Grilling steak is one of the most rewarding and delicious experiences available to a meat-eater. However, while most cooks are capable of searing a piece of chicken or pork nicely on both sides over an open flame, many fall short when they go beyond basic grilling.
If you want perfect steak every time, there is a little more involved than putting the thing on a grill and turning a knob.
Grilling steak perfectly involves letting your meat rest properly, choosing the right cut, knowing when to pull it off and how to handle it before then. If you are looking for a fool-proof guide to grilling steaks, here is everything you need to know.
How to Grill Steak Perfectly Every Time
Step #1: Buying
Buying a good cut of meat is the most important step to grilling a juicy, tasty steak. The first thing you should look for is marbling. Marbling refers to the veins of fat running through your meat and it’s one of the single best indicators of how tender and flavorful your steak will be.
The higher the marbling, the more fat you are going to have, and fat is meat’s best friend when it comes to juiciness and flavor. If you can, look for a steak with lots of marbling that has been graded prime, like USDA Choice or higher. Anywhere from 20-30% marbling is good, but go for more if you can afford it and the store has it available.
Step #2: Prep
Once you’ve picked out your meat, it’s time to prepare it for grilling. The first thing you need to do before tossing on the grill is pat down your steak with paper towels and let it sit out for at least 30 minutes. You want all that blood to dissipate so that when you grill, you don’t lose any of the flavors in a big pool of blood on your plate.
If you feel like going the extra mile (and who doesn’t?), get yourself some kosher salt or another coarse variety and rub it into both sides of the meat right before putting it onto the grill. Letting that pre-seasoning sink in will boost the flavor even more.
Step #3: Grill
Here we are, at the most important part of grilling a steak perfectly…grilling. Keep in mind that there are many different ways to grill, too (direct and indirect heat, high and low temps, etc.).
For this guide, you’re going to want to go with direct medium-high heat, which means your meat will be over an open flame for roughly 5 minutes per side.
Step #4: Resting
No matter how well you’ve grilled your steak up until this point, if you don’t let it rest properly when it comes off the fire it’s all for nothing! When you take the meat off the heat source, the juices stop moving around inside the meat.
Without those juices moving around, they get trapped within one section of the cut, eventually leaking out and leaving you with dry, flavorless meat. Proper resting is the best way to remedy this problem.
Step #5: Enjoyment
And now comes the part that always gets me excited…eating! After taking it off the grill or flames and letting it rest for at least ten minutes, slice up your steak on an angle against the grain.
Doing so will make each bite as tender as possible and maximize your enjoyment of one of life’s greatest pleasures.
Don’t forget these steps when prepping a steak for grilling next time! If every step is followed, you’re sure to enjoy a delicious, perfectly grilled meal that will bring you back again and again.
Which Cut of Steak is Best for Grilling?
You may have heard that you should always use the finest cuts of meat for grilling. This is true, but there are a couple of caveats to remember when choosing your steaks.
How expensive does your steak have to be? Truthfully, there really isn’t any minimum price on the best cut of steak for grilling. Different people will tell you that the difference between a $20 steak and a $100 steak is just as noticeable on your plate as it is in your wallet, but there are a couple of things to think about before you believe them.
Grades of Steak
What do those grades mean? First, understand that the USDA grades of beef are different than the grades used by most restaurants. Generally speaking, a USDA Prime grade steak is what you might think of as an “A” cut in a restaurant. It’s well marbled and has a fantastic flavor. This is the top-quality meat you can get at a grocery store.
The USDA Prime grade cut of steak will be tender and full of flavor on its own, but how it was cooked can make a big difference in the final product. If you are looking for an excellent steak to throw into your own marinade or seasonings after cooking, then a Prime cut is certainly good enough.
On the other hand, if you are looking for a steak to cook simply and let shine on its own without extra seasoning then you don’t want to use the highest grade of meat.
The USDA Choice grade is what most restaurants would consider their “A” or best cut of steak. It’s generally not quite as juicy and flavorful as a Prime cut, but it’s still pretty good.
One step down is the USDA Select cut, which you may be more familiar with as “B” or “C” cuts in a restaurant. These steaks are less tender than their counterparts and they often have a chewier texture. They are still good eating, but not what most people would consider being top quality.
Select cuts of steak can be great for marinating and grilling, because they will soak up whatever you put on them in a way that Prime steaks won’t. If your goal is to produce a piece of meat that has a lot of flavors it’s hard to beat the Select grade at its best. Because this grade is generally less tender than the others you want to be extra careful when buying it.
It might seem obvious, but if one butcher’s Select cut is noticeably different from another’s then walk away. The Select grade fresh meats are usually a mix of good and bad cuts, so there can be a big difference between individual packages. Instead, look for CAB or USDA Choice cuts. These are better quality cuts that should be consistently good wherever you find them.
Levels of Steak Doneness
The level of doneness that you choose to finish off your grilling will have a huge impact on the final dish. In most cases, it’s best to allow your steaks to rest for at least half an hour before finishing them. One of the main reasons for allowing the meat to rest is that it allows the juices to redistribute so that they stay in the meat and not running all over your plate.
Your choice of level of doneness depends largely on what comes out better for you: Dry steak or juicy steak? If you prefer moist steaks then it’s best to avoid cooking them at higher temperatures. We say this, because the more heat that you put into your meat, the more moisture that’s going to end up on your plate and not in the steak.
