Cooking the perfect steak on the grill is both an art and a science—it can take years for even the most talented chefs to learn the tricks they need to succeed. To help you become a steak master in your own home, we asked some of the country’s best chefs to give us their secrets to grilling the most perfect steak ever—and a few of their secrets will definitely surprise you! And for more delicious secrets, check out these 20 Shocking Facts About Eggs, too!
Picking the Perfect Steak
Go to the Butcher Whenever Possible
You can find steaks at any grocery store, but you don’t necessarily know where they came from—or how long ago they were cut. Instead, opt to go to a butcher for all your steaks. And if that’s not feasible? Shop at a grocer that cuts meat in the store, like Wegman’s and Whole Foods. Speaking of grocers, find out if your favorite made the list of The Top 15 Grocery Stores in the U.S.!
When in Doubt, Pick the Ribeye
The best steaks for home grilling are marbled beef ribeye steaks or bone-in ribeye steaks often called Cowboy Steaks, says Michael Vignola, Corporate Executive Chef at Strip House and Bill’s Bar & Burger. “The marbling enhances the flavor of these cuts while basting the meat in the cooking process to ensure a juicy steak,” Vignola says. Not sure what marbling is? It’s the little white flecks of fat in the meat.
Look for Thickness
When selecting your steaks, try to get one that is at least an inch thick, if not 1.5 or 2 inches. “The thickness will help in achieving that bullseye red center of perfection,” says Vignola. “I prefer buying a larger, thicker cut steak and carving for my friends and family.”
Get the Center Cut
Always get a uniform cut of meat from the center, advises Chef Phil Yandolino, founding chef at BRIO Tuscan Grille. “Whether cooking a New York strip steak, a porterhouse steak, or a tenderloin, the uniformity that a center cut provides can help to maintain the quality of the end result and will ensure even cooking.”
Go for Grass-Fed
Grass-fed beef is not only higher in omega-3s, it’s better tasting, too. “Now that I’ve gotten used to the cleaner, fuller taste of grass-finished beef, grain-fed beef tastes really one-note to me,” says Kim Brauer, chef and recipe developer at Marx Foods.
Think Outside the Ribeye
Don’t want to drop a bunch of cash on an expensive steak? You can still find a good piece of steak. “Choosing less common cuts is a good way to get a great steak at a better price point,” advises Brauer. “The teres major (the shoulder), for example, is almost as tender as a filet mignon at a third of the price, and I think it’s even tastier.”
Avoid ‘Enhanced’ Beef
Skip the steaks that say “enhanced” on the label. This means the meat has been injected with additives. Some of these additives affect the taste, like marinades and meat tenderizers. Another common enhancer is saline solution that’s meant to increase the steak’s size and moisture levels. It’s one of the 23 Scams and Sneaky Tricks at the Grocery Store.
Preparing the Perfect Steak
Don’t Trim the Fat
Fat might look gross on the sides of an uncooked steak, but don’t cut off all of it. The reason: fat gives taste to steak, so leaving a little bit on there—in addition to the marbled bits mentioned earlier—can give your bites a little extra oomph.
But Do Trim the Skin
That said, you don’t want to just leave everything on. Depending on which cut you choose, you may need to trim off some silver skin, says Brauer. “This looks just like it sounds—silvery, slightly-shimmery bands running along the side of some steaks that don’t soften in cooking, and hang around as gristly bits.”
Oil It Up
Use a canola and olive oil blended oil to coat the steak before seasoning it.
“Either an 80/20 or 90/10 ratio [of canola to olive] will get the job done,” advises Vignola. “Be sure to lightly coat the steak. The oil will allow the surface temperature to get seared fast, ensuring a juicier final product as well as greatly aiding the charring of the meat’s surfaces.” Save your expensive olive oils for salads in which their subtle flavors will shine brightest. Plus, some oils can’t handle high head and can actually hurt your health! Get all the answers for your questions about that little detail with our guide to 14 Popular Cooking Oils and How to Use Them.
Skip the Fancy Marinades
In addition to oil, a well-marbled steak only needs coarsely ground black pepper and kosher salt to bring it flavor perfection, adds Vignola. “Be sure to season a bit more than you might regularly season a sautéed item. Some of the steak’s seasoning will be lost in the grilling process; you want to be sure to have enough on the steak to get the job done.”
Unless You Have a ‘Lesser’ Cut
Add a marinade to make lesser cuts like tri-tip and flank steak tastier. “This will help in providing more flavor and help break down its fibrous structure,” says Albert Balbas, executive chef at d.k Steak House in Waikīkī, Hawaii. An easy one to try? Mix some olive oil, balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, dijon mustard, and garlic. While you have some of those ingredients out, why not also whip up a homemade salad dressing by using our 12 Tips to Make Healthy Salad Dressings?
