How to Grill Steak Like the Pros
Want to make a juicy, perfectly seared steak in your own backyard? Our Test Kitchen experts share their secrets along with a step-by-step recipe.
By Kelsey Mueller, Senior Digital Editor and James Schend, Food Editor
A good grilled steak is a beautiful thing. It signals celebration, whether during a ritzy business lunch or a romantic dinner. Making the perfect steak is a rite of passage on the road to becoming a serious cook.
The truth is, anyone can cook a good steak—it's not that complicated. We share our full recipe below, but we encourage you to keep these essentials in mind.
Secrets for Grilling the Perfect Steak
1. Know your meat
At the grocery store or butcher shop, grab the best steak you can afford. Food Editor James Schend recommends ribeye, porterhouse, T-bone and sirloin for grilling. Flank and hanger steaks are tasty, too. He avoids filet mignon because it's pretty easy to overcook.
Bone-in or boneless? People tend to opt for boneless meat because it's quicker, but with a steak, the difference in cooking time is minimal. On the other hand, many claim that bone-in meat imparts bigger flavor. Steaks are such small cuts, though, and to be honest, we couldn't pick up on the difference in flavor even after taste-testing many, many steaks. What we can say is that the bone insulates the meat, helping to retain its moisture.
2. Add seasonings and give 'em time
Steak is naturally flavorful. Still, you should absolutely add seasonings—as close to a day in advance as you can, but at least one hour ahead of cooking. Adding salt and pepper to the meat before cooking allows the seasonings to penetrate deeper into the meat. It also helps tenderize the cut, so it's a win-win.
3. Get the surface nice and dry
Want the best, brownest exterior for your steak? Let the surface dry as much as possible, as this will allow the steak to achieve a gorgeous crust. The ideal: let it sit on a rack in the refrigerator, uncovered, for at least one day. A shortcut: Pat dry with paper towels before cooking.
4. Start on low heat, then sear
Don't be tempted to toss the steaks directly over high heat to get a good sear. All you'll end up doing is drying out the surface, possibly burning it, while leaving the interior undercooked.
You really want to start out slow and finish hot. Start cooking on the indirect side of your grill, which allows the steak to cook a bit before it starts seriously browning. Near the end of cooking, move to direct heat, ensuring that the exterior gets crisp and browned.
5. Savor It
Steak is a decadent treat that's meant to be savored, not scarfed. Serve smaller portions of the best meat you can find, and choose complementary sides. Potatoes and bread let you mop up every bit of delicious juice, while a tangy salad cuts through the richness and clears the palate. The best side, of course, is good company (or a good book).
How To Grill Steak: The Full Recipe
We use ribeye steaks, but this method will work with other cuts, too (see secret No. 1, above).
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon paprika
2 teaspoons dried ground thyme
2 teaspoons dried ground oregano
1-1/2 teaspoons pepper
1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon lemon-pepper seasoning
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
4 beef ribeye steaks (1-1/2 inches thick)
Step 1: Season and sit
Toss the seasonings together in a little dish, then sprinkle them over the steaks. Try to coat all sides, and press the spices into the meat to help them adhere.
Chill for at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours. (You may leave them uncovered.)
Test Kitchen tip: Of course, it's OK to substitute your own favorite spice blend. In a hurry? At the very least, be sure to use salt and pepper.
Step 2: Pat dry and let sit
About 30 minutes before cooking, take the steak out of the fridge. Blot it dry with paper towels to remove any excess moisture (but take care to leave as much seasoning on as possible—this is why blotting or patting is better than wiping). Let the meat sit at room temperature for a while before cooking. Taking the chill off encourages even cooking.
Test Kitchen tip: We like to sprinkle on additional kosher salt just before putting the steaks on the grill; this yields an amazingly flavorful crust.
Step 3: Prep the grill
Preheat the grill. Make sure you have indirect and direct heat zones. We're grilling with hardwood charcoal, but you can also use a gas or infrared grill. Note that charcoal tends to run hotter, so your cook times will vary depending upon the heat source (Learn more about charcoal grilling here.)
Grease the rack.
Step 4: Grill on low
Place the steaks over medium indirect heat. Cook, covered, until meat reaches approximately 110°, turning occasionally.
Test Kitchen tip: We've all heard the rumor that you should only flip steaks once. But is it really good advice? We actually find that steaks cook more evenly if you flip them a few times. You won't get perfect crosshatched grill marks, but we think that's a small sacrifice.
Step 4: Move to high heat
To finish, move steaks to direct heat. Continue cooking until the meat reaches desired doneness. A thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the steak should read 135° for medium-rare, 140° for medium, or 145° for medium-well. (Remember that the meat will continue to cook a bit once you take it off the grill.)
Test Kitchen tip: Never use a fork or anything that'll puncture the meat to turn or remove meats from the grill. Instead, use tongs to ensure all that juicy goodness reaches your plate. (A thermometer does let some juices out, so just insert it once and get your reading; don't poke several holes in the meat if you can avoid it.)
Step 5: Let sit, then slice
Move steaks to a plate and tent with foil to keep them warm. Let stand for about 5 minutes before slicing. This helps the juices settle into the meat (rather than running out onto your cutting board or serving platter).
Place on a warm serving platter. To carve, cut across the grain into thick slices.
Want a jazzier steak supper? Check out these recipes.