I almost named this post, “How to cook a steak that doesn’t suck.” Vegetarians beware; this one is not for you (just in case you haven’t noticed yet). Go browse our dessert section today while the rest of us stay here and look at slabs of beef. It’s no secret that Kate and I like our meat. I’ve actually noticed at a lot of the business related events we attend where fancy dinners are involved, the women in attendance almost always order fish, or grilled chicken, or a stinking side salad, and then leave 3/4 of it on their plates when they’re finished. If there’s a beef filet on the menu, Kate and I both order it about 98 percent of the time. And you better believe we chow down every last bite too. I want to show you all that you really can cook an awesome restaurant quality steak at home. You can also totally ruin a perfectly good restaurant quality steak at home. So follow our steps to grill a steak that doesn’t suck, okay?
1. Choose the Right Cut
I’d saythis step is the most pivotal. There’s only so much you can do for a steak that’s not that great to begin with. Most (certainly not all) really good steaks are on the expensive side, so let’s just get that out of the way. You’ll need to be willing to spend a bit more for a premium cut and it will be well worth it when you take that first juicy bite. There are some cheaper cuts of steak that can be great too, but in general, you won’t have much luck hitting the bargain basement. Pay attention to thickness as well, for best results buy steaks that are at least one inch thick and preferably more like 1 1/2.
I could write a whole post on different cuts of steak, so just for today we’ll focus on the most traditional backyard bbq steaks. My personal favorites for grilling are Rib Eye and NY Strip, so I’ll show those in my photos. If I had to go for just one, I’d pick a rib eye every time.
A quick note on the strip steak- my butcher taught me this. See the steak in the middle? How it’s got that line of what appears to be marbling right up the center? Well it’s not marbling, it’s gristle, and it comes along with the “end cuts” on strip steaks. So if you’re looking at steaks, avoid those end cuts. They’re not bad, they’re just not as great as a non-end cut. Notice both cuts of steak have good marbling. That fat adds both flavor and juiciness. Don’t be afraid of the fat! Here’s a run-down on some popular grilling steaks (According to me. As opposed to a professional meat person. But I eat a lot of meat, does that count?)
T-Bone: 2 steaks in one! You get a strip steak on one side of the bone and a tenderloin on the other. It’s usually a very thick cut with excellent marbling and flavor. Generally comes with a price tag.
Porter House: Same as the t-bone, only the tenderloin is larger.
Rib Eye: You can buy rib eye on or off the bone, I think on the bone is more flavorful. One of the most flavorful cuts of steak due to the amount of marbling. You have to cut around quite a bit of fat to get to the meat, but it’s well worth it if you ask me. Incredibly tender. I heart rib eyes.
Strip Steak (NY Strip, among other names): Slightly leaner, but still with good marbling. A little firmer than all of the steaks noted before, and excellent flavor. Generally more affordable; just don’t over cook. I probably buy this one the most.
Top Sirloin: Probably the most affordable cut of those mentioned, but not a lot of marbling. Texture can be quite tough. I don’t buy top sirloin very often because it’s sort of hit or miss for me. Mostly miss.
Tri-Tip: This is my other favorite steak. It’s kind of hard to find, but we always buy it at Costco. It’s fantastic on the grill and tastes similar to a Strip steak. If you see it, give it a shot, we cook this one quite often at my house.
*If you are working with a less-expensive cut of meat, check out this cool method of salting. Jaden of Steamy Kitchen has a fantastic explanation of how to turn “cheap ‘choice’ steak into Gucci ‘prime’ steak”
We’ll cover Filet Mignon in another post because I think it’s better pan seared. Other great cuts of steak for the grill are thin cuts like Flank Steak (one of my faves) and Skirt Steak. These types are best in marinades so we’re not talking about them right now. But if you’re interested, try our Sweet and Savory Flank Steak, Lime-Chili Rub, or this Chimichurri on steak.
2. Trim Excess Fat
When it comes to steak, fat is not the enemy. Good marbling provides excellent flavor and keeps steaks juicy; it’s one of the things you should look for in a steak. But excess fat around the outside just melts on the grill and can cause flare-ups resulting in burnt steak. So use a sharp knife and trim around the outside edge. There’s no need to remove all fat, just keep a thin layer. Fat is easier to cut when it’s cold, so trim right when you take the meat out of the fridge. Then let the steaks sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes or so.
