Is there anything better than a perfectly grilled steak? There is something about an open flame that brings out the best from your favorite cut of meat. But it can be a little daunting when trying to do it yourself.
Most professionals agree a great cut of meat is essential when learning how to grill the perfect steak. But what else goes into getting it right each and every time? Thankfully, there are a few tips and tricks to help you get the steak of your dreams whenever you fire up your grill.
Getting to Know the Grades of Meat
Not all meat is created equal. In fact, the USDA has come up with a grading scale to help people understand the meat they are getting and how to prepare it.
There are three basic grades of meat sold in the US:
Select, Choice, and Prime.
They are ranked according to the flavor, tenderness, and juiciness of the cut. This can be determined by the amount of marbling present in the meat.
Select is the poorest quality of the three. It is slightly above what the USDA qualifies as edible. It is almost always what is on sale or advertised, so don't be surprised if it isn't high quality as it tends to be rather lean and without much marbling.
While some Select cuts may be cooked with dry heat or grilled, without any marinating, this is not suggested.
Choice is a great cut of beef but has less marbling than Prime. Don't worry, though. If you purchase a choice cut of beef, you will still be getting a quality steak, and it should be delicious when grilled if not overcooked.
However, when it comes to grilling, you really want a cut of Prime meat. All of the juice from the fat helps to create that butter-like quality to the taste and texture.
So, when shopping, stick to either Choice or Prime cuts. They will be worth the extra money per pound you will pay. And it is easier to make sure you grill it to your tastes with better cuts of meat.
However, it is important to note finding Prime beef at your grocery store may be difficult at the best of times. So, if you have your heart set on that perfect steakhouse steak at home, be prepared to shop around. Our best suggestion is to check with local butchers in your area, and if you still can't find it, you may need to settle for a nicely aged choice cut instead.
Best Cuts For Grilling
This small, thick cut of meat is known for its buttery texture. Its name literally translates to cute filet. It is a leaner cut of meat, still tasty, and generally more expensive than some other cuts on this list.
This cut of meat gets its name from its distinct shape; it looks like the letter t. It is basically two steaks in one, with a bone running down the middle of the cut. Known for its taste and texture, it is what most people think of when they think of steak.
This cut is like a T-bone's big brother. It is another two steaks in one and is HUGE. It tends to be used in eating challenges due to its large size.
This cut of beef has a nice ratio of meat to fat, so it has a great flavor. It is also known for being easier to cook than some of the others on this list. So, it is great for learning how to grill the perfect steak.
New York Strip
This boneless cut of meat is known for being tender and having a good meaty flavor when done correctly. It may also be called a Kansas City steak or a Delmonico steak.
This is a thin but still flavorful cut of meat. It is on the lean side, so it helps to marinate it a little before grilling.
Another thin but beefy flavor cut of meat. Thanks to its looser muscle fibers, it is another cut that is good for marinating, as it will soak up a ton of the flavor.
Prepping to Grill
Before you start to grill, there are some things you are going to need.
1: A Grill
This one is a given. It doesn't matter if it is a charcoal or gas grill, as long as you are comfortable with it.
2: A Digital Instant Read Thermometer
We will go more into this later. But make sure you have an accurate instant-read meat thermometer. And make sure it is digital.
3: Grilling Tongs
These will make sure you don't accidentally puncture your steak when turning it.
4: Make Sure Your Grill Has 2 Temperature Zones
Two temperature zones will make sure you can grill your steak at the right temperature. But more on that later.
Grilling Your Steak
You may have read for a perfect medium-rare steak to grill it 3-5 minutes on each side. However, this is just a sort of rough estimate.
Because no two grills, cooking surfaces, or pieces of meat are the same, you will need to get familiar with how the steak feels before introducing any heat. This is because the texture and density of the meat will change as it cooks.
So, to help ensure you cook your steak just the way you like it, you should spend some time getting to know what your cut of beef feels like before it is ever introduced to a flame.
Raw steak will be soft to the touch. There will be little to no resistance when you push on it. As it cooks, the resistance will increase, and the meat will get tougher to the touch.
Rare steak is still pretty fleshy when you touch it. Imagine poking yourself in the cheek.
