming the steaks when they hit the pan, ultimately giving you grey steaks and zero chance of a good “crust” without overcooking the steak. If the steak is really moist or has excess blood simply pat them dry with a paper towel before seasoning and adding the pieces to the hot skillet. If you’re really serious about a dry steak surface (for more expensive cuts like ribeye, NY strip, filet, t-bone), dry it completely and leave it in the fridge overnight on a platter. This will help dry out the surface even better.
- Season the steaks well. Good beef really only needs salt and freshly cracked black pepper. But if you like Lawry’s or Montreal Steak Seasoning (or any other spice blend), use it. Your kitchen, your steak. I use Diamond Crystal kosher salt because the larger salt crystals allow me to know if I’ve salted it enough. If you end up under-salting the steak remedy this by adding a sprinkle or two of finishing salt (like Maldon sea salt with larger flakes). It will also add a nice crunch to each bite. *Do not season the steaks until just before time to put them into the hot pan. Adding salt draws out moisture (blood in this case) and you already know that a wet steak keeps you from getting a flavorful “crust”, or sear.
- Use a neutral oil with a high smoke point (400-450°F/204-232°C) to cook steaks. Use vegetable oil, grapeseed oil, or another neutral cooking oil with a high smoke point. Do not use an extra-virgin olive to pan-sear steaks. EVOO has a low smoke point of around 350°F/176°C which means it would burn before the steaks are properly seared. Plus, everything special about EVOO (the phenols and antioxidants) that make it so healthy, would be lost as it oxidizes after going beyond its smoke point (which isn’t good for your health). Not only that, it will smoke up your kitchen.
- Get the skillet + oil really hot. Add the steaks to the hot pan with oil immediately after it starts to smoke and not before. When the steak makes contact with the pan, it needs to be so hot that it sizzles and sounds like applause.
- Have patience.
- For thinner steaks (like flank, iron, skirt, or hanger), once you place the steaks into the skillet, do not move them around. Let them have constant contact with the hot pan and the oil so that the browning can take place. If you move them around or flip them over too soon, you’ll miss out on all that extra flavor and beef “crust” you get from a good sear. After about 2 minutes, you can peek at the underside of the steaks using a pair of tongs but don’t move it around too much. This is one good indicator to help you know when it’s a good time to flip them over. When cooking flank or skirt steak, depending on the size, the meat has a tendency to slightly “curl” which pulls the center somewhat away from the pan. This is why some people like to put a weight in the middle of the steaks to ensure the center always has direct contact with the pan. You may also use a spatula to press down on the middles while cooking them.
- For thicker bone-in steaks (like ribeye, porterhouse, bistecca alla Fiorentina, and T-Bone), it’s ok to flip the steaks over periodically while simultaneously basting them with butter and aromatics. This helps ensure even cooking, browning, and helps larger steaks develop a nice golden crust.
- Do not add butter or aromatics to the skillet too soon (if using butter at all). Butter, herbs, and garlic cloves are great ways to add flavor to pan-seared steaks. However, if you add them too soon, they’ll burn before the steak is cooked through. It’s best to add aromatics about 1/2 way through the cooking time (after you’ve flipped the steak over) and start quickly and constantly basting the steak. Alternatively, you may add a pat of butter or compound herb butter to the tops of steaks as they rest just after removing them from the skillet. For flank, hanger, and skirt steaks I don’t usually add butter because they don’t need it. However, I do enjoy basting with butter and herbs for thicker steaks like t-bones, ribeyes, filets, strips.
- Use a timer. Setting a timer as soon as your steaks hit the pan really helps you determine how long they need to cook. It’s an easy way to not have to think as much about when the steak is going to need to be flipped or finished cooking. That said, I never leave a steak alone. I check steaks periodically to make sure I have the flame adjusted properly and that they’re cooking the way I intended. It’s not foolproof to set a timer because several factors are involved with properly cooking steaks such as the cut of meat, thickness of the steak, whether or not it’s bone-in or boneless, and even the type of range and skillet you’re using. But using a timer does provide a little extra help with timing especially if you’re busy prepping other sides.
