With summer in full swing and the days still long enough to squeeze in a couple hours of sunlight after work, odds are you’ve already been to a barbecue or two. And whether it’s a local community cookout or a small gathering of friends, every one of these feasts feature a similar dynamic – children scurrying about, friends gathering around a cooler of session beers or cocktails, and a small group of guys hovering over the grill admiring each sizzling cut of beef searing gloriously atop a smoking hot grill. It’s a ritual of sorts, dating back to when man first started cooking meat over an open flame. Clearly, we’ve come a long way since those early days but for some, grilling a proper steak is still a skill that’s lacking.
That’s why we’re here. To try our best to prevent one more cut of beef from dying in vain, drying out from too much poking, suffering from too much seasoning, or simply not left alone long enough for even flavor distribution. Because in the end, cooking a steak the right way is a right of passage for any man during the summer months – and botching a premier cut is a quick way to lose privilege around the grill. And let’s be honest, no one wants that. So if you’re looking to fine tune your grilling skills and work to never ruin that butcher’s cut again, simply follow these easy steps to ensure your next barbecue doesn’t fall short on the taste buds.
CHOOSE YOUR CUT
Thick vs. Thin
To start, the different cuts of beef are an important factor to consider before firing up the grill. And if you want a more in-depth explanation into these various cuts, be sure to check out a more lengthy post we recently published on the subject. However, to simplify things a bit, we decided to break the most common cuts down into two categories: thick vs thin.
In short, thick cuts of beef are the preferred cuts you get from the butcher. They’re more in line with “special occasion” steaks due to their filling nature and juicy/tender qualities. As for the most common varieties? We’ve outlined the three most popular below:
T-Bone: Named for the bone that conjoins two different cuts of steak, the t-bone hosts both the desired tenderloin (home to the likes of the fine filet mignon) and the chewier strip steak. Here, your butcher can either separate the two cuts for you or you could go at it alone and grill the whole thing yourself.
Ribeye: Known for its beautiful marbling, the ribeye is an extremely flavorful and popular cut of beef that, not surprisingly, comes from the rib section of the cow. It’s typically high in fat so sometimes needs to be trimmed, but also is quite delicious when cooked properly.
Strip Steak: Also referred to a NY Strip, Kanas City Strip or Top Sirloin, the chewy yet tender cut of beef is located in the rear of the cow behind the rib section. It’s not as fatty or marbled as the ribeye but can still be just as delicious when cooked. It’s also relatively easy to cook as well thanks to it’s somewhat leaner nature.
From here, the thin cuts of steak are ideal for marinating hours before hitting the grill and positioned to serve with complementary side dishes or prepared as elements in larger dishes such as fajitas, stews, or bbq. Needless to say, no matter how you intend to prepare these cuts, proper grilling techniques are still mandatory here as well.
Skirt: Located in the diaphragm of the cow, this thin cut of beef contains plenty of flavorful fat so be sure to let this cut sear on high heat for the best results. It’s also ideal if you marinate this cut for a while beforehand and slice against the grain before serving.
Flank: This popular cut comes from the belly of the cow. And since this is a hard-working area of the animal, it’s always recommended to serve this cut sliced to maximize its tenderness. Cutting against the grain when slicing is also recommended here as well.
Hanger: Named after the part of the cow that “hangs” down in the front of the belly, this cut boasts a strong beefy flavor and is probably the best cut of beef for marinating since the muscle fibers are looser in this piece.
TIME TO GRILL
You Are Not The Star
Surprisingly enough, grilling a steak is easier than you think. And if there’s one thing to keep in mind while manning the grill it’s that this is not your time to shine, it’s the grill’s time to shine. So be ensure to keep back and let the magic of the grill do the work for you. It does, however, help to position the grill and the meat for success through proper preparation. We’ll go into more detail regarding these efforts below.
