Everybody loves a juicy and tender steak with a nicely seared crisp surface. On the other hand, a dry and overcooked steak is a sad sight. That’s why knowing how to grill a steak is one of the skills that every backyard grill chef should master.
Getting your steaks right is a mixture of art and science. There are many variables that have an effect on the outcome. Yet, with the right instructions, you can succeed every time.
It’s also important to have fun experimenting with your grill and different types of meat. Let’s go through the process of preparing a perfectly grilled steak!
1. Choose Your Meat
It all starts with choosing and buying the steaks that you’re going to grill. There are 2 main things to consider: the quality of the meat and the cut of beef.
Grades of Steak
The steak sold in the US is generally available in 3 different grades: prime, select, and choice. Let’s take a closer look at the different grades:
- Prime grade beef is high-quality meat made from young and well-fed cattle. It is tender, well-marbled, and has a great flavor. You can mostly find it in special meat stores.
- Choice grade beef is a good choice for grilling. It’s available in many stores and offers great value for money.
- Select grade steak is commonly available and more affordable than the higher grades. It may end up a bit tough and dry if not prepared the right way. You should tenderize or marinate it before cooking.
There are also standard and commercial grade beef available but they are usually sold as ungraded. These are even less tender compared to select grade. I don’t mean this kind of meat inedible. You could very well use it for stews or making ground beef, but I don’t think they are the best choice for grilled steaks.
I would recommend investing a little extra and getting choice or prime grade beef, if possible.
The Thick Cuts
These cuts of beef are best when they are 1.5 to 2 inches thick. You can expect a juicy steak with great flavor.
- Ribeye (or entrecôte) is a cut from the rib section. It has a high degree of marbling and a rich flavor. It can also be called a Tomahawk steak when a larger part of the rib bone is left with the steak. This is definitely one of my favorites for grilling!
- Strip Steak, also known as striploin and New York strip, is a tender cut coming from the rear part of the cow. Compared to ribeye, it has a milder flavor and less fat.
- T-bone steaks contain both tenderloin and strip steak parts, which are on the opposite sides of the bone. These steaks are often huge!
The Thin Cuts
These cuts are thinner and chewier but have a nice and strong flavor. The meat should be grilled whole and cut into thin slices against the grain before serving.
- Flank steak comes from the abdominal or lower chest area of the cow. It’s a long and flat cut with a nice flavor. Cutting it the right way before serving is important, as it tends to be quite chewy.
- Skirt steak is a cut of beef taken from the diaphragm area. It’s a thin and fatty cut with a tough membrane that should be removed before grilling it. Same as the flank steak, it should be served sliced.
- Hanger steak is a cut derived from the hanging belly part of the cow. It’s prized for its beefy flavor and is often marinated before grilling.
2. Get the Steaks Ready
Trim the Fat
If the meat has a lot of extra fat you might want to cut some of it off. Don’t cut all of it though, leave some for flavor.
Season or Marinate
With ribeye, strip, or T-bone steaks, you can simply rub some salt and black pepper on the surface of the steaks before grilling them. I recommend applying the seasoning a few hours before grilling the meat, so flavors will be sucked into the meat. Choosing the method for salting your steaks depends on how much time and effort you are willing to put into it.
A great way to add some extra flavor is to baste the surface of the steak with melted butter just before grilling it. You can also add some dried or fresh herbs like rosemary, sage, or thyme.
Flank, skirt, and hanger steak are great for marinating. Use something acidic, like lemon juice and balsamic or red wine vinegar, to help with tenderizing the meat. Let the meat marinate overnight, or at least for a few hours.
Let it Warm Up
Take your meat out of the refrigerator before starting to preheat the grill. Let the steaks sit at room temperature for at least 20 minutes before grilling them.
3. Prepare Your Grill
Your grill should be smoking hot before you start grilling the steaks. If you have a charcoal grill or a large gas grill with several burners, I recommend creating 2 heat zones. This allows you to have one area with intense direct heat, and another area with lower indirect heat.
Here is how to prepare your grill:
- Gas: First, you can fire up all of the burners to get to a temperature of 450 to 550 degrees. Then shut down the burners on the other side of the grill. If you have a small grill you might not be able to do this. Just heat up the grill and lower the temperature later, after searing the steaks (we’ll get to that later).
- Charcoal: Light up the charcoal. You can use a chimney starter to do it. Let it turn into a nice ember and create 2 heat zones by arranging the charcoal on the other side of the grill.
Oil the Grates
To avoid the meat sticking to the grates, you can oil them. Sunflower and vegetable oil are great for this as they can withstand high temperatures without smoking. Fold a paper towel several times and dip it into the oil. Then use long tongs to brush the hot grill grates.
Another option is to brush some oil or melted butter onto the surface of the meat.
4. It’s Time to Start Grilling!
Your grill should now be as hot as it gets, which means you’re ready to sear your steaks. Place them on the hot grill over direct heat and close the lid. Grill them for about 2 minutes.
Now you should have a nice sear on the other side of the steak so you can flip them. Close the lid again and grill for 2 minutes.
Getting the Right Doneness
Having seared your steaks on both sides, it’s time to flip them and move them over to the indirect heat.
If you have a small gas grill and didn’t create the different heat zones for direct and indirect cooking, you can just turn down the heat to medium-high or medium instead. In this case, you should flip the steaks one more time in the middle of cooking them.
The grilling time for steaks depends mainly on their thickness and the desired level of doneness.
Here is a chart that I created to help you with the task:
Just remember that the chart contains only guidelines, not exact parameters. When you get more experience with grilling steaks, it will be easier to get it right. To make things a bit smoother, you can also use a thermometer to check the internal meat temperature.
Don’t have a meat thermometer? Not a problem. One great way to test the doneness of your steak is to use your finger. Here is a short video that shows how to do it:
5. Let the Meat Rest Before Serving It
When your steaks have been grilled, you can place them on a plate or a serving tray. Make sure that the plate is warm, so the steaks don’t get cold. You can also cover the dish with a lid or tin foil. Don’t cut the meat yet.
Resting the meat for about 5 to 10 minutes is very important. The thicker the steak, the longer the resting time. The meat actually continues to cook during this time.
So why not simply leave your steaks on the grill for a while longer? If you would grill them more, you could end up with dry and overcooked meat. Resting the steaks doesn’t dry them out, but allows the inside temperature to even out.
Now your meat is ready to be served. If it’s a flank, skirt, or hanger steak that you were grilling, remember to slice it up before serving it. Enjoy!