Barbecue University™

The 10 Secrets to Grilling a Perfect Steak

Caveman T-Bone

Eating a perfectly cooked steak is a transcendent — some would say lascivious — experience for carnivores. There’s that first bite — the outside crusty, salty, and darkly seared; the inside, beefy-tasting, juicy, sanguine, and impossibly tender. But let’s face it: Not even high-end steakhouses get it right all the time. No wonder backyard grillers face raw — and pricy! — steak with trepidation. You’d be surprised how many people know their way around brisket and ribs, but can’t consistently grill a good steak.

Yes, much can go wrong at every stage of the process, from the procurement to the plating. But armed with the 10 strategies below, you should nail a great steak every time.

  1. Choose the right steak: A Porterhouse is the best of both worlds, consisting of a New York Strip and a filet mignon united by a slender T-shaped bone. Other top cuts include rib eyes, T-bones (a smaller version of a Porterhouse), and new cuts, like the flatiron. Don’t overlook tougher, meatier cuts, like sirloin, hanger steak, skirt steak, and flank steak — just be sure to thinly slice across the grain before serving.
  2. Keep it in the refrigerator until grilling. This runs contrary to many theories, but no steakhouse worth its salt leaves meat out at room temperature in a hot kitchen.
  3. Build a 3-zone fire: Use the hot zone for searing, the medium zone for cooking, and have a safety zone where you can move the steaks to dodge any flare-ups.
  4. When it comes to seasoning, keep it simple: Season generously with coarse salt (kosher or sea) and freshly ground black pepper right before grilling. (The salt helps form a satisfying crust.) Or for a more complex flavor, try my Best of Barbecue steak rub.
  5. Remember the grill master’s mantra: Keep it hot. Keep it clean. Keep it lubricated. (The grill grate, that is!) A hot, clean, well-oiled grate prevents sticking and gives you killer grill marks.
  6. Get good marks: Arrange the steaks on the grill grate all running the same way slightly on the diagonal to the bars of the grate. Rotate 90 degrees after 2 to 3 minutes to lay on a crosshatch of grill marks. To get the best marks, use a cast iron grate, like my Tuscan grill.
  7. Turn, don’t stab: Use tongs like my Lumatong, not a fork to turn the steaks. The only purpose served by stabbing a steak is to drain out the juices. Enough said. By the way, look for beads of blood that form on the top of the steak a few minutes after it goes on the grill. That tells you it’s time to turn.
  8. Poke your food: Use your index finger to poke the steak. If it’s soft and squishy, it’s rare; gently yielding, medium-rare; springy and firm indicates well-done. (Not that you’d want to cook steak well-done.) And remember, large steaks continue cooking after they come off the grill.
  9. Give it a rest: Always let steaks rest on a platter or plates for 2 to 3 minutes before serving. This allows the juices to redistribute themselves — resting gives you a juicier steak.
  10. Anoint thy steak: Enrich it with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, a pat of butter or compound butter, melted beef fat, or even a slather of my steak sauce.