How to Grill the Perfect Steak

Written by Elizabeth Nyland of Guilty Kitchen.

Today is more of a lesson in the fine art of grilling meat than it is a recipe, so no long lists of ingredients will haunt you this fine afternoon.

One of the most popular questions I get asked by friends, family and readers alike is “How do you tell when meat is cooked?” This is a loaded question. Everyone likes it differently and everyone you ask this humble question to will probably have their own answer.

Here’s mine: Practice.

The actual testing of doneness is crucial, yes, but there are other steps of equal importance. Let’s take a look at them, shall we?

Eight Tips to Grilling the Perfect Steak

1. Always bring your meat up to room temperature before grilling. This ensures even cooking throughout. You wouldn’t jump in a steaming hot shower after running around naked in the cold would you? It might sting a little bit – unless you’re Norwegian…I hear they like doing that.

2. Always rub steaks with a little oil before grilling. This will help keep the meat moist and also prevents sticking.
All photos by Elizabeth Nyland unless otherwise noted.
3. Season with a little salt and pepper not more than 10 minutes before grilling. If you load up your meat with salt too early, it will begin to draw moisture out of the steak, not much, but some. You want to keep it all in there though.

4. Never use a fork to turn your steaks (or any meat for that matter**). Piercing your lovely steaks and other cuts with a fork allows all those delicious juices to run right out before you’ve even had a chance to taste them. Instead, keep all your juices where they should be by using tongs. Tongs are your friends. In commercial kitchens across the nation, chefs battle over the best pairs and I can remember even hiding some to ensure I always got my favorite.

5. Preheat your grilling device thoroughly. This also help with even cooking. Whether it’s a charcoal or propane BBQ, an indoor grill, a hibachi, or whatever you can fandangle into searing your meat. Always preheat!

6. Learn the art of touching your meat to test for doneness. Here is my best advice; learn what you like in a steak. Most people will tell you medium rare, though a great many (*sob*) will tell you medium to well done.

Feel your steak by pressing down on the thickest part with your index finger when it is still raw. See how it gives, but does not spring back? That’s raw. A slight variation of the same feeling you would get after a scant minute or two on the flames, which will yield you a blue rare steak. For medium rare, your steak will begin to spring back to you, but not much.
Here is a list of the definitions of each “doneness”:

  • Blue rare (aka. bloody, blood rare, or even just seared): only just seared on the outside, will be red and cool on the inside.
  • Rare: Outside will be cooked and gray-ish, inside will be red throughout and slightly warm.
  • Medium rare: Cooked and gray/brown on the outside, warm and red throughout.
  • Medium: Outside will be gray brown, inside will be slightly red, though mostly pink and hot.
  • Medium-well: Inside is now only slightly pink, and hot.
  • Well done (My Father’s choice): Meat will be gray and hot throughout

Photo by jwilde

TIP: To achieve the ever sought after cross-hatch grill marks, place your steak on the grill at a 45 degree angle, a quarter of the way through cooking, turn 90 degrees and cook for another quarter of the total. Flip steak over, keeping it on a 45 degree angle and repeat. Et voila! Perfect grill marks every time.
** Duck and goose are the only things I can think of right now that you would pierce at all before cooking, but even then, you only pierce the skin and fat, never the flesh.

7. Allow the steak to rest before enjoying. Let stand for 5 minutes or so before cutting it, then top your steak off with a little herbed goat cheese and you have yourself a celebration! Why let a steak rest? Well, a brief rest allows the juices from the meat to be redistributed through out the entire piece of meat, and makes for less juices lost (and flavor lost!) when the meat is sliced.

Tip: Tent the steak loosely in foil while resting to retain maximum heat.

Who does the grilling in your household? Any tips or tricks to share?

About Elizabeth

On her blog, Guilty Kitchen, Elizabeth writes about the joys of local food, buying sustainable and feeling much too guilty after indulging in too many rich desserts.

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  1. In my mind there is nothing worse than a poorly cooked steak. It makes me sad, so thank you for providing these useful tips. However, as someone that cooks a lot of steak (and has experimented with different things), I would have to disagree with tip 3.

    In Michael Symon’s cookbook, he recommends seasoning meat (especially steak) with at least salt 8 to 24 hours in advance. I’d always been a right before grilling person myself so I tried it, and it does make a difference. If you have a well marbled piece of meat, it doesn’t pull the moisture out. Rather, it tenderizes the meat, and opens it up to actually be more receptive to flavor. If you were to add black pepper and something like rosemary, it gets absorbed throughout the meat, rather than just sitting on the surface. You can then put a thicker layer of seasoning on prior to cooking to form a crust if you choose, or you can just throw the steaks (brought to room temp of course) right on the grill with no additional seasoning.

    Anyway, just something to think about. I think the rest is great, especially the not using a fork and letting it rest parts. Huge difference!

    • Thanks Michael!

      Seasoning is very personal and no one I’ve talked to agrees on one or the other. I prefer to season right before because I like my steaks to taste like, well, steak! I have had steaks that were seasoned well in advance and they were fine too, so doing whatever you like when it comes to flavourings is perfectly fine.

      I only preseason when using lower quality cuts of meat, but that’s just me.

  2. Funny, I’ve often heard that you shouldn’t salt before cooking at all, wait until its almost done. But I never salt anything, so can’t compare.

    • I add salt and pepper just before the meat hits the grill. This is also what I have observed in professional kitchens as well.

      Of course, as Elizabeth stated, seasoning is very personal!

  3. This steak looks great 🙂 I love that marbling!

  4. I was a vegetarian for a long time and never prepare steak. But I’m a lot less apprehensive about giving it a go now. Thanks!

  5. Hmm… Steak. I like a simple seasoning and a steak cooked medium. Thanks for these tips, esp the tongs! I’ve been meaning to get a good pair, and you have inspired me!

  6. I definitely needed to hear about the tongs. I’ve always wondered why my steaks weren’t juicy and now I know!

  7. Great tips! I have been grilling more steak this summer then ever before since I purchased a 1/2 cow back in May. I grill my steak similarly to the tips shown here.

  8. Salt dries out the meat so if the rub seasoning is without salt then it can be put on hours before but if the rub seasoning has salt then just before. That is my rule of thumb anyways.

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