No one wants to mess up steak on the grill. For one thing, a leathery over-cooked steak makes for an extremely sad eating experience. For another, steaks are expensive! From grilling pro Jennifer Chandler, we have six steps that will guarantee a perfectly grilled steak every time.
When I asked Jennifer about steaks and explained my nervousness about grilling them, her excitement kicked up a few decibels. She immediately responded, "One of the things that I always tell people is that they don't have to be intimidated by grilling a nice piece of steak." Then she broke it down for me:
6 Steps to Perfectly Grilled Steak
1. Start with a Clean and Oiled Grill: More than cooking time, more than spice rubs, a clean grill makes all the difference when cooking great steak (or anything on the grill, for that matter.) Clean grates keep the steaks from sticking when you turn them. All you need to do is heat your grill, give it a good scrub with a heavy duty grill brush, and lightly brush it with vegetable oil. This essentially creates a nonstick cooking surface.
2. High Heat Cooking: Crank that heat up! You want the grill to be at least 450°F, or hot enough that you can hold your hand over the grill for just one second. High heat ensures a good sear and a crispy crust on these steaks.
3. Season the Steak: Steaks don't need much to make them great. Just before grilling, brush them lightly on both sides with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. If you want to get fancy, you can add spices like chili powder, paprika, or garlic powder to the rub.
4. Turn Steak Once: Steaks are so quick-cooking that you really only need to turn them once. Flipping too frequently might also prevent the steaks from forming their tasty, well-seared crust (though there's some controversy about this). They're ready to be flipped when they release easily from the grill, just like with searing meat on the stove top. Use a pair of pincher tongs for turning the meat instead of poking it with a barbecue fork — those forks just pierce holes in the meat, mauling it and releasing its juices.
5. Cook Until Its Done: Exact cooking time depends on the thickness of the steak and your personal preference. This is why a meat thermometer is handy to have. It's accurate and won't release much juice from the meat:
Rare: 125°F - 130°F
Medium-Rare: 130°F - 135°F
Medium: 140°F - 145°F
Well-Done: 160° and higher
Jennifer says that she likes to take steaks off the grill when they're about 5° below the target temperature. They continue cooking a bit during the resting step, and taking it off the grill early prevents accidentally overcooking the steak.
6. Rest the Steak: Let the grilled steak rest on the cutting board for about 5 minutes before cutting in. This gives the juices time to re-circulate through the meat. Slicing the steak earlier lets the juices run out and makes your steak taste dry.
Want to up the ante on your steak? Jennifer loves adding compound butters and sauces to steaks just before serving. This can be anything from minced fresh herbs worked into soft butter or getting fancy with ingredients like the bourbon and coffee she uses for her Cowboy T-Bone Steak recipe.
Grilling steaks isn't rocket science, as you can see. Listening to Jennifer's words of advice, I realized that a big part of a great grilled steak is simply paying attention and not over-thinking the process. My new philosophy: Grill with confidence!
A big thank you! to Jennifer Chandler for sharing her steak grilling expertise. You can check out Jennifer's book here:
• Simply Grilling: 105 Recipes for Quick and Casual Grilling by Jennifer Chandler, $17 on Amazon
Ready to grill some steaks? What are your tips?
Related: Griller's Best Friend: The Rib-Eye Steak
(Image: Brian Holm Nielsen/Shutterstock)