Browned and lightly charred on the outside, juicy and tender inside, a perfectly grilled steak has the power to make grown men cry. But you know what makes everyone cry? A dry, overcooked steak. Or a gray, tentatively-grilled steak with no crusty edges. With so many ways to get it wrong, it's no wonder grilling steak can be intimidating.
To get it right once and for all, we turned to chef and grilling expert Adam Perry Lang, who shared his step-by-step method for perfect steak on the grill. His process is straightforward, but also includes a few tricks that ensure maximum flavor, a gorgeous crust and an evenly cooked interior every time.
Adam's technique involves building flavor at every step. He seasons steak with a dry blend of garlic salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper before putting it on the grill, and then he bastes it frequently with butter while it cooks, which always produces a steak that is, in his words, "GB and D": golden-brown and delicious.
Baste with Herbs
To make things even more delicious, the basting is done not with the usual barbecue brush, but with a bundle of woody herbs like rosemary, sage or thyme. When they touch the sizzling steak, the oils from the herbs are released, adding even more flavor to the meat. You can make the brush a little fancier and easier to use by tying the herbs to the end of a wooden spoon or dowel, or simply use a piece of kitchen twine to tie them into an easy-to-grip bunch.
You may have heard that meat shouldn't be messed with once it's on the grill. Adam recommends the opposite; you want some browning when each side of the steak initially hits the grill, but after that you should flip your steak frequently in order to ensure even cooking. Forming that wonderful crust on the steak will happen naturally by the end, especially if you are basting with butter.
If you are skeptical, as many of readers were when we previously mentioned this technique, all I can say is try it! I've been using this method since learning it from Adam and have been turning out perfectly cooked steaks every single time.
Finish with a Dressing
Once the meat is grilled, you can add one final layer of flavor by making a quick dressing with the meat juices, minced herbs from the herb brush, lemon zest and extra virgin olive oil. Tossing the slices of meat in the dressing means every bite is juicy and perfectly seasoned.
After Adam took me through the steps of his steak-grilling process, I was so inspired, I organized a backyard steak barbecue a few nights later. Normally cooking steak for 15 people would be a little intimidating or at least something of a chore, but this time it was truly fun. Everyone was intrigued by the melted butter and the herb brush, and I definitely heard some skeptical remarks as I explained, "No, I'm flipping them a lot on purpose." But when I was done and the platter was piled high with slices of crusty-edged, rosy-pink steak, the guests' mouths were too stuffed to say anything but "Perfect steak!" before they headed back for seconds.
How To Grill Perfect Steak
Makes 1 steak, serves 2. Adapted from Serious Barbecue.
What You Need
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 bunch fresh thyme, sage, rosemary or a combination
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)
One 1 1/2- to 1 3/4-inch-thick rib eye, T-bone or Porterhouse steak, removed from the refrigerator at least 1 hour before cooking
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
Salt and pepper to taste
Wooden spoon or dowel (optional)
Gas or charcoal grill
Prepare the dry seasoning blend, herb brush and melted butter: Mix the salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper in a small bowl. Use a piece of kitchen twine to tie the herbs together in a tight bundle. (For a longer brush, tie the herbs onto the end of a wooden spoon or dowel.) Melt the butter in a small saucepan and add the optional red pepper flake and a few herbs snapped off from the herb brush.
If you haven't already done so, take the steak out of the fridge and let it warm to room temperature on the counter. Ideally, let the steak warm for an hour before grilling. This helps it cook more evenly on the grill.
Heat the grill: Heat a charcoal or gas grill to high. You'll know the temperature is right when the coals are ashed over (if using a charcoal grill) and you can only hold your hand over the grill for 4 to 6 seconds before it feels too hot.
- Season the steak: Sprinkle the dry seasoning blend generously over both sides of the steak, letting plenty of the seasoning fall on the surrounding cutting board or butcher paper. You'll use it on the edges of the steak.
- Season the edges of the steak: Dip the sides of the steak into the excess seasoning.
- Dampen your hand: Wet your hand with a little water.
- Create a seasoning "paste": Pat your dampened hand over both sides of the steak. This turns the dry seasonings into more of a paste that lays flat on the meat.
- Oil the steak: Dip the herb brush into the butter and lightly brush both sides of the steak.
- Put the steak on the grill: Place the steak on the grate, close the lid, and do not move the steak until it is well marked and has a light char, about 3 minutes.
- Flip the steak: Use the tongs to flip the steak.
- Baste with butter: Dip the herb brush in the butter and brush over the hot surface of the steak.
- Brown the other side of the steak: Close the lid and do not move the steak until the second side is well marked and has a light char. Flip and baste the second side with butter.
- Continue cooking, flipping and basting with butter: Continue to cook with the lid down as much as possible. Flip frequently, basting the hot surface with butter every time you flip. If you have a flare-up, move the steak to another part of the grill or to the edge of the grill where it is cooler.
- Cook to desired doneness: Use the touch test or an instant read thermometer to determine when your steak is cooked to your liking (125°F for rare, 130-135°F for medium-rare, 140°F for medium). Remove steak from the grill and place in a small baking dish.
- Make the finishing dressing: Drizzle the olive oil on a cutting board. Add the lemon zest and a little salt and pepper.
- Add herbs from the herb brush: Chop up some herbs from the end of the herb brush and mix them into the dressing.
- Slice the steak: Place the steak on top of the dressing and pour some of the juices over the meat. Cut to separate the meat from the bone and slice the meat on a diagonal into 1/4-inch slices.
- Dress the steak: Dredge the pieces in the dressing to coat them and top with the remaining juices.
- Season the steak: Taste and sprinkle with additional salt and pepper if needed.
- You can use vegetable oil in place of the butter, but your steak won't be quite as browned and delicious.
- This recipe easily multiplies if you are cooking more than one steak. When scaling up, use 4 tablespoons of butter for every two steaks.
Learn more about grilling from Adam Perry Lang
→ Get his latest book: Serious Barbecue: Smoke, Char, Baste & Brush Your Way to Great Outdoor Cooking
→ Check out his website
→ Follow him on Twitter
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(Images: Leela Cyd Ross)