February 16th, 2010

Top 10 Steak Grilling Tips

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Top 10 Steak Grilling Tips (From a Real-Live Chef!)

If you think grilling a steak is as simple as slapping a piece of meat you bought at the supermarket on a grill and flipping it a few times, you’re missing out on what could be THE GREATEST STEAK OF YOUR LIFE.

Here are some grilling tips from an honest-to-goodness chef that’ll make your next steak meal your finest work ever.

1. Choose the right cut of meat — Some cuts of meat are better for grilling than others. I, personally, prefer to grill strip steaks over other cuts because you get a nice combination of fat and meat for a great flavor. Filet mignon, on the other hand, I prefer to pan sear because it is so lean and I can add fat and flavors in the pan.  Experiment!  Ultimately, no one can tell you what you like, you have to find it for yourself.  Here are the pros and cons of each cut:

2. Choose the right quality of meat — Nothing ruins a good steak dinner like a bad steak. A lot of places sell poor quality meat, so make sure you choose a reputable supplier so you know you are getting your money’s worth.  I always find premium quality steaks online.  By law, all meats are inspected for wholesomeness so no one is selling you meat that will kill you, but grading is a voluntary system.  Meats are graded on several categories, including the marbling of fat and the amount of connective tissue.  Sure, it may be fit to eat but do you want to eat it?  Prime is the highest quality, followed by choice and select.  Choice meats are very high quality steaks and the most common steak used in the restaurant industry. Here are a few pointers to track down the perfect quality & cut of steak:

  • Get to know your butcher, call and ask when they receive orders
  • Special order cuts you know you want
  • Ask them to cut meat just for you (you’d be surprised what they will do for you)
  • Order just the grade that you want
  • Ask how long they keep their steaks if they don’t sell them

3. Season early — You should salt your meat even before you start your coals. If you throw salt on right before you put it on the grill you end up leaving salt all over the grill, not on your steak. So season your steaks about fifteen minutes before you put them on the grill. That gives the salt a chance to dissolve and evenly flavor your meat.  Sea salt is all the rage now and chefs like to fancy up a plate by using specialty salts like Hawaiian Pink Salt or Fleur de Sel. Sometimes a little good salt is all that a steak needs.

4. Take ‘em out early — Let your steaks sit on the counter for at least twenty minutes. I know it doesn’t seem sanitary, but since steaks are whole muscles and you are cooking the outside well above safe levels, you won’t need to worry so much about food-borne illness. The problem with throwing your steaks on the grill right out of the refrigerator is that it will take them a lot longer to cook. Steaks at room temperature take seasoning better and will cook faster. Unfortunately, meat takes time to cook and if you are in too much of a hurry to cook it you are probably in too much of a hurry to really enjoy it.  Take your time and learn to enjoy cooking your steak almost as much as eating it.

5. Use charcoal — Gas grills work great for cooking food but can sometimes impart a gas flavor to your meat. I like to use natural hardwood charcoal started in a chimney. Don’t use lighter fluid; it defeats the purpose of using hardwood charcoal.  You want to smell the steak roasting over the coals – that is the best part! Some people swear by mesquite soaked in apple juice others say you cook your steak too fast to get any benefit.  Wood chips can add flavor if you are smoking your meat but that usually takes a lot more time than it takes to grill a steak.  My recommendation is that if you are curious, play around see if you can taste and enjoy the difference.

6. Hot coals — Set your coals up so that you have zones of cooking. Always start off on a hot spot. You want good color and flavor from the high heat. When you flip it, don’t put it down on the same spot as before — it will be cooler. Find another hot spot to continue getting good color and flavor.

7. Don’t touch it! — This is one of the biggest mistakes a home cook makes. Everyone wants to keep checking the food to see if it is done. Leave it alone. Know how thick your steak is and roughly how long it takes to cook. Flip it once and give it a quarter turn once on each side. The more you touch it the better chance you have of screwing it up. Check out this grilling chart as a guide on how to cook steaks:

Grilling Chart courtesy of www.kansascitysteaks.com

8. Make it pretty — Use the hot grill to create “cross-hatch” grill marks. Set your steak down at a 45-degree angle from your grill lines. About a quarter of the way through cooking, give it a quarter turn. Half-way through cooking, flip it once. Give it a final quarter turn for the last bit of cooking. When finished you should have a steak that looks like it belongs on a commercial. This might not be the most important thing in your day, but if you’re on a first date or trying to impress then try this!

9. Leave it alone — There’s nothing worse than taking a beautiful steak and covering it with other flavors. Sauces, rubs and butters are fine but if I’m going to eat a steak I like to taste steak. If you are using a lesser cut of meat or poorer quality, marinades are a great tool. But we are talking steak here and all it needs is a little salt, pepper and some heat to cook over.  So refer to rule #2 and source and buy only good quality meat.

