Welcome summer! The scents of lilac and sizzling meat waft over our fence; we’re outside, at last!

I love grill season except for those nights when I’m out of time or the weather has turned, nixing plans for a lovely alfresco dinner. But with a heavy cast-iron skillet, a speedy meal of steak and onions is on the table in minutes.

You can find fabulous cuts of grass-fed beef at our farmers markets, local butcher shops, in co-ops and grocery stores. Look for a boneless cut, about 1-inch thick; these cook quickly and evenly, given the ratio of surface to interior.

The list of cuts that work well on the stovetop is long, but my favorite choices are the skirt, flank and hanger steaks. These are less expensive and more flavorful, but they tend to be chewy.

They’re best cooked rare and sliced across the grain. At home, keep the steaks refrigerated until about 30 minutes before cooking so they’re not cold when they hit the pan. Pat them dry with paper towels, really dry, because that helps build a good strong crust.

A cast-iron skillet is the best pan because you can get the surface so very hot. My dad, a master cook for steaks, always salted the pan, not the meat. He found that doing so seems to help develop a firm crust because the salt hasn’t had time to draw the meat’s juices to its surface so it sears right away.

Once the steak has hit the hot pan, cook it until it is well browned on both sides and then pop it into a hot oven for a couple of minutes to finish it off. (Be careful! Remember, the handle of the pan will stay hot for a long time after it’s been pulled from the oven.)

You can test the meat for doneness with an instant-read thermometer inserted into the side of the steak (not the top). The meat’s temperature rises after it has been pulled from the oven — 120 to 125 degrees is the range for medium-rare. Let the steak rest for a couple of minutes so that the juices relax back into the meat. It makes a big difference.

As the steak rests on a plate, sizzle some sliced onions and whisk together a light pan sauce to drizzle over the meat, as well as on accompanying greens. Dinner is done!


Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.