Who among us can resist a big, juicy grilled steak? Okay, maybe not vegetarians, but if you clicked on this article, chances are you get us! It’s the time of year where we take whatever cooking we can outside – the sun’s shining, the days feel just a little longer and lazier, and we don’t want to miss a minute of it. Plus, getting that unbeatable grill flavor while keeping the kitchen cool is a win all around. Grilling is a popular summer activity, but we recognize that not everyone is confident cooking with fire. Whether you’re a complete beginner or just looking to brush up on your grill skills, we’ve got you covered in this comprehensive guide on how to achieve the best results with the most popular cuts of steak for the grill.
The 3 Most Important Tips for Cooking Steak
There are a few important notes to keep in mind when cooking steak using any method, not just on the grill. Following these notes will help you achieve optimal results no matter your skill level. If you read nothing else, remember these tips!
1. Always bring steak to room temperature before grilling. Cooking a steak right out of the fridge (or worse, the freezer) will shock the meat. The end result will be tough instead of tender. We hope that it goes without saying, but never cook steak from frozen, being sure to thaw completely before cooking.
2. Season liberally and time it right. Don’t be afraid to use a heavy hand while seasoning any cut of steak. If using freshly ground pepper, wait towards the end of the cooking process or after the meat is finished cooking to season so that the pepper doesn’t scorch. And per the food science experts over at Serious Eats, you have a couple options in terms of when to season: If you’ve got the time, salt your meat for at least 40 minutes and up to overnight before cooking. Otherwise, it’s better to season immediately before cooking. Just remember: grilling the steak anywhere between three and 40 minutes after salting is the worst way to do it.
3. Let the steak rest after cooking. Preferably, tented with foil on a plate or cutting board. This allows the juices to properly re-distribute throughout the muscle fibers. Slicing into meat right after it cooks allows all those delicious flavor you worked hard to build to escape – and no one wants that!
Marinades are a great way to add extra flavor to certain cuts of meat. However, not all steaks need – or benefit from – a marinade. Some of the heftier, fattier steaks are perfect on their own, since fat = flavor. Marinades are best for leaner cuts like sirloin, flatiron or flank steaks, or cuts with a loose fiber structure, like skirt since it helps to both tenderize and add flavor.
Ideal Cuts of Steak to Marinade include:
- Flank: this lean cut has a big beef flavor and is best sliced thin when serving for a tender mouthfeel.
- Flat Iron: another lean cut with big flavor best sliced thin. Flat Iron and Flank are commonly used for tacos, salads, and stir fries.
- Hanger: the big, beefy flavor from this cylindrical cut of meat is well-matched for a flavorful marinade.
- Skirt: both inside and outside skirt steaks have great, bold flavors and marinades can permeate their loose fiber structure.
To Properly Marinade Steaks:
- Let the steak marinate for at least 6 hours but up to 24. The longer the better! We prefer prepping in the evening and refrigerating overnight.
- Shake off any excess marinade before grilling and discard what’s left. The exception to this would be if the recipe specifies the marinade should be cooked down to use as a glaze or sauce to pair with the steak.
- Skip the bottled stuff. Trust us – like a great homemade vinaigrette, a store bought marinade doesn’t hold a torch to what you can make at home with just a little effort. To start making your own marinades, follow this formula: equal parts salt + neutral oil + acid. When it comes to the salt component, we like the savory, umami flavor that soy sauce provides. For the acid, Balsamic vinegar or citrus adds great fruity flavor along with zing. From there, you can add garlic, herbs, a touch of honey, or any other number of ingredients depending on the flavor profile you’re going for. When ready to grill, simply salt and pepper using the advice above to complement your marinade.
Cooking Classy has a great marinade recipe for steak that would match up with the meaty flavors of leaner cuts. If you’re someone who loves variety, A Sweet Pea Chef shared several different marinade recipes including Chipotle, Italian, Lemon Pepper, and Fajita.
(image via hey grill hey)
Everyone has a preference for how well they prefer their steak cooked. And for beginners, the common advice of pressing your fingers into the base of your hand as a guide to doneness isn’t all that helpful. The truth is, you’ll get more comfortable pulling steaks off the grill the more you cook them – so try not to stress it too much! Like most of cooking, It’s a craft that develops over time. While you’re getting started though, here are a few basics to get by.
