The American Memorial Day weekend is the traditional start to the summer, and men everywhere are dragging out the grill and stocking up on thick T-bone steaks. The sad fact is that the vast majority of those incredible slabs of meat will turn out dry and lacking in flavor.
Grilling a tasty, healthy steak is one of the Man Skills I’ve written about before. With a little care and preparation, you can enjoy the best steak you’ve ever had.
Buy the Best Cut
There’s a lot of confusion over just which cuts of beef are best for grilling. Some say tenderloin and filet mignon are best, but the fact is that while they’re the most tender cuts on the cow, they’re not the most flavorful. Others will direct you to the cheaper cuts, like flank or hanger. However, your tradeoff for flavor is tenderness, and you’ll have to marinate them and make sure not to cook them past medium rare for best chewability.
The cut with the single best balance of tenderness and flavor is the ribeye. However, a marbling of fat goes with that, so make sure you eat it on your cheat day. The ribeye is also the most expensive cut on the cow. If cost or fat content is a factor, grab yourself a nice top sirloin. Once again, you’ll want to cook a sirloin fairly rare, but it’s flavorful and inexpensive. In the middle between the two is the New York cut, with the marbling of a loin steak (it’s from the loin) and a little more flavor.
Pick up your steak at least a day or two before you’re going to grill it. Buy your steak freshly cut from a butcher and not in the Styrofoam packages at the supermarket. Your cut will ideally will have a ring of fat around the edge (trim it off when the steak is ready to eat – it helps hold the juices in when cooking). Get yourself grass-fed beef if possible—it’s healthier and tastier than feed-lot beef and the cow had a better life too.
The best thickness for grilling is between 1 and 1-1/2 inches. Steaks that are too thick may require oven-baking after you sear them on the grill, unless you like them rare.
Prep the Meat
No matter what cut you buy, it’ll taste better with a little forethought. A few simple steps can make or break your steak:
- When you get the meat home, take it out of the butcher paper and put it in the fridge, on a plate and wrapped in a paper towel to draw moisture out of the meat. You can do this for up to four days before grilling—change the paper towel if it gets too bloody.
- Take the meat out of the fridge at least 30 minutes before you put it on the grill. The closer it is to room temperature, the better it will cook.
- Use a simple rub to season your steak. Coat your steak in just enough oil so the ingredients stick (any oil with a high “smoke point” will do: vegetable, seed, light olive oil—extra-virgin smokes too soon), then rub some sea salt and fresh ground pepper into the meat. I use a little cayenne myself to give it a slight kick.
- Get that grill hot! The goal is to sear the steak as quickly as possible to lock in the juices, and the hotter the grill, the better it will sear.
The great gas vs. charcoal debate is really not that big an element in the flavor of the meat. Instead, let your pocketbook and ability to keep the grill clean determine your tool of choice. That said, charcoal grills can get hotter than gas, so if you’re torn, that’s the single best reason to go with charcoal.
Finally, the Grill
Now you’re ready to cook the thing. Believe it or not, you’ve reached the easiest part of the whole production.
- Put the steak on the hot grill.
- Now leave it alone. No poking, prodding, checking the grill lines on the bottom, and never, ever, cut into the steak to check the color.
- After 4 to 5 minutes, turn it over with tongs or a spatula, not that giant sharp fork that came with the grill.
- Continue to leave it alone, about 4-5 minutes for rare, 6-8 minutes for medium-rare, and 10 minutes for medium. Grills can vary—this is a good reason to practice!
- Instead of cutting the meat, check it for doneness with your finger. The more thoroughly cooked the meat, the firmer it will be.
- Remove the steak from the grill and put it in aluminum foil to rest for 5-10 minutes. Guard it, and explain to your hungry friends that it’s for their own good. If you cut into a steak before it has properly rested, its juices (and flavor) will run out all over the plate and all your careful preparation will be ruined.
There are a world of steak cuts and different rubs and marinades you can use. Experiment and practice. If you master the art of preparing the perfect steak, you’ll soon find no summer weekend will go by without an invite to a barbecue. (Don’t forget a cool, healthy salad!)