When it comes to cooking steak, science confirms that the cut of meat is only one factor. Your cookware of choice (and how hot it can get) also plays a massive role in helping the meat to retain its juices and result in your preferred level of doneness. In short, the best pans to cook steak will reach high temps and stay there throughout the cooking process — and that's largely dependent on the material.
Cast iron is typically considered the gold standard for steak because it's durable and extremely effective at holding and distributing heat. It can also go from the stovetop to the oven without issue, and thanks to its recent surge in popularity, you can find a great option for an incredible price. That said, cast iron is also much heavier than your average pan and needs to be seasoned regularly to retain its nonstick properties, so it's gotten a reputation for being a bit high maintenance.
Carbon steel has a lot of the same benefits like versatility, durability, and impressive heat retention — but when compared to cast iron, it's lighter and smoother, so it's easier to cook with and care for. On the other hand, it's also often more expensive.
Finally, if you're looking for a nonstick pan you don't have to season and want to play it safe, many choose to stay away from Teflon — especially when cooking at high temperatures (starting at around 570 degrees Fahrenheit), as it can potentially become unstable and break down. Instead, try a stone-derived coating that's non-porous to resist sticky, caked-on residue.
According to both design and buyer reviewers, here are the four best steak pans in each of the aforementioned materials.
1. The overall best cast iron grill pan
Yes, it's made from pre-seasoned cast iron, so it heats up quickly and stays there — but the Lodge grill pan is well-suited for steak for another reason: It has a textured base for a barbecue-like sear, whether you're cooking on the stove, in the oven, or out on a campfire. This one also features a square shape and two handles for heavy lifting, one of which comes with a silicone handle to prevent burns.
- Size: 10.5 inches
- Material: Pre-seasoned cast iron
One reviewer wrote: "Received this yesterday and cooked a Delmonico. Followed all the rater's suggestions on cooking/searing (thank you) and I cannot believe I am saying this was the best steak ever. Better than any grilled steak. Steak tasted like fine quality restaurant steak houses."
2. The most affordable option
Luckily, a great cast iron pan doesn't have to break the bank. This best-selling option from Lodge has over 40,000 reviews because, even though it's durable, versatile, and offers excellent heat retention, the 10.25-inch size costs just $15. It comes pre-seasoned and ready to go with dual handles and a spout for pouring off excess oil. There are also different sizes with add-ons like covers and handle sleeves available.
- Size: 10.25 inches (also available in 3.5, 6.5, 8, 9, 10, 12, 13, and 15 inches)
- Material: Pre-seasoned cast iron
One reviewer wrote: "It's fantastic that such a great way for cooking meat is so highly recommended by chefs and foodies everywhere yet is still so affordable [...] These things literally last for years and have the important characteristic of getting extremely hot compared to an ordinary pan that will do wonders for your steak cooking."
3. The best carbon steel fry pan
Carbon steel is also a durable option with great heat retention — but it's smoother and lighter when compared to cast iron. This frying pan from De Buyer has over 4,500 reviews and an overall 4.4-star rating, so it's certainly worth considering. It's treated with beeswax to prevent oxidation, and after seasoning, it's naturally stick-resistant for easier cleanup. Get it in your choice of six sizes, though this 12.6-inch option is great for cooking two steaks at once.
- Size: 12.6 inches (also available in 7.9, 9.5, 10.2, 11, and 14.2 inches)
- Material: Carbon steel
One reviewer wrote: "These are truly a lifetime investment item if they are taken care of. Once it's seasoned, you cannot cook a better pan-fried steak. One of the best pans I've used thus far, and I've owned a restaurant."
4. The best nonstick pan for steak
Unlike many other nonstick pans, this pick from DaTerra Cucina skips the Teflon, cadmium, and lead. Instead, it utilizes a safe, eco-friendly ceramic coating that's smooth and non-porous for easy cleanup. The thick aluminum base heats up quickly and stays hot, while the oven-safe design is suitable for temperatures up to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. The best news? It comes with a one-year warranty, so you have time to decide if it's the right pan for you.
- Size: 13 inches
- Material: Ceramic-coated aluminum
One reviewer wrote: "The non-stick is awesome, I tried it on very high heat for steak and for roasted potatoes, just wipes off. It's a bit lighter than the pans I'm used to, but the soft handles are excellent in hand."