Track the Temperature
Using an instant-read thermometer is the easiest, least invasive way to determine if steaks are ready to come off the grill, especially when it comes to thicker cuts of beef. Keep in mind that the meat will continue to cook once you take it off the grill so shoot for the lower range as the temperature will still rise.
- Rare: 125 degrees
- Medium Rare: 130 – 135 degrees
- Medium: 135 – 140 degrees
- Medium Well: 140 – 150 degrees
- Well Done: 155 degrees +
How to Grill (almost) every kind of Steak
Flank, Hanger and Skirt Steak
These thinner cuts cook quickly and are actually great for beginners thanks to the visual cues they offer. Plus, hanger and skirt steak’s fat content means it’ll remain flavorful even if it’s a touch overdone. These steaks should be cooked over medium-high heat for approximately 3-4 minutes per side until you see beads of sweat start to form on the meat’s surface.
While they look similar and both offer a decently beefy flavor profile, flank’s leaner than skirt, which means it’s at risk for being tough and dry if not handled properly. Whether cooking indoors or out, these long, thin cuts benefit from a quick grill over high heat for optimal results. Marinade beforehand for added flavor and tenderness, and always slice thinly against the grain after resting for the best texture.
Heat: Heat a gas grill to high, or build a hot fire and grill over direct heat
Ideal Temperature: Medium Rare. Take it off heat when it reaches about 130°F
Time: Really quick; 3-5 minutes per side, with a 5 minute rest.
NY Strip Steak
NY Strip Steaks are commonly sold boneless and are a popular cut for the grill thanks to their higher fat to meat ratio, which means lots of good, beefy flavor. Season these generously before grilling over a high heat. The high heat will allow the sugars from the meat to caramelize which is important in bringing out the natural flavors.
Heat: Heat half the burners of your gas grill to high, or build a 2 zone charcoal fire and grill over medium-high heat, moving to the cooler side in case of flare-ups as the steak’s fat renders.
Ideal Temperature: Rare to Medium Rare. Take it off heat when it reaches about 125-130°F.
Time: About 6 minutes per side for medium rare, with a 5 minute rest.
Ribeye steaks are often cited as many a meat-lover’s favorite cut. Sold bone-in and boneless, these steaks are big and juicy, with a price tag to match. Look for a piece that’s 1-1/2 inches thick, with evenly distributed marbling. Be sure to rest your ribeye steaks for at least 30 minutes while you heat the grill. Take your time with this thick, beefy cut and use your thermometer – you’re looking to achieve a deep brown crust with a tender interior.
Heat: Heat half the burners of a gas grill to medium high, or build a hot 2 zone charcoal fire, moving steaks to the cooler side in case of flare-ups as the fat renders.
Ideal Temperature: Medium Rare to Medium, to give the fat time to render. Take it off heat when it reaches about 130-135°F.
Time: About 10-13 minutes for medium rare, with a 10 minute rest.
Sirloin and Tri-Tip Steak
Also known as Top Sirloin, this lean cut is definitely not the most tender cut of beef. Because it’s not as forgiving, we’d recommend getting comfortable with other cuts like flank and skirt before this one on. Flipping sirloin steaks every 2-3 minutes while grilling will help yield evenly cooked, juicy meat.
Heat: Heat a gas grill to high, or cook over direct heat if using a charcoal grill.
Ideal Temperature: Medium Rare. Take it off heat when it reaches about 130°F.
Time: About 8-10 minutes for medium rare, with a 5 minute rest.
(image via hey grill hey)
What about Filet Mignon?
The Filet Mignon is, in our opinion, the most tender steak of all. Often a treat that’s only enjoyed at high-end restaurants, this lean, thick steak taken from the smaller end of the tenderloin is not the most flavorful, which makes it a good candidate for topping with a compound butter or wrapping in bacon. Best enjoyed rare to medium-rare, it’s incredibly tender and juicy when cooked properly. If you’re going to grill filet mignon, we suggest using a cast iron skillet and following the reverse-sear method to achieve a deep, even brown crust.
Ready to fire up the grill? Add one of our protein packs to your next Home Chef box!