- Use a thermometer. It’s a great idea to use a thermometer. I personally don’t use one for pan-searing (although there have been times I could’ve benefited from one♡). But for some people, it makes all the difference and gives them peace of mind, especially when cooking for larger groups or dinner parties. Practice is the best teacher when it comes to making a good cast iron steak and beyond experience, a good meat thermometer is always the best tool.
Other Tasty Steak Cuts to Pan-Sear
The Difference Between Flank Steak and Skirt Steak + the Best Ways to Use Them
Flank steak and Skirt steak are cuts of beef that come from the underside of the cow and these two cuts are perfect for marinating, grilling, and quick pan searing. In fact, they’re often used to make carne asada the Mexican beef dish used to make the best tacos, fajitas, and quesadillas. However, here are a few differences to keep in mind when deciding which cut to use.
- Flavor Profile. Intense delicious beefy flavor.
- Appearance. A thin, long, and fibrous cut of beef with the muscle running straight up and down and no marbling. It’s thinner than skirt steak (up to two times thinner) and just a bit shorter too. It’s considered to be quite meaty meaning the raw meat will not shrink much when cooked because there isn’t a lot of fat to render.
- Location on the cow. It comes from a very lean cut of beef that rests on the stomach close to the hind legs of the cow.
- Texture. A lean, slightly chewy cut of meat with even less fat than skirt steak. It should be cut “across the grain” when serving in order to reduce the chew factor and make it more tender. Flank steak is often marinated to help break down some of the muscle fibers and help tenderize the meat.
- Best cooking methods/uses. Flank steak is best when cooked quickly and at a high temperature with added fat like pan-searing so it develops a nice “crust” on the outside with a perfect rare to medium inside. This is one way I like to get my less expensive “steak fix”. But, it’s most often marinated for several hours or up to overnight to add flavor and help tenderize it by helping break down tough muscle fibers. Flank steak is a common cut for stir-fry, fajitas, roulade, bibimbap, or even marinated and grilled and eaten as a steak.
- Flavor Profile. Intense delicious beefy flavor. Skirt steak has a bit of a flavor advantage over flank in that it has more fat and fat equals flavor.
- Appearance. A thin, long, and fibrous cut of beef with the muscle running slightly on the diagonal. It’s thicker than flank steak (up to two times thicker) and just a bit longer too. Although it doesn’t shrink much during the cooking process, it will shrink a bit more than flank steak because there is generally slightly more fat content in skirt steak than flank.
- Location on the cow. It comes from the hardworking diaphragm muscle which separates the chest from the abdomen near the lungs and front legs.
- Texture. A lean, slightly chewy cut of meat without much fat, but still with some visible marbling and a bit more fat than flank steak. It should be cut “across the grain” when serving in order to reduce the chew factor and make it more tender. Skirt steak is often marinated to help break down some of the muscle fibers and help tenderize it.
- Best cooking methods/uses. Skirt steak is best when cooked quickly and at a high temperature with added fat like pan-searing so it develops a nice “crust” on the outside with a perfect rare to medium inside. This is another way I like to get my less expensive “steak fix”. It’s also often marinated several hours and up to overnight to add flavor and help tenderize it by helping break down tough muscle fibers. Skirt steak is the most common cut for fajitas. Alternatively, you may also braise skirt steak (cook it low and slow for several hours) in order to break down the muscle fibers which creates a tender flavorful dish.
Perfect Pan-Seared Flank Steak Ingredients
You only need 3 ingredients to make this delicious 5-Minute Flank Steak — Salt, Freshly Ground Black Pepper, and Flank Steak. Feel free to add some aromatics like fresh rosemary, a sprig of thyme, smashed garlic cloves, and even a knob or two of unsalted butter. Just be sure to add them halfway through the total cooking time so they don’t burn. If you can’t find flank steak, flat iron, skirt steak, and hanger steaks are all great substitutes.
