So I'm trying to find a consistent way of getting good quality, medium-rare burgers without firing up the grill. The burgers always end up cooked on the outside quicker; the inside is still red (not pink).

I have a large cast iron skillet on an electric stove and usually use beef between 80 and 85%. Any suggestions?

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    Heat pan, add hamburger? Not trying to be flippant but was there a specific problem you encountered?
    – Aaronut
    Jun 14, 2011 at 13:16
  • 1
    Sorry. It ends up cooked on the outside quicker. The inside is still red (not pink).
    – agent-j
    Jun 14, 2011 at 13:18
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  • If you're trying for something really thick, you may need to do part of your cooking in the oven.
    – derobert
    Jun 17, 2011 at 21:29
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    A tip. Make sure to let your patties sit and reach room temperature before cooking it. Doing this provides a more even cook. Apply to most if not all meat-related cooking.
    – Jason
    Dec 9, 2011 at 20:03

7 Answers 7


The right way is simple and straightforward: preheat the skillet for about 5-10 minutes on medium, add a few table spoons of oil to coat the bottom, and continue cooking at this temperature. Flip regularly, to allow the sides to cook evenly, and wait for the middle to become fully cooked.

Now I will tell you all the ways NOT to cook a hamburger with a cast-iron skillet!

  • Cook on "warm" for an hour or so. Then realize it's not cooking, give up, and go to McDonald's.
  • Heat the skillet on maximum heat for a few minutes, and throw the burger on. Just leave it there; it's not fully cooked if there's any hint of pink or moisture left. After a while, your new charcoal-and-cardboard roofing shingle will be ready for use.
  • Preheat the skillet. Don't throw in a burger or anything, just forget about it until the fire alarm goes off. Now you can learn how to re-season cast-iron!
  • For the storming-a-medieval-castle experience: throw a mostly-frozen burger patty into a frying pan with a half inch of exceedingly hot oil. Dive for cover and a fire extinguisher as hot oil sprays everywhere. When the barrage ends, maybe the middle will be edible?
  • Use pan as a bludgeon and steal a burger from an unsuspecting fast food customer. For particularly inept people this may be the only way to get a good hamburger using a frying pan.
  • Heat a frying pan full of oil on high heat. When flames start, cook your burger over them using a metal spatula. Accept the wails of the fire alarm as a little light musical accompaniment.
  • Microwave it. Yes, that includes the pan. When your microwave has finished burning, surely the burger will be cooked well-done! For additional paddies, repeat with fresh microwaves.
  • Start cooking on high without preheating, realize the exterior is overcooking while the interior isn't done, then switch to low heat. It's still cooking too fast! Take cast-iron skillet off burner entirely, and remove burger. Allow pan to cool completely, and resume on low heat. After 20 minutes, wonder why it's not cooking at all and the pan still isn't very hot, and try jacking up the heat again. Ten minutes later, your burger is overdone outside and STILL raw in the middle. Congratulate yourself that at least you saved yourself time on all that preheating nonsense. Then look at clock and realize an hour has passed.

This message brought to you by the Hard Knocks Culinary Institute!

  • 1
    @BobMcGee, I find your posts tonight entertaining. However, they are different from your usual style, and include some more or less personal details. Maybe you'd prefer to party your mood away with friends instead of the computer? (You know, the Internet has the bad habit of remembering everything you ever said).
    – rumtscho
    Jun 14, 2011 at 17:42
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    @Rumtscho: Only a little of this post is drawn from personal experience. I'm not drunk-posting if that's what you're implying, just blowing off some steam. I don't think anything said in the other answer you refer to moves beyond "funny and cautionary anecdote with a ribald twist." Maybe I'm used to the, uh "saltier" environment in a pro kitchen though, so I'll keep it a little more G-rated in the future.
    – BobMcGee
    Jun 14, 2011 at 18:04
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    Personally, I've got no problem with the style, or the tone or any of that - in fact I think the cautionary notes are actually pretty useful - but IMO the answer would have been just as entertaining without the obviously silly ones (e.g. alien mind control rays, using pan as a bludgeon, etc.)
    – Aaronut
    Jun 15, 2011 at 1:35
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    @Bruce: It's a different tone, but it DOES answer the question, and I think there's room to have fun laughing at mistakes. While I may get a little silly, this also points out a few common, and not so common ways a simple burger can go horribly, horribly awry. @Aaronut: Humor is always hit or miss. shrug I'll keep tweaking it, and hope people enjoy at least part.
    – BobMcGee
    Jun 15, 2011 at 5:38
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    I quite enjoyed the phrase "storming-a-medieval-castle experience".
    – Doug
    Jun 16, 2011 at 15:13

If it's getting cooked on the outside too quickly, you're heating up your pan too much. Try cooking at a lower temperature.


