The sun is shining and you are surrounded by family and friends. The coals are turning grey and the moment is fast approaching — the time to grill has almost arrived. A steak can be a beautiful thing to cook over open heat and fire, but can also be rather intimidating. In reality, cooking steaks is a very straightforward thing to do, as long as you understand some basic rules. With a few tips from the pros you can produce restaurant-quality results in your own backyard.
We consulted a couple of experts for their advice on how to achieve consistent, flavorful results every time you hit the grill with some steaks. John Schenk is the corporate executive chef at Strip House Steakhouse, with locations in Houston, New York City, and Las Vegas. Prior to his role at Strip House, he served as executive chef at Monkey Bar and Mad.61 at Barney's New York. His simple, memorable advice will ensure juicy, tender, flavorful steaks each time.
Jan Birnbaum is a partner in San Francisco's critically acclaimed Epic Roasthouse and was the executive chef until 2013. Birnbaum has more than 30 years of experience and currently emphasizes a "no-nonsense approach to food" — making him the perfect man to ask for some "no-nonsense advice." He has helped open a number of well-reviewed restaurants, including Sazerac in Seattle and his own Catahoula in Napa Valley, California.
Armed with the right tips and tricks, you can achieve meat nirvana every time, just like these seasoned pros.
Choosing the right grade of meat is important when looking for the best steak to grill. Prime, choice, and select cuts are all different grades, based on how the cattle has been reared, what it has been fed, and how it has been killed.
Buy USDA Prime or certified Black Angus steaks if you can. Choice-grade steaks are the second tier after prime and are a good, more cost-effective alternative. Avoid select cuts when looking for steaks, as they will be the lowest quality.
Dry-aging means there is less moisture in the steak, which results in a meatier flavor. By reducing the air and moisture, you allow yourself to taste more of the steak with less air and water diluting the flavor.
You can dry-age your own steak easily in your own fridge. Simply leave your unwrapped steak on a bed of paper towels in the fridge for three to four days. Change the towels as they become wet, pouring off any liquid from the plate.
If you are lucky enough to live near a butcher, go ahead and make full use of that luxury. Talking to an expert can help you make the best decisions when deciding which cut to buy. It is also great to buy meat that has not been sitting in a supermarket, covered in plastic, for hours on end. Butchers can tell you how to cook whatever meat you buy and can help boost your confidence before you fire up the grill.
John Schenk, corporate executive chef at Strip House Steakhouse, says that the best steaks for home grilling are nature's perfectly marbled beef rib-eye steaks or bone-in rib-eye steaks, often called cowboy steaks. The marbling enhances the flavor of these cuts while basting the meat in the cooking process to ensure a juicy steak.
But, if you don't want to spend a ton of money on a pricey cut, consider using a marinade. Marinades work great on cuts like skirt or flank steak since the acid helps break down tough connective tissue.
Jan Birnbaum of Epic Roasthouse says: “Always allow meats to rest at room temperature for up to two hours, depending on the size of the meat. Meat, directly out of a refrigerator is typically about 38 degrees. For best results, starting meats on the grill at an internal temperature of 50 to 55 degrees is great. Any internal warmth is better than 38-degree meat. Tempered meat produces a more desirable, even-cooked color and texture. Even a rare steak is better if it is cooked when the meat is not too cold.”
Schenk recommends using a canola and olive blended oil to coat the steak before seasoning it. Either an 80/20 or 90/10 blended oil will get the job done. Be sure to lightly coat the steak. The oil will allow the surface to get seared fast, ensuring a juicier final product as well as greatly aiding the charring of the meat’s surfaces. Save your expensive olive oils for salads, where their subtle flavors will shine brightest.
And here's a neat trick: When oiling the grill, we like to dip a tightly rolled kitchen towel in a shallow container of oil using some long-handled tongs and use it as a swab to quickly and evenly coat the grill. Give it a shot!
Schenk says a well-marbled steak needs only coarsely ground black pepper and kosher salt to achieve flavor perfection. It really is a case of the sum being greater than the parts. Be sure to season a bit more than you might regularly season a sautéed item, as some of the steak’s seasoning will be lost in the grilling process. You want to be sure to have enough on the steak to get the job done.
Schenk says it is all about heat. High heat sears the cooking surface of the meat, ensuring a juicier steak, and allows the charring to happen. With high heat, one can get a nicely charred rare steak. A little flame is your friend; a lot of flame is a definite concern. Keep two sides of the grill hot and move the steak to the second hot spot if the first grilling area is aggressively flaming up. Dousing with water is a last resort; you want to keep the grill as hot as possible. But if it’s between the house going up and a well charred steak, I’d give a nod to keeping the house intact.
Schenk also says that flipping the steak too often can sabotage the charring of the meat and eliminate most of the seasoning on the steak. Don’t drag the steak over the grill when turning. Pick it up in one motion and place it back with the same motion.
Birnbaum says that once meat is removed from the heat, its temperature may continue to increase by as much as 10 percent. And Schenk reminds cooks: Once you have achieved the desired temperature, remove the steak from the heat and allow it to rest for at least five minutes on a grate over a pan before cutting it. You want to make sure there is air all around the steak to stop the cooking process. The internal juices will redistribute throughout the steak and the steak will relax and become tender. Cutting too soon will allow the juices to spill out.
Schenk recommends returning the steak to the grill after it has rested for about 30 seconds on each side just before serving to get a surface sizzle going. A little sprinkle of a gray sea salt on the steak allows for a gentle and focused reseasoning of the steak.
The bad news: People will make you do all the grilling from now on.
Lastly, we recommend cleaning the grill while it's still hot. If you wait until the grill cools, it'll be harder to get all the sticky residue off the grates. Use a grill or wire brush, or even half an onion (cut from top to bottom so the root stays intact), speared onto a grilling fork. This way, the grill will be ready to go the next time you want to use it as well. Keeping a clean grill is one of these great grilling tips for beginners as well as for those with more grilling experience.
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