- 1 to 1 1/2 pound beef flank steak (500g)
- kosher or sea salt to taste
- freshly cracked black pepper to taste
Optional aromatics & Flavor Enhancers
- 3 garlic cloves smashed (optional)
- a sprig of fresh rosemary or thyme (optional)
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter (optional) (28g)
How to Make Perfect Pan-Seared Flank Steak in 15 Minutes or Less
- Preheat the skillet. Heat a 12-inch cast-iron skillet or another heavy-gauge pan over high heat with oil.
- Pat the steaks dry. Using paper towels (or a clean kitchen towel) blot the steaks until there is no moisture left and season with salt and freshly cracked black pepper.
- Sear the steaks. When the skillet is smoking hot, Immediately and carefully add the flank steak (away from you) and do not move the pieces once they hit the pan. Set a timer for 5 minutes. At this point, you may use a spatula or a weight to press down on the middle of the flank steak. Cook steaks on the first side for 2 1/2 minutes, or until nicely browned. Flip and continue cooking for another 2 1/2 minutes for a total of 5 minutes or until medium doneness (about 140°F/60°C) and rest the steaks tented with foil for at least 5 minutes. Slice thinly across the grain and Enjoy!
What Temperature Should Steak Be Cooked To?
Use this helpful internal temperature guide for cooking all kinds of steak at home. All you need is a meat thermometer to avoid overcooking or undercooking meat at home.
- Extra Rare or Blue (bleu) [80-100°F/28-36°C] Barely warm, deep red color, soft and squishy texture
- Rare [120-125°F/49-51°C] Bright pink center and pinkish around the exterior, texture is soft
- Medium-Rare [130-135°F/55-57°C] Very pink center with slightly brown exterior, slightly hot, texture is starting to firm up and yields just slightly when touched
- Medium [140-145°F/60-63°C] Light pink center with brown exterior and hot throughout, texture is starting to firm up and yields just slightly when touched similar to Mid-Rare
- Well [150-155°F/65-69°C] Mostly grey-brown throughout with only the slightest hint of pink in the center, firm texture
- Well done [160°F+/71°C+] Consistently grey or brown throughout and hot, firm, or hard texture
What to Serve with Pan-Seared Flank Steak
Now that you’ve decided to make this 5-Minute Flank Steak recipe, you’ll need some other tasty pairings and sides to eat with it, or you might be looking for a good carne asada recipe — we’ve got you covered. Here are a few of our favorites to help inspire your next steakhouse or taco dinner at home.
- toasted garlic bread with mozzarella-parm butter
- Pan-Seared Purple Cauliflower Sesame Steaks
- Diver Scallops au Gratin (Capesante Gratinate)
- Perfect Pan-Seared Zucchini
- Summer Starburst Vinaigrette (a favorite salad dressing)
- 4-Minute Perfect Pan-Seared Shrimp
- Easy + Delicious Shrimp Au Gratin (Gamberi Gratinati)
- Shrimp Scampi for Two (or a Crowd)
- Perfect Pan-Seared Sweet Carrots
- Restaurant-Style Carne Asada Steak (For Two or a Crowd)
Flank Steak tips + tricks + FAQ’s
- What is Flank Steak? Flank steak is an intensely “beefy” flavored lean cut of beef that rests on the belly of the cow close to the hind legs. It’s great for pan-searing (like this 5-Minute flank Steak recipe), or grilling and using it to make tacos, fajitas, steak salads, or quesadillas.
- How many calories are in flank steak? Flank steak is a very lean cut of beef making it a good option for a high protein, low-calorie meal option. In fact, it has more protein and fewer calories than a ribeye or porterhouse. For a 3-ounce serving, flank steak has around 6 grams of fat and 165 total calories.
Looking for a Thick-Cut Steak to Pan-Sear Instead?
If you’re in the mood for a T-Bone, Porterhouse, Ribeye, or Bistecca alla Fiorentina, check out this recipe over here.
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