Background: I am very much an amateur cook; I would consider myself a novice at best, so pardon my ignorance!
I decided to try to cook a nice dinner for my family recently. Part of that dinner included some small (~6-7 oz., 1.5-2" thick) beef tenderloin steaks. After doing some Internet research I decided on a preparation method that included pan-searing them for a few minutes on each side (with the goal of getting the steaks to the approximately "rare" stage), followed by a stint in the oven to finish them off. This seemed straightforward to me, so I decided to give it a try.
As a novice cook, the only skillet that I had on hand that was suitable for use in the oven was an old cast-iron one, so I used that. Following the recipe that I had found, I added 1.5 tablespoons of olive oil and ~1 stick of butter [*] to the pan and put it on high heat. After the foam subsided from the butter, I placed the steaks in the pan. The Internet consensus seemed to indicate 3-4 minutes of searing on each side would get the steaks to rare, so I waited patiently.
Unfortunately, after 3 to 3.5 minutes, it became apparent that something had gone wrong: the kitchen began to fill with smoke, and when I turned the steaks, the side that had been seared was burned horribly. I had to abort cooking them at that point to mitigate the smoke; I later found that the steaks had cooked through much more than I would have expected by that point.
While my result was discouraging, I'm trying to do some post-mortem analysis to try to determine what went wrong so that if I get up the nerve to try this again, I won't ruin another meal of expensive meat! Some possibilities that came to mind:
Was cast iron a bad choice as my cookware in this case?
Should I have lubricated the pan differently?
Is there some other detail that I missed that could have changed the outcome?
[*] "A stick of butter" is a US measurement, it denotes 113.5 g of butter