I find it good to use a cast iron skillet under a broiler. Pre-heat the pan, add the burger, 4 minutes/turn, 3 minutes remove, let rest for a few minutes as well. This is generally good for a (thin) 1/4 to 1/3 pound patty. If you want to get thick then it is better to reduce the heat and cook more slowly, whether it is stove top or under the broiler.

  • I will try this and comment back.
    – agent-j
    Jun 15, 2011 at 20:53
  • This worked great! Good suggestion.
    – agent-j
    Jun 28, 2011 at 15:44

The first thing is to realize that there are a lot of different ways to cook a burger.

Nothing beats a grill, or even comes close. But when living in an apartment or when it's too cold to grill, the next best thing is cast iron grill pan. Don't be fooled by the cheesy clam-style George Foreman wannabes.

How I do it:

There are a couple of ways.

First is on the stove top. Not my favorite way but it works:

  • Preheat your grill pan until it's smoking, usually medium high, or 7 on my electric stove (if it doesn't smoke, it's not hot enough). I use high-fat meat, usually 80% lean or, if I can find it, 73%. This adds to the flavor. Have a jar ready for excess grease. There's nothing worse then a fried burger.

  • Leave the pan oil-free. Brush the oil on the burger instead.

  • Sear the burgers about 1 min per side, then put in a plate.

  • Drain the oil out of your grill pan and return the pan to the stove, turning the burner down to medium.

  • Continue cooking 3 to 5 minutes per side depending on how well-done you like it.

The other method uses the oven:

  • Set your pan to medium high and sear the meat as described above

  • Preheat oven to 400 F (200 C).

  • After searing the meat, drain oil and return burgers to grill pan and place in the oven, cooking another 5 to 8 minutes.

Remember your cast iron pan will be really hot. Make sure you have oven mitts on. As always, like anything else, remove the burger from the pan ASAP as it will keep cooking in the pan.

These methods also work with any copper or stainless cookware that is oven-safe.

Do not try this with ordinary non-stick cookware. You will ruin the pan and make your house smell bad, or worse, start a fire.

  • Perhaps I'm missing something here, but the question asks about using a cast iron skillet, not a "grill pan."
    – Athanasius
    May 15, 2015 at 5:18

Add a measured quantity of water or stock to the pan before adding the burgers. Flip the burgers when the liquid is about half gone. When it's evaporated, brown on one side, flip to brown the other side, while adding cheese at this point if desired.

You'll have to experiment with the amount of water. Too much, and you will get medium or worse. The liquid helps conduct the heat to the inside.

I use this method primarily with my stash of frozen patties. It avoids the need to thaw the meat first, yet still allows short-order cooking.

  • I will try this and comment back.
    – agent-j
    Jun 15, 2011 at 20:53
  • I wouldn't go over 80% lean. 75-80% is about right.
  • Don't over-work your meat. Just tear off evenly-sized handfuls, form them into balls, and then flatten into patties.
  • Make your patties about 3/4 inch thick, with a depression in the middle. They'll puff up in the middle, so you want the middle thinner.
  • Heat the pan somewhere between medium- and medium-high heat.
  • When the pan is good and hot, sprinkle a good pinch of kosher salt into the pan, and place the burgers on top of the salt.
  • Flip them when you see juices coming up to the surface, after 3-4 minutes.
  • Add cheese right after flipping, if you want it.
  • Cook for another 3-4 minutes, depending on how well-done you want them.
  • Placing a lid on the pan will melt the cheese faster, so that you can have melty cheese without overcooking the meat.

When cooking thicker burgers, I find it best to start with the skilled pre-heated on about medium heat, with some butter and oil in the pan. Put the burgers in for a few minutes (depends on size, temp, etc) then flip and put it into the oven on about 350 degrees. The iron skillet will maintain a lot of the heat long enough to sear the other side while the oven finishes cooking the inside of the burger. You'll need to test this out to see how long it takes to cook it to your liking, but this is a general technique you can use with any thicker meats.

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