Cooking the Perfect Steak
Start With a Clean Grill
Clean your grill with a wire brush after every use—and make sure to do it while it’s hot. “When preparing the grill for a cut of steak, heat it for about 30 minutes
or so, allowing it to heat to approximately 600° F,” says Yandolino. As it is heating up,
brush the grill grates with oil to prevent any sticking. But be careful about using a cheap or old brush in which the wires get caught on the grill; believe it or not, but this is the very cause for an uptick in hospital visits in the summer months.
Light Up With Charcoal
Gas grills might be popular, but master chefs prefer to use charcoal grills. Use a chimney starter to light up, advises Anthony Chin and Wade McElroy of Horse Thief BBQ. “This eliminates the need for lighter fluid, which can impart a bad taste onto your meat,” Chin says. And wait, did someone say master chef? If you just thought of one of your fave TV shows, then don’t miss these 15 Healthy Cooking Tips from a MasterChef Anyone Can Do!
Make Sure It’s Hot Before You Start
High heat sears the cooking surface of the meat, which translates to a juicier steak and allows the delicious char to happen.
If you’re cooking on charcoal, make sure you wait until the charcoal turns white and is evenly spread out, adds Robert Liberato, executive chef at STK LA. “Don’t rush the process with extra lighter fluid or throw a steak on the grill when there is an open flame,” Liberato says. “That only immediately burns the meat.” And it’s a bad flavor, not the “I like it burnt” kind.
But Don’t Let It Get Too Hot
A little flame is your friend, but a lot is your enemy. “Keep two sides of the grill hot and move the steak to the second hot spot if the first grilling area is aggressively flaming up,” says Vignola.
Dousing with water is a last resort. “You want to keep the grill as hot as possible, but if it’s between the house going up and a well-charred steak, I’d give a nod to keeping the house intact,” Vignola quips. Us, too! And to make the most of your grilling time, check out these 21 Grill Recipes that Aren’t Burgers.
Forget the Fork, Please
It might be easy to stab your meat with a fork to turn or flip it, but resist the urge unless you want an unevenly cooked steak. “Fork punctures allow juices to escape and can lead to drying, less flavorful protein,” says Liberato. “Always use a spatula or tongs.” It sounds minor, but these are the little things that add up to cooking the best steak ever!
Don’t Be a Drag
Don’t drag the steak over the grill when turning; simply pick it up in one motion and place it back with the same motion. “Once you have started the steak on the hot spot leave it be, allow it the meat to sear evenly,” says Vignola. “Once the meat is charred, pick it up and flip onto the cooler spot of your grill. Flipping the steak too often can sabotage the charring of the meat and eliminate most of the seasoning on the steak.” (Psst! Are one of those people a vegetarian? Hey, grilled greens are a trend this summer!)
Keep Tabs on the Temp
Always keep an instant read thermometer handy while grilling. It takes the guesswork out of determining its cooking status, especially when cooking for a group of people who want theirs prepared at different temperatures. A rare steak should hit 120 degrees, while a medium steak should top 140 degrees and a well-done should hit at 160.
Add Grill Marks Like a Pro
Those perfect grill marks are like a stylish garnish to your meal. They’re pretty simple to do, too. “To make diamond grill marks on the meat, sear it on an angle and then turn before flipping the steak to the other side,” says Balbas.
Eating the Perfect Steak
We know you can’t wait to devour your creation, but be patient! Once any piece of meat is cooked, it’s important to let it rest for seven to 10 minutes (depending on the cut) before slicing, advises Liberato. “Since the juices get squeezed to the outside during the cooking process, allowing it a chance to sit will help the juices disperse evenly throughout the center of the meat.”
Give It a Grill Encore
After the steak has rested, put it back on the grill for about 30 seconds on each side just before serving to get a surface sizzle going. “A little sprinkle of a gray sea salt on the steak allows for a gentle and focused re-seasoning of the steak,” adds Vignola.
Add a Bit of Seasoning
Any steak lover knows not to ruin a piece of meat with sauces, but you can rub on some seasoning for a little extra bite as you bite.
“Pink Himalayan Sea Salt, pink and white peppercorns, cinnamon, brown sugar, chili and chipotle powders, and espresso powder-based rubs will all elevate the meat’s
natural flavor,” says Yandolino.
Pair It With a Red
It’s finally time to eat! How can you make the experience even more amazing? Just add wine. It’s a well-known fact that the right pairing of red wine and steak can elevate the flavors of both. You’ll want to stick with red over white or rosé because red wines have more tannins that complement the fats in your steak. Not feeling very confident about your wine choice? You really can’t go wrong with a Cabernet Sauvignon or even a Malbec. Bonus: red wine has antioxidants, which is one of the 23 Surprising, Healthy Benefits of Alcohol!