I grew up dipping all cuts of meat in A1 Sauce. It was my thing. I also put A1 on rice, pasta, corn and potatoes. I told you, it was a thing. I will never forget the horror my newlywed husband expressed the first time we sat down to a steak dinner and I drown the succulent meat in A1. He told me it was not only offensive to him, the cook, it was offensive to the cow. It was he who first taught me that a good piece of meat only needs two things: salt and pepper. And I’m not talking about those dirty old table salt and ground pepper shakers that have been in your spice cabinet for ten years. Admit it, you have them. Use kosher or sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper. And be very generous. The salt and pepper create a crust and you can use more than you think you need. We’re cooking big hunks of meat; it’s not a time to skimp. Marinades have their place, a place I love, but save them for cheaper/tougher cuts of meat that really need them (like flank steak). You can however use spice rubs. I still wouldn’t recommend anything too strong, but the grill seasoning mixes tend to be pretty good with things like salt, pepper, onion, garlic, etc.
While you’re working on the steps above, like trimming fat and sprinkling salt, have your grill pre-heating. If you’re using charcoal you’ll want very hot coals. Use the 2 second rule to test them; you should be able to hold your hand a few inches over the grill for only about 2 seconds before it’s too hot. Once they are hot, move them to one side of the grill so you can have both direct and indirect heat. If you’re using a gas grill, crank that baby to high. When the grill is preheated (on a gas grill let it heat for at least 10-15 minutes). Use tongs (I love these extra long ones) to move your meat around, not a big fork. Puncturing your steak will only let the juices run out and cause them to be dry and tough. Place the steak on the grill and do not move. Do not get fidgety and move it all over and flip it 400 times. You should flip a steak one time only. And while we’re on this topic, another thing you shouldn’t ever do is take a spatula and smash the steak into the grill. I cannot even tell you the number of times I’ve seen people do that at bbq’s, to both steaks and burgers. I think there’s something about the sound of the juices sizzling on the flames that make people think they have magical steak cooking powers. Really they just have magical steak-ruining-powers.
Place the steaks on the hot grill to sear. Don’t move them for 2-3 minutes. If you want diagonal hatch marks, you can rotate your steak 45 degrees after a couple of minutes and then finish searing. Use the tongs again to flip steaks and sear the other side.
5. Finish Cooking
If you cook the steaks at the super high heat the entire time, the outside will be burnt by the time the center cooks. So after searing, turn gas down to medium heat, or move steaks to the indirect heat side of your charcoal grill to finish cooking.
I said earlier that picking the right cut of steak is the most important step, but the second most important step is to cook it perfectly. When it comes to steak, you can’t follow exact times because it will vary with every cut and every grill. Temperature is the most reliable guide (I’ve outlined temps in the printable version of this post). I love these mini steak thermometers; they come in a set of 4 and they’re short so they sit perfectly in a steak. But I’ll be honest, I very rarely use thermometers anymore. I’ve cooked so many steaks that I can tell how done a steak is by how it feels. This is one of the first little tricks I ever posted on OBB, and it’s a great one. Hold your non-dominant hand up with fingers extended and use your other pointer finger to feel the palm where I’ve indicated below. It should feel nice and soft, quite squishy. That’s the feeling of a rare piece of meat. Now put your first two fingers together and feel again; it’s a little firmer, right? That’s similar to the feeling of a medium rare piece of meat. Follow the chart below and you’ll get the hang of it. Go head, do it! You know you want to. I’ll wait for you.
Annnnd we’re back. Cook enough steak and you’ll soon know by a quick touch how done it is.
Once you take your steaks off the grill, don’t cut into them right away. Steaks need to rest so the juices can redistribute. Cover with foil to keep them warm and let them rest for at least 5 minutes.
Now, we eat.Steaks can be finished off with an extra sprinkling of kosher or sea salt or a pat of herbed butter.
How to Grill the Perfect Steak
Tutorial by Our Best Bites
1. Choose a good cut of meat. My personal favorites for grilling are Rib Eye and NY Strip. T-Bone and Porterhouse are both premium cuts. If you can find Tri-Tip, it’s another one of my favorites.
2. Let steaks sit at room temperature for about 10-15 minutes while your grill is pre-heating. Trim fat off around edge of steak and season liberally with kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper on both sides.
3. Heat your grill to a very hot temperature. If you are using charcoal, after they are heated, move them to one side of the grill so you have both direct and indirect heat.
4. Lightly oil grill if needed. Use a pair of tongs to hold a paper towel dipped in oil, or use tongs to hold a piece of the trimmed off fat to to quickly and lightly grease grill grates.
5. Sear. Place steaks on hot grill and do not move for about 2-3 minutes. If diamond grill marks are desired, rotated meat 45 degrees and grill a little longer. Use tongs (not a fork) to flip steaks and cook for 2-3 more minutes.
6. Finish cooking. Turn heat down to medium-high and close grill lid if you have one. If using charcoal, move steaks to the side not directly above it. Continue to cook until internal temperature reaches:
Well Done: 160°+
7. Rest. Use tongs to remove steaks from grill and cover with foil to keep warm. Let rest for at least 5 minutes before cutting into.
8. Eat up.