Medium rare is a little tougher, like poking your chin.
Medium well is pretty tough, like poking your forehead.
Well done has almost no give at all.
There are those who say that to make sure you still get a little bit of the flavor from the meat; you really shouldn't cook it past medium-well. However, you should obviously cook your meat the way you like it.
Somethings NOT To Do When Grilling a Steak
1: Cook Meat Straight From the Fridge
Many professional chefs think letting your steak get to room temperature before cooking helps it cook evenly. Most suggest leaving it on a prep rack for an hour should do the trick, So, use this time to salt or season your meat.
2: Don't Use the Wrong Salt
That's right. There is a right and wrong salt to use when prepping your steak. It turns out table salt or any other fine-grained salt will have too much weight per volume, and you will run the risk of over seasoning.
Instead, use something like sea salt or kosher salt. Both have a nice medium to large grain, which will give it a nice taste without being too overpowering.
3: Don't Season Too Soon
If you don't have at least an hour or so to season your steak, it is best to leave it until right before it goes on the grill. This is to make sure you can get that beautiful and tasty crust on your steak.
4: Don't Start If Your Grill Isn't Super Hot
The flames will need to be going for at least 20-30 minutes before you even think about starting to grill. This is to make sure you sear the outside and lock all the flavor in.
5: Make Sure You Have a Meat Thermometer
Yes, we know we did just tell you to check the fleshiness of your meat with your finger. However, unless you are a total pro, it is still better to use a meat thermometer to check the temperature. Here is a helpful table:
Medium rare: 130-135°F
Medium Well: 150-155°F
6: Flipping Your Steak More Than Once
Flipping your steak more than once can actually make it lose some of its flavor. Simply turn it once on each side to get the lovely criss-cross grill marks, and then flip it once.
7: Don't Forget To Let It Rest
Meat doesn't stop cooking once it is off the grill. By letting it rest a little before serving it, you give your steak the perfect chance to finish cooking and let the juices settle.
Many experts suggest pulling the meat off the grill when it is about 10 degrees cooler than your desired temperature and then let it rest in a warm place (you don't want a cold steak) for about half the time you cooked it. And if you want it hot, then just pop it back on the grill for a little warm-up, and you should be good to go.
8: Do NOT Cut or Puncture It To Check If It's Done
Cutting into a piece of meat to check its readiness is just going to let all of the juices out of the steak. This means it will dry out the meat and cause it to lose flavor.
This is where the digital instant-read thermometer comes in. It will let you check the internal temperature of your steak without having to puncture it. Every grilling enthusiast should have one.
Now To The Grilling
Cooking Thin Cuts
When cooking thin cuts of meat, like a skirt or hanger, make sure you cook it directly over the hottest part of the grill. This will ensure it is cooked evenly throughout. Just remember to take it off the heat a little early and let it rest before serving.
Cooking Thick Cuts
This is where the two temperature zones on your grill are needed. The cooler zone on your grill is only going to need to be about 225 degrees.
First, you will put your steak in this cooler part of the grill and cover it with the lid. This will help circulate hot air around your meat, making sure it is heated evenly on both the top and the bottom. Think of it like creating a little mini oven.
Start checking the temperature after about 15 minutes. If it isn't at the desired temperature, check again in five minutes and so on until it is about 10 degrees lower than the desired temperature. So, if you want a medium-rare steak, it would need to be about 125 at this point.
Once it hits that number, you want to take it off the grill for a second so you can crank the heat up and get it ready to really cook. For gas grills, close the lid and turn up all the burners. For charcoal grills, gather into a pile or add half a chimney's worth of fresh coals to the mix.
Now that everything is all heated up put your steak in the direct heat zone and flip it once to make sure it is properly browned evenly on both sides. Be sure to take it off the grill once it hits the lower temperature of how well you want it done and let it rest.
How to Grill a Perfect Steak
It can be tricky grilling the perfect steak. However, with these helpful guidelines on what to do and what not to do, you should be able to up your steak game and wow everyone at your next outdoor event.
For more helpful hints on how to get perfectly grilled meat or vegetables, check out the rest of our outdoor section.