If you prefer a juicy steak then it needs to be cooked hotter, but there are a couple of ways that you can accomplish this without drying out your meat. One way is to add butter or oil to the grilling process. The oil or butter bastes the meat as it cooks and keeps it from dehydrating.
How Hot Should the Grill be for steak?
Most people do their steaks on a very hot grill. If you have an infrared thermometer (which we recommend) they should read between 500 and 550℉ for the best results. However, it is possible to cook your steaks on a lower grill setting.
The only real risk of cooking at a lower internal temperature is that you need more time for them to cook through without drying out. If you do choose this option then try to avoid flipping the steak too often if possible. The best way to get a good piece of meat is to let it cook through on one side and then flip it once.
How Long Should I Grill a Steak?
This really depends on the thickness of your steak. One of the best ways to avoid overcooking it is by using a quick-read thermometer as you cook. This allows you to see what’s going on in the middle of the steaks without having to open them up and losing all their juices. The USDA recommends that rare steaks should be cooked at 140℉, medium-rare between 145℉ and 150℉, and well-done steaks are around 155℉ If you want your meat more or less than this then check out the chart below for some more details.
“Medium Rare” is the traditional flavor for a medium-rare steak. You will notice a little bit of pink in the center when you cut it open, but not much. The juices should be clear or light red and there shouldn’t be any hint of brown anywhere on the meat.
This steak will be tender, but it’s also fairly easy to overcook. If you cook this steak for much more than 3 minutes per side then it’s going to turn into a hockey puck that tastes like shoe leather.
“Medium” is the next step up from medium-rare and adds about 10-15% of the time to your cooking time. Medium steaks will have a little bit of pink in the center, but instead of clear or light red juices, there will be more of a medium-red color to them. The steak itself will also probably look browner and some people consider it to be “done”. This is our favorite level for cooking on the grill because it’s fairly easy to do and the results are almost always good.
Finally, “Well Done” is the traditional level of doneness for steak cooked in an oven or a pan. This is definitely done as far as most people are concerned, but that doesn’t make it bad. We have found that if we cook steaks at this level they develop a fantastic crust that adds an incredible layer of flavor to the meat.
Is it Important to Let the Steaks Rest?
Yes, definitely. If you cut into the steak right away then a lot of the juices will pour out onto your cutting board. So why let it rest? Letting the steak rest for half an hour allows time for those juices to redistribute so that they stay in the meat instead of all over your plate.
As a general rule, we do not recommend cooking your steaks at a lower temperature than 400℉. If you prefer a medium-rare steak it will usually be pink in the center and that means it’s undercooked. Cooking at this level doesn’t allow for enough time to cook through without drying out the outside, which results in an incredibly chewy piece of meat.
Charcoal or Gas Grill for Steak?
There’s nothing wrong with using charcoal; it is our favorite option because the flavor seems to be a little stronger than on a gas grill. With that said, most people don’t have access to enough charcoal to cover all sides of their steak, and that results in uneven cooking and can lead to some pieces turning out better than others.
If you can put the steak directly over the coals then that will probably give you the best results. If not, then it’s better to use a gas grill. Gas grills have become very efficient these days and they tend to be hotter than charcoal grills as well. The last thing to consider is heat distribution; if your gas grill has an uneven distribution of heat then your steaks could be cooked unevenly as well.
What to Serve With Grilled Steak?
Grilled Steak is a great compliment for just about any side dish. We love to serve mashed/french fries with our steaks because they soak up the juices and add another layer of flavor to the meal. An easy way to do this is by putting your steak in a baking tray before you put it on the grill, then bake it in the oven for an hour at 400℉. That will give you time to whip up some of our other favorites:
Baked Potatoes: Scrub a few potatoes (Yukon gold are our favorite) and wrap them in tin foil, then bake for about 40 minutes until they’re soft. Don’t forget to add some butter!
Butter-Roasted Asparagus: Throw asparagus into a baking tray with melted butter, and bake for 20 minutes. They come out tender enough to eat like chips!
Mashed Potatoes: If you prefer your potatoes mashed instead of baked, here’s the recipe for the best mashed potatoes ever.
Corn: We like to throw a couple of handfuls of frozen corn on the grill when we’re cooking steaks. This works best with big ears of sweet white corn, so don’t use that canned stuff unless you want a mess.
What to do With Leftover Steak?
Since steaks can be a little pricey, it’s a good idea to know how to make the most of them. The best way we’ve found is by using them in sandwiches like grilled cheese or meatball sub sandwiches (recipe coming soon!).
Grilled steak tacos are also quite delicious. Just go with your standard recipe for soft tacos, but use grilled steak instead of chicken. You can also use steaks in tacos al pastor, which is a popular taco in Mexico City.
We also make steak salads quite often. Start by laying a base layer of lettuce, then throw some cubed steak on top with tomatoes, onions, and avocados on the side. If you’re in a sour mood (or want to impress your friends) add some mango salsa as well.
Are These Instructions the Same for Grilling Other Meats?
Yes! Cooking steaks and other meats are almost identical, just make sure you have a digital meat thermometer with a probe so that you can check its doneness.
Final Thoughts on Grilling the Perfect Steak
Like we said before, if you pay for a good steak then it’s only right that you treat it with the proper respect. Grilled steaks taste best when they’re cooked to around medium-rare (130℉), but they’ll be tough and chewy if you try and cook them more than that. Treat the meat with respect, and it will give you the perfect reward.
By following these instructions you should be able to cook steaks like a professional chef.