Grilling a steak perfectly doesn’t have to be hard. There are a few details to pay attention to, but once you do, you’ll enjoy steakhouse steaks at home.
Ahhhh….steaks. It’s a cut of beef everyone loves to eat, but not everyone loves to cook because of fear they’ll ruin an expensive peice of beef. Thankfully, grilling a steak to perfection isn’t hard. Once you know these few tips, you’ll have the best steak you’ve ever eaten in the comfort of your own home.
1. Start with a great cut of beef.
This seems like a basic, but we’re often amazed at how many people knowingly buy a bad piece of meat and then are disappointed when they grill it. Start off right and you’re more likely to end up with the perfect steak.
If you purchase a quarter, half or whole beef from us, you’ll be happy with any of the cuts you grill.
Usually, when people get a steak to grill, they pick one of about 5 different cuts.
- Filet: This is the most tender of all steaks, and because of that, it’s usually the most expensive too. It has a very mild flavor. It’s usually between 5 and 9 ounces.
- Strip steak: This is a well-marbled steak with a firmer texture. A strip steak can either be bone-in or boneless. They’re usually between 8-14 ounces.
- Sirloin steak: Sirloin steaks are naturally lean. They’re usually between 5-10 ounces.
- Ribeye (or Rib) steak: A ribeye steak has the most marbling and richest steak flavor. A ribeye steak is a boneless steak, and a rib steak is bone-in (it’s also known as a bone-in ribeye). It’s usually between 8-14 ounces.
- T-Bone steak: A T-bone is two steaks in one: filet and strip. It has an iconic “T” shaped bone in the middle which separates the filet and strip. It’s a large steak and usually about 18 ounces. Another steak that’s similar to the T-Bone is the Porterhouse.
Why are some steaks more tender than others?
We talk a lot about beef cuts on our site. As a basic overview, the USDA divides a cow into eight regions: chuck, rib, loin, round, flank, short plate, brisket and shank. Steaks come from a variety of areas. The Ribeye Steak comes from the rib section. The Strip and Tenderloin Steaks comes from the loin section. The Sirloin Steak comes from the sirloin steak. The Flank and Skirt Steak come from the flank section. Just to name a few.
Since meat is a muscle, the tenderness of a steak is related to how much work the muscle does. A good rule of thumb to remember is that beef gets more tender as the distance from horn and hoof increases. Since a cow is constantly using its legs and neck, those muscles are more developed and a steak from those areas will be less tender. If you want a tender steak, you need to pick a steak from the loin section since that’s the center of the animal and those muscles don’t work as much as others.
Bone-in or boneless?
Several steak cuts can be purchased bone-in or boneless. Some research has shown that bone-in steaks have slightly more flavor and moisture than boneless steaks, but the difference is minimal. Our preference is boneless because having a bone can make cooking more difficult since the meat next to the bone cooks more slowly. That means depending on how long you cook, the meat closer to the bone can be slightly more or less cooked.
2. Marbling is a must.
Beef marbling is small threads of intramuscular fat interspersed within beef between the muscle fibers. The fine white lines running through the steak look somewhat like a marble pattern, hence the name.
Marbling is what’s called intramuscular fat, which is the fat inside the meat. Marbling is not intermuscular fat, which is fat on the outside that you typically trim off. An example of intermuscular fat is the layer of fat on the outside of a strip steak.
Yes, the word “fat” may seem bad, but marbling is considered unsaturated fat, which is an important part of a healthy diet. Marbled meat also contains oleic acid, which is also found in things like olive oil.
Marbling is what gives beef its flavor, juiciness and tenderness. When cooking, marbling adds flavor and juiciness as the fat melts into the steak. The marbling keeps the meat moist, so natural juices don’t evaporate in the pan.
Beef marbling is also one of the most important elements of how the USDA grades beef – Prime, Choice, and Select. The steaks with the highest grades are those with the highest amount of marbling.
3. Preparing Steaks
Salting is essential
No matter how well you cook a steak, in order for it to taste good it needs to be seasoned beforehand. That’s where salting steak comes in. When salt is added to beef, it breaks down the beef’s muscle protein, draws moisture to the surface of the meat, and has a hydrating effect. It ultimately creates a juicier steak.
When salting steak, it’s recommend to use ¾ teaspoon to 1 teaspoon per pound of beef. Salt about 1-hour before cooking, and be sure to apply the salt evenly to the front, back and side of the beef. If you struggle with applying it evenly, season from about two feet above the steak, and make it “rain” salt. This will avoid having a concentration of salt in one area and allows for even coverage. Thicker cuts of steak will typically need more salt than thinner cuts.
Kosher Salt is our go-to salt when salting steak or roasts. We like it because it has large, coarse grains and the large granules cling to the beef when seasoning. The large grains also make it easier to pinch and sprinkle. Different brands of kosher salt have different crystal sizes. We like this one the best.
