There's nothing more satisfying than a perfectly cooked steak on the grill. But, how do you achieve grilled steak perfection?
Grilling a steak shares many of the same processes as Stove Top Cooking. Thinking of the steak in terms of inside cooking and outside cooking allows us to determine the best method of grilling. I find that using very high heat is most effective at creating the seared crust that everyone loves, and results in very fast cooking time.
Here's what you'll need for this lesson:
- 8-12" Kitchen knife
- Knife steel
- Large cutting board
- Instant-read thermometer
- Probe-style thermometer
- Stainless steel kitchen tongs
- Grill (propane gas, electric, or charcoal)
- Aluminium foil
- Kitchen tea towels
- Salt (Kosher is best but sea salt is great, too!)
This lesson will cover the basics on getting those photo-perfect steaks on the grill, and they'll taste as good as the ones you get in the restaurant. Let's get grilling!
Direct Vs. Indirect Heat
You can cook your steaks with direct or indirect heat on a grill. Direct heat is when your food is placed directly over your heat source. Indirect heat is when your food is to the side of the heat. A grill's indirect heat functions much like an oven.
Direct heat is great for thinner cuts of meat because the heating can penetrate more effectively, creating a great crust on the outside of the meat. Indirect heat is good for thick cuts that need time to get up to temperature because they need cook at a much slower rate.
For almost any type grill you can easily set up a two-zone system: direct heat on one side and indirect on the other. This is as easy as not lighting one side of your propane grill, or arranging your charcoal on only one side. I use direct heat for most grilling because it applies a great sear, and very attractive grill marks - the indirect side can be used as a warm resting area.
Pro Tip: If your grill has a warming rack it area can also be used as an indirect heat zone.
Though a packed grill is quite the sight, especially with company over, crowding your grill space is a sure way to mess up your steak experience.
Give your meat space on the grill. This will allow the heat to circulate around the meat evenly and provide consistent cooking throughout. It might seem like a small thing, but it's the small things put together that make a great steak.
A packed grill is like riding a packed commuter train on your way home; you may get the most people where they need to go, but no one is going to be happy about it.
Searing and Flipping
As we learned in the Stove Top Lesson, you can flip as many times as you like when cooking, and this can hold true for the grill. However, if you're looking for those iconic hash marks on your steaks you're going to want to keep moving the steak to a minimum.
After placing your cut of meat on the grill give it some time to start forming a nice crust on one side. Assuming a 1" thick steak let the meat cook for about 2 minutes, then flip the steak over and cook for another 2 minutes. You should see the grill marks when you flip the steak over for the first time, if not check to see how hot your grill is.
Get the perpendicular hash marks by flipping over again; this time you want the grill marks to cross, so pay attention to how your steak is positioned. Let cook for another 2 minutes, after which there should be a nice golden crust when you flip it over, and great looking grill marks. Finish it on the last side for another 2 minutes to make marks on both sides.
If you have a very thick steak, don't be afraid to turn it on it's side and give some heat from that angle, too.
While dramatic, flareups aren't the best while grilling.
Flareups happen when fat from the steak drips onto your heat source and creates a localized heat spot. Flames usually follow and can not only burn your steak, but also cause carbon blackening to form where the flames hit - an undesirable outcome and a visual hallmark of a burnt steak.
To combat flare ups, always keep an eye on your steak while it cooks, sliding your meat away from any flareups (sliding helps keep the grill marks aligned). You can also have a small spray bottle of water nearby to quench flames before they get too high.
As we learned in Meat Cooking Basics, your steak will need a short rest before cutting into it and eating. If you were to cut into it now, all the juices would spill all over the place and ruin some of the juicy flavor you'd get if you wait a few minutes.
Remove the steak from the heat and cover with foil with the shiny side in. During this time, the steak will continue cooking for a very brief time from the latent grill heat, then begin to cool and allow the delicious meat juices to distribute evenly throughout the steak.
After about 10 minutes your steak will be ready to cut into and enjoy!
With these grill skills you'll be prepared to cook multiple steaks to all kinds of doneness with confidence.
Now that we've learned about the standard cooking methods of stove top and grill, let's move on to a more exotic method to prepare meat: the smoker.