Most of us would agree on what a perfect steak should be – A thick slab of meat of crusty well-browned exterior enveloping a perfectly pink, tender juicy inside. There should be a nice contrast between the smoky exterior and the melt-in-your mouth beefy interior. If you don’t know what I’m talking about here, just check out Peter Luger’s ribeye steak.
Now if you want to know how to grill a steak, here are some tips to help you.
First off, you must choose the right cut of meat. Steaks, by definition, are meat obtained from “fast-cooking” cuts—these are cuts that contain low enough connective tissue that they don’t need long cooking times.
The steakhouse kings are cuts that come from Psoas major (filet mignon and tenderloin) and Longissimus dorsi (ribeye). Let’s take a closer look at these cuts:
- Ribeye: Highly marbled with a large layer of fat where a lot of the distinctive beef flavor comes from. This is what makes the ribeye one of the richest and beefiest cuts.
- Strip: Also known as New York strip or top sirloin, the strip cut has a texture with a definite grain making it moderately tender, with good marbling and a strong taste.
- Tenderloin: Also called Châteaubriand or filet mignon, the tenderloin is very tender (hence the name) with a buttery texture. It’s low in flavor and fat however.
- T-Bone/Porterhouse: This is a 2 for 1 cut—and it has a bit of strip and a bit of tenderloin separated by a T-shaped bone.
There are also other cuts you can use which are less expensive than the ones we mentioned above. These are:
Hanger: Strongly beefy flavor it and one of the tastiest cuts you can get.
Skirt: Buttery and extremely rich with lots of fat and grained texture. If cooked incorrectly however, it can be very tough and chewy.
Short Rib: This is probably the most underrated grilling steak. It is extraordinarily juicy and beefy, and has excellent marbling.
Flap (Sirloin Tip): This one is coarse-grained and soft when cooked rare, so it should be cooked to medium-rare at the very least.
Flank Steak: Mild flavor and a very strong grain. This one must be sliced thinly against the grain to keep it tender.
Buying a Good Steak
Beef that’s sold in the U.S. is graded by the USDA based on its degree of marbling and tenderness. The highest rating is the Prime, which makes up 2% of beef sold in the US. The prime denotes abundant marbling in a cow under 42 months old. Most Prime level meat goes to restaurants, specialty butchers, and upscale supermarkets. Just below Prime is Choice, and then third would be Select. These 2 grades are what you’ll find in most grocery chains and supermarkets. But the grading system does not stop there. There’s also the Canner, which generally comes from very mature cows with mostly tough meat. In any case, if you are mainly after flavor, look for a cut of meat that has very good marbling. More fat means more flavor.
The thickness of your meat is also an important consideration. You should aim for at least an inch and a half thickness otherwise it would be difficult to get the contrast between the interior and exterior. Moreover, very thin cuts will tend to overcook which will make it rubbery before you can achieve a nice crusty exterior.
As for when to put salt on your meat, this one’s actually up for debate. Some chefs prefer to salt before cooking, others after. Personally, I put salt 45 minutes before I grill my steaks to draw liquid out of the meat and pool up forming a concentrated brine. If you can put salt on your meat a few days before you’ll cook it, then all the better. Use Kosher salt instead of regular salt.
Finally, the cooking process. Use the reverse sear technique where you start a steak on the cold area of the grill and cover. You’ll want a slow start so that it will lose less moisture and then sear at the end.