Backyard burgers are delicious and grilled chicken can be far from boring, but the king of the cookout is always a beautiful piece of steak. Because of steak’s high status, this cut of beef can sometimes intimidate and confound both the seasoned and amateur griller alike. What cut should you choose? What seasoning? Should it be tempered? In short, how does one ensure perfection when grilling steak? From essential tools and arranging coals to tempering, seasoning, and cooking technique, these helpful tips will ensure you stay in control when grilling and make certain you can grill steak like a pro.
Other than an actual piece of beef, there are a few things you'll need in order to properly grill your steak dinner:
Grill: Obviously, if you are grilling your dinner, you need a grill. Either a gas or charcoal grill will do the trick; it really just comes down to personal preference.
Grill brush: It is important to keep your grill clean. Use a stiff wire grill brush to help scrape away any charred buildup from your grill. Make sure you clean your grill while it’s still hot — it will be a lot easier to do and, though it may feel hot, will result in a cleaner grill overall.
Strong pair of tongs: You don’t want to handle your steak over a hot grill with a flimsy pair of tongs, or even worse, a fork. You could end up dropping the steak if you don’t have a good, strong grasp on things.
Sharp knife: Why cook a perfect steak and then ruin everything by slicing it with a dull knife? No way. Make sure your knife is sharp, so you can enjoy delicious, even slices — cut against the grain, of course.
Seasonings: Whether you are going simple, with just salt and pepper, or using a more complex marinade or rub, make sure you have all your ingredients ready to go before you begin cooking.
Rib-eye, New York strip, tenderloin and porterhouse are the priceiest cuts of steak; they’re the steaks you find most often on restaurant menus and certainly in the best steakhouses across the country. But if you know how to make a cheap cut of steak tender and delicious, you can have a dinner that’s just as scrumptious. What steak you cook for dinner will depend on your budget and the particular meal you want to have. A bone-in rib-eye is a star cut and easily stands alone, needing only simple seasoning. Other cuts lend themselves particularly well to hearty marinades, while others make for fabulous tacos.
A rub is most commonly a mixture of dry spices and seasonings, like salt and pepper, that one rubs onto the surface of the meat to impart flavor. One great advantage of rubs is their ability to help create a particularly delicious crust on your steak, which helps seal in flavor and succulence.
Marinades, usually a loose and wet mixture of oils, acid, aromatics, herbs and spices, are great to turn to when cooking thinner cuts of meat. A marinade has more of a chance to penetrate than a rub, and the best marinades can really up your steak game. For marinades to be most effective, they really need a minimum of half an hour to marinate.
A really flavor-packed cut of meat, like a rib-eye or a porterhouse, really just needs a little bit of salt and pepper for flavoring. Meanwhile, a flank steak essentially requires a marinade in order to tenderize the meat.
When using a charcoal grill, use a chimney starter to light your charcoal easily and effectively. Once your grill is lit (paper at the bottom helps in getting that done), wait until the coals begin to look ashy before placing the coals around your grill. When your coals are hot and grey, set up your grill with two distinct areas by arranging the coals on one side of your grill only. One side (the side where all of your coals are) will be for direct heat and one side will be for cooler, indirect heat. Once your coals are all set up, make sure you let the grill preheat; you don’t want to start cooking right away. If you do, you run the risk of food sticking to the grill.
A gas grill is far easier to start. Raise the lid of your gas grill, turn on the gas at the propane tank, turn the burners and press the auto light if your grill has one. If it doesn't, light a match near the burner via one of the holes at the bottom of the grill.
Ever wonder why the food you cook at home is never as good as restaurant food? It all boils down to the amount of salt used. Don’t be afraid of making it rain! Salt is actually good for you. You want to season liberally enough to cover the entire steak. Kosher salt is the best salt to turn to when seasoning; it’s the most commonly used all-purpose salt in almost all kitchens. The larger, coarser grains make it easier to season evenly, which is important to do when seasoning a larger surface area such as a steak. For the best results, oil your steak before seasoning with salt and pepper — this will help the seasonings stick to the surface.
Contrary to popular belief, countless culinary experiments and side-by-side comparisons seem to indicate that it is not essential to temper your steak — i.e., bring it to room temperature — before cooking. It’s not a bad idea, though, and many chefs still swear by it. More essential than a room-temperature steak is a dry one. If the surface of your steak is not dry before it hits the pan, you aren’t going to get that desirable crust, so make sure you pat off any excess moisture with a paper towel.
Place your steak on the hot side of the grill. Don't touch the steak for a couple minutes after you put it on the grill to give it a nice crust. Back in the day, everyone was constantly told to only flip a steak once during the cooking process. Like tempering, this is now widely considered to be wrong. In fact, if you want that iconic criss-cross on your steak, give it a 1/3-turn on each side for grill marks.
Cooking times vary hugely depending on the size and cut of steak. The most reliable way to gauge doneness is with a meat thermometer. There’s absolutely no shame in using a meat thermometer to help you reach the right internal temp — just make sure you don’t repeatedly stab at your steak.
Remove your steak just before it reaches the final temperature you are aiming for — it will keep cooking a bit once it’s off the heat. These are the desired internal temperatures for each style:
Rare: 120 F
Medium rare: 130 F
Medium: 140 F
Well done: 160 F
Once you remove your meat from the grill, it is time to rest. Place your steak on a plate, lightly cover it with some aluminum foil, and leave it for (ideally) half of its cooking time, or at least five minutes if you really cannot wait. This gives the juices inside the meat a chance to settle back into the steak and evenly redistribute. If you cut into your steak too soon, they will all run out, leaving you with a disappointingly dry steak.
The last step before eating is the slicing. Carefully slice against the grain to ensure maximum tenderness. Doing so results in shorter muscle fibers, which will ensure that each mouthful is buttery and delicious. Now that you know steak tips and tricks, you should have a few great steak recipes in your back pocket.
Roasted garlic and beer help to break down an otherwise tough piece of flank steak, while providing massive boosts of flavor.
Coffee adds a deep, rich and almost cocoa-like flavor to beef, and it’s surprisingly scrumptious.
If you know you want grilled steak for dinner but aren’t sure of how you want to eat said steak, consider serving it in corn tortillas for a fun taco night.
This simple steak recipe features a marinade with garlic, rosemary and Worcestershire sauce. These bold flavors pair perfectly with grilled potatoes.
A cumin-based rub gives the already flavorful skirt steak an extra punch. The fiery roasted red pepper chimichurri is full of beautiful herbs, adding a much-needed fresh element to this dish.
This Asian-inspired dish uses soy sauce, ginger and red wine vinegar to help make a skirt steak super tender. Those same ingredients, of course, double as a marinade you’ll want to put on every other dish you make this summer.
A rib-eye steak doesn’t need a whole lot to be delicious. This easy-to-follow recipe includes a compound butter with fresh parsley, cilantro, rosemary, oregano and thyme to enhance an already beautiful cut of beef. And now that you know how to grill the perfect piece of meat, you should learn how to grill sides that go wonderfully with any steak dinner.
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