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Guide to Grilling Steak

ButcherBox Guide to Grilling Steak

Mastering grilling a steak is an achievement many cooks aspire to from the moment they open the lid of their grill—whether that be gas or charcoal—for the first time.

Cooking a steak to perfection requires preparation, practice, and even a few key tools. It also requires a good deal of patience—steak benefits from a period of post-grill resting—as well as an understanding of how to serve different types of steaks.

At the end of the day, if you follow a few key tips, you can plate a perfectly cooked and seared steak that will impress family, friends, and any other guests that may show up in your backyard once the smell of grass-fed steaks wafts through your neighborhood.

In this steak-grilling guide, we’ll cover the following:

  • How to pick the best steaks to grill for intimate dinners, the family, or large gatherings.
  • How best to prepare your steak—and yourself—for perfection every time you spark up the grill.
  • The key steps and rules to follow to get a steak to your preferred level of doneness, every time.
  • Some key tips and mistakes to avoid when grilling steak.

Picking the Best Cuts to Grill

steaks on charcoal grill

With so many steaks to choose from, how can you pick the right one? The great thing is that whatever steak you choose to grill, you’re likely to have an amazing meal—they are all amazing seared on the grill.

Some steaks are better for small, intimate dinners while others are good for feeding larger crowds. Some steaks are also quick and easy to cook as part of dishes such as steak tacos.

While you cannot go wrong, here is a breakdown of some of the most common steaks to grill.

  • Ribeye steak – Grilled ribeyes are so tender and tasty. A ribeye is mouthwatering-good when grilled with just kosher salt or sea salt and fresh ground black pepper for seasoning; it has more marbling—even grass-fed and grass-finished ribeye steaks— than most other cuts.
  • Filet mignon – Filet responds well to high heat and fast cooking preparations, so the grill is the perfect way to cook this cut. Filet mignons are typically served rarer than other cuts, but also usually have a nice char to them. Filet and NY strip are our favorite “date night” steaks to grill.
  • New York strip steakNY strip steak is a popular cut to grill that has a thin strip of fat running down one side. It dry-ages well, cooks quickly, and can be seasoned with just salt and pepper. However, it will benefit from a bit of marinating beforehand.
  • Top sirloin steak – A top sirloin is a quick and easy steak to prepare. It doesn’t have the same reputation as the three steaks above but can be just as tender and flavorful if cooked right. They are also the perfect size to cook a few of to feed a family.
  • Steak tips – Another good option to grill for large gatherings, steak tips are more often found in the eastern United States. Steak tips come from different cuts and are best when marinated and grilled on a skewer. Often, steak tips get confused tri-tips, which are a larger roast that can also be cooked on the grill.
  • Other grilling steaks – We also love to grill some other steaks such as coulotte, flank steak, skirt steak, and flat iron steak. Many of these steaks are either a bit thicker or thinner than the steaks mentioned above, so they require different preparation (marinating), cooking, and cutting methods. These steaks are also perfect for grilled steak sandwiches, steak tacos, steak salads, and other grilled-steak-centric dishes.

Steak Grilling Seasonings, Rubs, Marinades, and More

chimichurri sauce and steakMost grass-fed steaks are so tender, they need little more than kosher salt or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to make them explode with flavor.

But even these cuts of beef are enhanced by spending a bit of time in a savory and healthy marinade. Give a ribeye a half-hour in a balsamic vinaigrette or any number of red wine-based healthy grilling marinades, cover a NY strip steak in a quintessential rub overnight, or marinate and cover a top sirloin with chimichurri; all of these approaches will lead to an amazing transformation for any steak.

What are the best ways to season a steak? Here are some of the more common:

Tools Needed to Achieve Steak-Grilling Mastery

how-to-cook-the-perfect-steak

Whether you prefer the characteristic char of a charcoal grill or the ease and convenience of a gas grill, there are some key tools you’ll need to get the most out of your grilling escapades. You can check them all out in our article, 7 Handy Essentials for Outdoor Grilling.

First and foremost comes the grill selection.

