The holy grail of the grilling world is steak. This tender, flavorful meat comes in many forms, and often requires a careful and delicate approach. If you can nail the perfect steak, however, you’ll be the talk of all your future cookouts. Check out the tips below on how to get the best grilled steak you’ve ever tasted!
1. Understanding the different cuts of steak
Before you throw any slab of meat on the grill, you need to know what type of steak you’ll be having. Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all steak. Prior to heading to the grocery store, do a little research on the cut, the potential grill time, and even the price of steak. There are four main cuts you might see in the meat department, or at your local butcher. Filet mignon, also known as a tenderloin steak, is perhaps the softest and most tender cut of steak. New York strip steak, which also goes by Kansas City strip, or top sirloin steak, is not as tender as a filet, but offers medium fat content and a good beefy flavor. Porterhouse, or T-bone steak, lives up to its name. The T-shaped bone separates two cuts; tenderloin on one side and New York strip on the other. Finally, rib eye steak, which comes from the upper ribcage, has plenty of fat marbling and can be sold bone-in or boneless. A few other types of steak include flank and skirt steaks, which are often used for dishes like fajitas
and carne asada
. Thinner cuts of steak will cook faster on your grill, but can be overcooked if you’re not careful. Thick cuts, like tenderloins for example, will cost you more, but their taste will be second to none. Buying the best grade of meat within your budget will make a big difference when grilling. The USDA ranks beef in three quality grades. Prime beef is produced from young, well-fed cattle. It has abundant marbling and is generally sold in restaurants and hotels. Choice grade beef is high quality but has less marbling than Prime. This is traditionally the best grade to purchase at your local grocery store. Finally, Select grades rank the lowest as they are the leanest and do not have the tenderness, or flavor of other grades.
2. Looking for marbling
To the average consumer, having more fat in your steak might not sound like the ideal situation. However, steak experts are quick to point out the importance of marbling: the white flecks and streaks of fat within the lean sections of meat. Having more marbling in your steak generally means you’ve chosen a better cut of meat, and when cooked at a high, direct heat
, the marbling in steak begins to melt and coat the muscle fibers surrounding it. This produces a rich, buttery texture and enhances the bold, beefy flavor of the meat. Because more marbling means a steak has more fat, a highly marbled cut can mean a tougher steak to chew. For example, filet mignon is one of the least marbled and leanest cuts of steak, which results in a delicate, butter-like texture when cutting through it. This is also why some grill masters choose to wrap bacon around their filets to provide and added boost of fat. Contrast this with a rib eye steak that has plenty of marbling and a higher fat content. While it may not be as soft as a filet mignon, a rib eye steak will be significantly more tender than other cuts of steak.
3. Should you marinate your steak?
Steak is naturally flavorful, and a good cut of meat usually only needs salt, or maybe pepper. Some garlic powder can also go a long way. If you’d like to add even more flavor to your steak, however, consider using a savory marinade. Marinating is the process of soaking foods in a seasoned, acidic liquid before cooking. This will help to tenderize the meat before grilling. There are several ways and times to marinate your steak. Some marinades can be as simple as adding soy sauce, vinegar, lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce in a bag or bowl with your meat, while others may require added seasonings and refrigeration for a few days. A few great seasoned and marinated steak recipes include this red wine marinated Porterhouse
, grilled T-bone steak with a barbecue rub
, and a grilled rib eye with creamy mustard and tarragon steak sauce
4. Grilling your steak
This is where the magic happens. Most steak enthusiasts differ on their preferred method of grilling based on convenience, time spent on the grill, and doneness of the steak, but they can all agree on this first step. Remove the steak from the fridge and season it generously with salt. Let the steak reach room temperature while your grill is preheating. Once the grill has preheated for about 15-20 minutes, you’re ready to place your steak on the grill. Perhaps the most traditional method to cooking your steak is placing it over high heat on your grill for about four to five minutes until the steak is golden brown and slightly charred. Then turn the steak over, and let it grill for another three to five minutes for a medium-rare steak, or five to seven minutes for a medium steak. If you really want to up your game, add the perfect sear marks to your game to impress your friends and family.
Another way to grill your steak is what the experts might call “restaurant” style. For the true five-star meal experience, try searing each side of your steak for two to three minutes in a very hot cast iron pan on your side burner
. This will give the outside of the steak a perfect consistency. Next, add a bit of butter to the steak and move the cast iron pan into your preheated grill, then close the lid. This results in a great sizzling steak when you hit the desired temperature. Be careful here though, as the cast iron pan will be very hot.
Finally, the internal temperature of your steak is important to determining its doneness. Medium-rare steak usually has an internal temperature of 135 degrees, while medium steaks are around 140 degrees. Medium-well can have an internal temperature of 150 degrees, but be careful not to let it overcook if you’re not a fan of well-done steak. Be sure to keep your meat thermometer
handy throughout this process. For a quick cheat-sheet on achieving the right doneness of your steak, check out our grill temperature guide
. Aim to have your steak around the 145 degree internal temperature suggested for beef, but know that the time to get to this temperature can vary based on the thickness of the cut of steak you’re grilling. Once you’ve taken your steak off the grill, allow it to rest for several minutes before digging in.
Think you’ve got what it takes to make the perfect grilled steak? Remember to keep these tips in mind and follow our recipes page
for a few different ways to prepare your next steak dinner.