For some reason people approach grilling steak one of two ways. Either they heat the grill with abandon, throw the steaks on, pull them off, and serve. Or, they fret and worry, cutting into the meat every two seconds wringing their hands over whether it is done or not.
Both approaches leave something to be desired.
Grilling steak is easy—even grilling the perfect steak is easy—if you follow a few tips. As with anything, a bit of practice always helps, too. Follow these steps, grill a few steaks, and you'll be a grill master in no time.
- Bring steaks to room temperature. Too many people take steaks directly from the fridge to the fire and it's impossible to cook a steak evenly that way. Pull them out of the fridge about half an hour before you plan to cook them.
- Clean and oil your grill. Start with a clean cooking grate and brush it (use a paper towel for this) with vegetable or canola oil (or other neutral flavored oil) before heating the grill.
- Heat your fire. For steaks you want to heat your grill to high heat. What's high heat? When you can hold your hand about an inch over the grill grate for 1 second before it feels too hot. But you also want a cooler, medium heat area to move the steaks if they're seared and crispy on the outside but still need time on the grill. So have the coals to one side of the grill or be prepared to turn off a burner on a gas grill.
- Touch your food. Chefs and the cooks who know their way around a kitchen (or a grill) know how meat feels when it's raw and when it's cooked. The only way to learn this is to start touching your food. Raw meat is almost squishy, rare meat is quite soft, medium rare meat resists your poking a bit, and medium meat springs back. Once meat feels firm, it's at least well, if not completely over, done.
- Don't play with your food. Yes, you should touch the steaks, but once they're on the grill, don't keep flipping them and moving them about! Put them down on a hot grill—they should sizzle immediately—and leave them there until they release of their own accord. If you're pulling or struggling with them, they are not seared and ready to flip. Flip them once and cook until they feel done.
- For thicker cuts, use a thermometer. For steaks cut at least 1 1/2 inches thick, you can use a meat thermometer and get an accurate reading. (Thinner cut steaks really need to be cooked to feel.) For rare, remove the steak at 120°F - 125°F; medium rare 125°F - 130°F; medium 130°F - 135°F.
- When in doubt, cut. Try to avoid this if you can, but if you really need to take a peek, remove a steak and use the tip of a paring knife to make a cut into the center of the steak to see how things are going.
- Always let the meat rest! This is perhaps the most important step that most people don't do. Let the steaks sit for 5 to 10 minutes before serving or cutting them. This gives the juices a chance to re-distribute throughout the steak, which both helps it finish cooking evenly and keeps the meat moister and more flavorful.
Perfectly grilled steak is delicious with just salt and pepper. For a bit more pizazz, try putting a slice or dollop of Compound Butter on top of a hot steak. Heaven.