There’s nothing like the characteristic flavor of food cooked on a charcoal grill. Charcoal burns hotter than gas, and you can create direct and indirect heat areas pretty easily.

However, gas grills are more convenient, easy to clean, and make easy work of grilling a steak. Both allow you to whip up deliciously smoky and charred steaks.

hot fire

Here are the three tools that will help you most when grilling a steak:

  • Tongs – a spring-loaded, long-handled pair of tongs will allow you to pick up, rotate, and turn nearly any-sized piece of beef without burning yourself or ruining the steak.
  • Meat thermometer – An instant-read meat thermometer will let you best gauge a grilled meat’s doneness. A good one will read off your meat’s internal temperature (give or take a few degrees) within seconds. We love the Thermapen instant-read thermometer.
  • Chef’s knife and cutting board – In reality, you need a few different knives to accomplish most of your grilling needs, but a chef’s knife will perform the brunt of the work—chopping, dicing, peeling, and smashing. Pair with a quality wood cutting board—more durable than a plastic one in the long run.

The Basics of Grilling Steak

grilling steak

You’ve prepped and you’ve got all the right tools. Now comes time to finally cook your steaks on a grill. A few more steps and some quality time watching your steaks sizzle is all that stands between you and the perfect grilled steak.

Final Steak Cooking Preparations

First, let your grill warm up. If you are using a charcoal grill, let the coals get white-hot and wait for the flames to die down. A gas grill usually takes about 10 minutes to heat up so the grates are perfect to sear any steak.

Next, follow one of our favorite ButcherBox grilling tips: Rub the grill down with an oil-soaked rag (vegetable or grapeseed oil are likely best, but olive oil can be used in a pinch), held with a pair of tongs. This will make sure that nothing sticks to the grill.

Grilling a Steak to Perfection

Cooking time for your steak will depend on the size. Generally, for a one-inch-thick steak, grill for around 4 to 5 minutes per side.

On a charcoal grill, two techniques are to sear or reverse-sear it with two heat zones. To sear, grill first on high heat then finish on indirect heat. This creates a more crispy outer edge. To reverse sear, cook on indirect heat first and then move to direct heat to sear-finish, which will lead to a more evenly distributed level of doneness across the surface area of the steak.

With a gas grill, you can adjust the heat so that you don’t overcook, and also you can manually create different heat zones. Once you sear each side on the hot grates, you’ll want to slightly turn down the heat on that section of the grill so it doesn’t continue to cook on high heat.

Doneness Level of Grilled Steaks

steak-doneOne of the most important parts of the grilling process is to make sure the steak is cooked to the proper doneness. The best way to make sure you’ve properly cooked your meat is by using a meat thermometer to gauge the internal temperature, as mentioned above.

If you like a medium-rare steak, which is done at an internal temperature of 135°F, you should remove the steak when it is about five degrees cooler than the doneness temperature you are seeking and then let it rest. Be sure to review the USDA’s safe minimum internal temperatures chart for more information.

For other doneness levels, check out our guide for the proper cooking temperatures for different kinds of meat for reference. 

Rest a Grilled Steak and Slice it the Right Way

It’s important to know that beef will continue to cook for a bit after it is removed from a hot cooking surface. Following the direction above to remove a steak a few degrees before the desired doneness temperature, let your steak rest on a cutting board for between eight to ten minutes after removing it from the grill. This will allow it to also cook more evenly throughout.

Finally, make sure to cut your steak correctly. There are a few cuts that will be tougher to eat if you don’t cut it against the grain. Don’t ruin your steak by slicing it wrong.

Grilling a Frozen Steak

There are many debates about cooking frozen meat. Conventional wisdom holds that it is ideal to let meat thaw before cooking, but experiments with cooking frozen meats have shown that there is often no difference in the results from doing this.

It will, however, take a lot more time to cook a frozen steak to your preferred level of doneness. So be prepared to wait a bit if you are throwing some frozen ribeyes on a grill.

Additionally, make sure you know the rules for defrosting frozen meat before you grill a steak that has been frozen.