- Get your steaks to room temperature: Here’s where most people make their first mistake, in which they believe that taking the steak from the chilly fridge and placing it directly on the hot grill is a good idea. What they don’t understand, however, is that it’s nearly impossible to evenly cook the steak that way, ending up with an overly cooked exterior and undercooked interior. Instead, remove your steaks from the fridge and let them rest for about a half an hour prior to grilling to get them up to room temperature.
- Season the steaks: During the preliminary warming period, it’s also important to season your steaks. Now, we all know there’s a whole slew of pre-packaged steak seasonings out there but you know what, sometimes it’s best to just stick with the basics. For us, at least when it comes to grilling the thick cuts, liberally applied salt and black pepper and a little olive oil is the best way to get that deliciously caramelized sear on the outside of the steak. Again, it’s all about letting the meat be the star here – not dousing it in seasonings.
- Prep the grill: While your steaks are reaching room temperature, it’s also an ideal time to prep the grill. For these purposes, this includes coating the cooking grate of the grill with vegetable oil before use (the oil will also give you those desired grill marks on the steak).For about every inch of meat, it takes about 10 minutes to cook to a medium consistency.From here, it’s time to turn up the heat and make sure you’re on high heat come grill time. It’s also important to have multiple heating zones on your grill. High heat for searing and medium heat to continue cooking the interior of the steak after the initial sear.
- Grilling the steaks: This is where the magic happens. Here, once the grill is nice and hot go ahead and place your steaks on the already oiled cooking grate with a pair of tongs. From here, it’s important to now back off and let the grill do the work. Don’t poke them, move them around or flip them yet – even if there are some flames from the oil. Just shut the lid and leave them alone for at least five minutes. For reference, a good rule of thumb to go by is for about every inch of meat, it takes about 10 minutes to cook to a medium consistency, or you could invest in an instant read thermometer- your choice. Now, it’s time to flip them once more and again, flip and leave them alone.
Here’s a breakdown of the different temperatures for cooked steak:
Medium Rare: 120°–125°F
Medium Well: 140°–145°F
Well Done: 150°F +
- Remove and let rest: Once the desired temperature is reached or the timer buzzes, it’s time to remove the beautifully-cooked steaks from the heat. Now, here’s the most important part. Don’t touch it. Too many people want to immediately poke, prod and cut into it immediately to see if it’s done. Don’t do this! These are those magical moments when the internal juices of the steak are putting their finishing touches on the meat, gently cooking the remaining elements in the process. If you’re gentle, however, you can seal everything in with a little bit of butter. Just be careful not to penetrate the surface of the meat. Here, you’re going to want to let it rest for about half the time you allowed it to cook. For instance, if cooking time was between 10-15 minutes, then you should let your steaks rest for 5-7 minutes. Even if you’re tempted to, just walk away from it at this point and let the meat evenly distribute the juices throughout the cut.
Anthony Bourdain explains, in true Bourdain fashion, why it’s so important to let your steak rest for several minutes before doing anything to it. We beg you to heed his advice.
- Slice and Serve: Once they’ve rested, it’s time to eat. It’s always a good idea to keep a sharp knife on hand to easily slice the steak accordingly for your guests. If however, you’re serving the steak in its entirety, go ahead and let them dig in. Done properly, you’ll be the star of the show – an armchair grill master that just earned his rank amongst the clan of barbecuers the world over. Just remember where you heard these tips first.
Tools of the Trade
What’s a great barbecue without the proper equipment to go along with it? That’s why in addition to cooking like a grill master, it’s ideal to get equipped like one too. Here you’re going to need a set of tongs, a chef’s knife, some gloves, and a meat thermometer. It also doesn’t hurt to upgrade your grill either. In this case, we opted to include a deluxe 22” charcoal grill from a trusted brand like Weber that also comes equipped with an aluminum ash catcher, storage container, and a metal work table.
Most importantly, it’s imperative to enjoy yourself while grilling, for it’s not just the prospect of eating that should excite you, but the laid-back afternoon that comes along with it. Enjoy a few beers with your friends, catch up on old times, and enjoy some slow and low relaxed cooking while the weather is still warm and the sun still shining. Can’t beat that.