10. Make all your condiments early — One trap many people fall into when they grill meat is trying to cook the rest of the meal at the same time. Your kitchen is inside; your grill (if you are following tip #5) should be outside. Don’t try to run between the two. You will only end up ruining your steak or your side dish — or both. Plan your meal to get your extras done early so you can focus solely on your grilling. I mean, it deserves it, doesn’t it? I like a simple compound butter made of softened, unsalted butter, garlic, a little red wine and some cracked pepper. Mix it all together, (in a mixer, if you can, so it is smooth), roll it in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge up to two weeks before you cook your steak. One pat on top of each steak can be a nice treat.


  • Angie

    Finally! A source that gives me the info I’m looking for without making me feel like an idiot and just getting to the point. I’m 41 and have dabbled in the grilling thing for years but always disappoint myself. Your tips have really helped me! THANK YOU:)

  • Andrea

    Did I miss the part where someone indicates HOW MUCH charcoal or HOW CLOSE TO/FAR FROM the grill rack it should be? I don’t see how any of this information helps if you don’t tell me *that*, since heat that’s too far or too close won’t do what your instructions assume the heat is doing … and now that I’m cooking my steak and the person who started up the Weber for me has left for work, I’m looking at it and thinking he put far too little charcoal and that it can’t possibly be a good thing that it’s at least five or six inches below the rack.

  • Dena P

    Andrea,
    Here’s a response from the Kansas City Steak Company – the source of those tips:

    We apologize that our grilling tips do not include more information covering the amount of charcoals to use. We were not able to include this information because it will vary based on the size and type of grill you are using. However typically your grill manufacturer will include information such as this in the box with your grill. We apologize for any inconvenience. Please let us know if you have any other questions.

    Dena

  • Darcy

    Hey folks. As a former line cook and veteran grill master I thought I should add my two cents.
    First I want to point out that the BEST fuel for grilling, without exception, are hardwoods. Which hardwoods to use is a personal preference, though mesquite, Apple wood, hickory, cherry, and a few varieties of oak are the most commonly used varieties. Of course a wood fire is by far the most difficult and time consuming method, but if you want the absolute best possible flavor, choose a high quality, properly aged hardwood as your grilling fuel.
    Secondly, I want to ensure everyone that salting meats before cooking DOES NOT dry it out. This is an old wives tale from back to times when salting was a method of preservation. If you like the way steak tastes at your local steakhouse then you’ll want to salt (and pepper) room temperature steaks between 15 and 30 minutes prior to grilling.
    Thirdly, set a Paula Dean sized pat of VERY COLD compound butter on top of each steak right after they hit the grill. This will slowly melt over and soak in. I also add another pat once they are flipped, and in that regard any chef worth his salt will never flip a steak more than once.
    Lastly, I’d like to add that no steak should ever be cooked beyond medium rare and anyone who likes steak cooked past medium rare was probably fed cube steaks and such as a youth, has some sort of mental aversion to anything blood related, or has simply never had a great steak. I have been to several restaurants that require a liability waiver for steaks cooked beyond med rare. OVERCOOKING IS THE MOST COMMON WAY STEAKS ARE RUINED. Remember, you can always throw it back onto the grill for a few minutes if it’s undercooked!
    Hope this helps.
    Steak: It’s what’s for dinner!

    PS- Check out Eat Steak by The Reverend Horton Heat

  • ihateautotune

    Darcy, I agree with you for the most part except I use an natural hardwood charcoal briquette ( I dont want the steak to taste like hickory,pecan, etc…).
    Andrea, the amount of charcoal depends on the amount of food being cooked and the amount of heat that is desired. Depending on the grill, start out but using a single layer of charcoal to cover the bottom of the grill. Then, stack in a pyramid form and and light. Wait until the coals ash over (mostly) and spread. You can always stack more lit coals on one side for more heat. (:

  • http://www.westridgebeef.com/product/t-bone-steak/ T-Bone Steak

    As for gas cookery, I agree that charcoal is that the best technique, however, once you don’t have time to induce charcoal prepared, or it’s ten degrees outside, a fossil fuel grill is way higher than fuel. There’s no nasty fuel smell, the warmth is high enough to induce an honest char on the surface of the beef, and it’s able to go at a moment’s notice!

  • JimT

    Thanks for the great tips everyone! I feel like I may knowmy way around a grill now…

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About Me

Hi! My name is Dena P., and I love steak. In fact, I’ve been on a quest for the perfect steak for a few years now.

I love experimenting with food and I like to get my family, friends and neighbors involved. They add a lot to my cooking experience by helping me perfect techniques and sharing recipes.

Read More About Me »

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