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I have an electric stove that makes it hard to adjust temperature rapidly. I normally cook steaks in cast iron pan which I put on the biggest stove circle, with the highest setting of 12. I noticed steaks get really burned if I cook it there, but everyone says it should be the highest possible temperature. I even put it on half (6) and got some good results.

Is there a general advice how to determine the pan temperature and how to know what's right for the steak?

UPDATE:

I cooked 1.2 inch, T-bone steak last time on 5.8. It was on room temp for 1 hour. 3 minutes each side. Nearly perfect. I still got a bit too much char on the outside, it was medium-well on the edge of the steak, and medium-rare/rare at the bone. It was delicious though, very soft and juicy.

Doe this sound about right?

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Induction is the best way there is to adjust temperature rapidly, so not sure why you see a problem with this. "Highest possible temperature" is rarely a good idea with a pan on induction, it is only needed if you want to boil big amounts of liquid. –  rumtscho Mar 3 at 1:11
    
My bad, that one is electric not induction. Corrected. –  Ska Mar 14 at 13:34
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2 Answers 2

I don't think there is any single answer to this question, because it would depend on:

  • The type and thickness of the steak
  • The starting temperature of the steak
  • How well you like it done (because the goal is to get enough browning and crust development on the outside, without crossing over into burning, while still cooking the steak through)
  • The peculiarities of your own equipment, including both your element and your pan (a thick heat retaining pan will have less temperature drop than a thin one, and so require less ongoing source of heat)

Even if we could give you a single answer, it would probably be in terms of the surface temperature of the pan before you put a steak into it, and unless you have an infrared thermometer (which have only become reasonably available in the last 10 years or so, and are not typical kitchen equipment), that answer would not be actionable to you.

So we fall back on less precise methods, saying things like the oil should just be smoking, or that it should be shimmering, or that a bread cube should brown in about 5 seconds.

Perhaps the best test also requires the most experience to apply. Hold your hand, open, palm down, over the surface of the pan about 1 inch (2.5 cm) from the surface for a few seconds. The length of time it takes for it to become uncomfortable tells you hot how the pan is. It should be about 3-4 seconds, but again, requires experience to use this method, and everyone's perception varies.

In any case, you are going to have to employ trial and error as you learn the idiosncracies of your own burner, and your own taste in steak.

That said, there are a couple of methods that are more forgiving. Possibly the best is cooking sous-vide, and only searing for browning afterwards in the pan, but not everyone has the equipment and wherewithal of that method.

A technique that anyone can do is to put the steak in a slow oven (about 250 F 120 C) until it is cooked through about 5 degrees F (2-3 C) below the doneness you like, as tested with an instant read thermometer. IT will be wan and pale looking but this is okay. You then sear it in a quite hot pan, until it is brown and delicious. This should only take a couple of minutes, since the steak is cooked through; you are just developing the crust. This shorter time should be much less likely to burn.


Note: within limits, a thicker steak requires a lower temperature, but this is very limited.

Thick steaks truly require a two-stage cooking method, such as the ones outlined above, or traditional pan roasting (searing in the frying pan, then transferring to the oven).

In the end, though you will always have to come back to experience with your equipment, and your preferences on how you do your steaks.

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Consider 1 inch, room temperature, medium rare. –  Ska Mar 3 at 3:00
    
@Ska this is still not enough information to tell you "turn to setting 3 out of 12" or similar, because each hob and each pan is different too. You will have to learn by trial and error which setting is good; look out for the signs SAJ listed to reduce the chance of error. There is no better method. –  rumtscho Mar 4 at 12:35
    
@rumtscho Those signs are ok. But how about a comparison between 1inch medium-well, and 1 inch medium-rare. Can any guidance be offered for this? It would be easier to experiment that way. Or does the pan have to be same temp, just the difference in how long you cook? When does the pan temp need to change, in which circumstances? –  Ska Mar 4 at 14:56
    
@Ska the pan temperature doesn't need to change that much. You generally only have a narrow window where the temperature is high enough to get a good searing but not high enough to get above the oil smoking point or, worse, char the steak. You can fry practically any steak at the same temperature with decent results, small changes in temp are needed for perfection. But depending on stove, pan, meat density and meat thickness, there will be a different setting to which you have to set your stove to achieve a pan temperature which stays in the ideal range during the whole process. –  rumtscho Mar 4 at 15:10
    
@rumtscho I imagine the difference in temp applies to thickness though. For example 2 inch would require quite a lot less temp than 1 inch not to get burned. So, I'm basically left with "oil just smoking", "cube of bread browned in 5 seconds", how big the bread cube? –  Ska Mar 4 at 15:19
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I have a kenmore and I've found that 6.5 is the best pan-fry steak temperature (salmon as well). I normally will heat the cast iron pan for maybe 5 -7 mins. I'll toss some coconut oil in. And then cook the steak for between 2-5 mins per side flipping once. I always test with a thermometer and bring it to about 115 - 120. This IS less than the USDA recommended temps but I trust where I source my meat.

My recommendations for cooking a good steak are:

  • Get a splatter shield thing to put over the pan (keep the mess down)
  • Let the steak warm up by keeping it out of the fridge for ideally 40 mins to an hour (cooks better)
  • Get an instant read thermometer (Always know when the food is done)

No in order to configure your own stove your best bet would be to actually do some science:

  • Set the stove to a temp and cook your steak, using the thermometer to determine when its actually done.
  • Write down your time, char and taste option
  • Try again

Once you've compiled the data you can make your own decisions...

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