Should steaks be room temperature before grilling? It’s up to you.
There’s an ongoing debate among chefs on if steaks should be at room temperature before grilling or if it’s best to grill straight out of the refrigerator. The theory is that the “warmer” meat will cook more evenly. According to Cooks Illustrated magazine, there is no noticeable difference in taste or texture of steak whether or not you grill a steak straight from the refrigerator or let it warm up. We’ve tried both methods numerous times and we don’t notice a difference either.
4. Heat it up.
Give your grill plenty of time to preheat. An easy test to do is the hand test. Hold your hand about 3 inches above the grill grate and count…”One-Mississippi, Two-Mississippi…” If you can hold it there for a second or two, the grill is hot and you’re ready to go.
5. To flip or not to flip?
Some people say you should only flip your meat once, and others say flip your meat often. There are actually some pros and cons to both methods. For those that are pro-flipping-steaks-often, studies have shown that flipping frequently will cause the steak to cook faster and more evenly. For those that are pro-single-flipping, you’ll get pretty grill marks on your steak that you won’t get with multiple flipping. The bottom line is it’s up to you on how often you want to flip your steaks.
6. Is it done yet?
There are a variety of ways to check a steak for doneness, but an instant read thermometer is best. Remember, you can always put the meat back on the grill if it’s too rare. You can’t undo cooking if you overdo it.
It’s very important to note that the key to doneness is the steak’s temperature, not the color. In order to know the actual temperature, you have to use an instant read thermometer. Here’s our favorite and we use it Every. Day.
If you don’t own an instant read thermometer, get one. Please, get one right now! You will quickly make back any money you spent by never overcooking another piece of expensive meat again.
How to use an instant read thermometer correctly
Once you have an instant read thermometer, be sure you’re using it correctly. To read the temperature correctly, you must be sure you’re reading the temperature in the coolest part of the steak. The exterior of a steak will have a higher temperature than the center since it’s on the grill, so it’s critical that you measure the thermal center of the steak. To do this, insert the thermometer most of the way through the steak, and draw it out slowly. As you do, you’ll watch the temperature change as you move the prove through the temperature gradients.
You’ll want to verify the temperature in a couple of places. The lowest number you find is the best indication of the internal doneness of that steak. Be sure to pull the steak off the grill about 5°F BEFORE it reaches the desired temperature. This allows for carryover cooking.
We’ve listed approximate grilling times below, but keep in mind that the thickness of your steak, the heat of your grill, and your desired level of doneness will all impact the time it takes your steak to grill.
Steak doneness temperature guide
- Rare: 120-129°F A rare steak is usually very red in the center and can still be cool to the touch. It’s just past raw in the center. For a 1 ½ inch steak, it will be approximately 6-8 minutes grilling time
- Medium-Rare: 130-134°F A medium rare steak has a warm red center. It’s many people’s preferred doneness. For a 1 ½ inch steak, it will be approximately 7-10 minutes grilling time
- Medium: 135-144°F A medium-cooked steak is very warm and usually pink, not red. The steak will have a slightly drier and chewier. For a 1 ½ inch steak, it will be approximately 10-12 minutes grilling time
- Medium-Well: 145-154 °F A medium well steak is usually just slightly pink in the center and has lost much of its juices.
- Well Done: 155°F+ A well done steak has no pink. It’s much tougher since all the juices have been cooked out of the beef. For a 1 ½ inch steak, it will be approximately 12-15 minutes grilling time
Note that the USDA recommends cooking whole cuts of beef to an internal temperature of 145°F.
7. Always let it rest.
It’s very important to let your steak rest for about 5 minutes before slicing. Why? Meat is a muscle and it has two main parts – protein and water.
When meat is raw, it’s about 70-75% water. If you’ve ever cut into raw meat before, you know that you barely lose any liquid.
When steak is cooked, the muscle fibers contract because of the increased temperature. Then, the water is squeezed out of the fibers and the liquid moves towards the center of the steak.
If you cut meat before it rests, the juice goes directly on your plate because the juices haven’t had a chance to be reabsorbed by the meat yet.
There are lots of guidelines and studies about how long should steak rest. The three most common guidelines we’re aware of are to let the meat rest for…
- 5-minutes for every inch of thickness
- 10-minutes for each pound of meat
- let meat rest for as long as you cooked the meat
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One More Thing!
Do you want to learn more about beef? Join our weekly e-newsletter where we share farm happenings, recipes and beef availability. Sign-up and get a cheat sheet with 9-must-ask questions before buying beef directly from a farmer. Or, we have an entire ebook about beef that goes through purchasing and preparing beef from a cattle farmers perspective.
Here are a few other links you may like:
- What everybody ought to know about beef cuts
- Buying a Cow. How Much Beef Is It?
- Is It Done Yet? The Best Meat Thermometer
- How We Raise Our Grass Fed Beef
- Bonfire Burger
- Prime Rib Roast with Garlic Herb Butter
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