Cooking the perfect steak is a thing of beauty. It’s hard to find someone, short of a vegetarian, who doesn’t appreciate a juicy piece of beef with perfect grill marks and a deliciously juicy interior. Steak is one of the few items that I find myself wanting to grill all year long. Even when the weather is less than perfect I can help but dream of a perfectly cooked ribeye, simply seasoned, and delicately smoky.
I think that mastering the steak is a good stepping stone for people who want to better understand the fundamentals of grilling. The steak embodies a few of the key elements to properly using a grill, whether gas or charcoal, its readily available in any grocery store, and comes in a number or cuts to both fit a budget as well as personal tastes. One of my favorite steaks for all around crowd pleasing enjoyment is the flat iron. It is a piece of meat that was of random obscurity until a few years ago, but has now begun to be found on the menus of both the discerning restaurant as well as the back yard grills of your neighbors. The flat iron is a cut from the shoulder or chuck area, and although this is usually a part of the cow that most assume to be tough, the flat iron has a tremendous amount of marbling and is considered by most butchers to be second only to the tenderloin in terms of overall tenderness. The marbling also insures that this cut will be extremely flavorful and easy to grill.
When preparing your grill for steaks remember that Medium-High to-HIGH heat is optimal.* This is a cut of meat that needs to be seared and cooked relatively quickly to preserve the natural juiciness. I find that grilling steaks is best when done with the lid open the entire time. This is helps to prevent steaming the side of the meat that is not in contact with the grill as well as discouraging the likelihood to overcook the meat.
Seasoning a steak properly is a crucial point in ensuring the best end result possible. I find that kosher or coarse salt is best because it sticks to the surface and helps create a crust when the heat contacts it. Be aggressive with the seasoning on the surface as much of it will fall through the grates when cooking and since the meat is thick and cooks quickly, the seasoning will not have a chance to penetrate into the muscles and flavor them so we have to rely on just seasoning the outside. I find that patting the steak dry just before putting it on the grill helps to achieve the perfect brown grill marks that you are looking for. If there is too much water on the surface of the meat it will stick to the grill and never caramelize.
One of the final steps to properly cooking a piece of meat is to let it rest after it comes off the grill. This means removing it from the heat and allowing it to sit somewhere warm for 5-10 minutes in order for the muscles to relax and preserve the juicy interior. I try to remove my steaks just before they reach the doneness that I want, knowing that by the time they have rested they will be exactly where I wanted them to be. As tough as it is to wait on something like a big juicy steak, I promise that this resting period is going to consistently produce a better end result.
The biggest key to success is to get out there and practice. Just like with any other skill, you have to do it over and over to truly become great at it.
~ Chef Kevin Gillespie
* Grilling Temperature Guidelines – Page 26 of America Grills!
METHOD | GRATE TEMPERATURE RANGE | DESCRIPTION
Direct | 450°F – 650°F or higher | Searing or Grilling on HIGH
Direct | 350°F – 450°F | Grilling on Medium-to-Medium High
Direct | 250°F – 350°F | Grilling on Low-to-Medium