Grilling Steak: 6 Professional Secrets to Cooking a Thick Cut

When it comes to grilling steak, don't be intimidated by a thick cut! These tips and tricks will help you grill your way to the perfect steak.

A thick steak can certainly be intimidating, but it tastes brilliant when it’s cooked correctly. When grilling steak, a thick pieced of meat allows you to generously season the outside without turning the meal into a salty mess. The result: a deeply seared, flavorful crust that gives way to a juicy, slightly smoky interior. Really, it’s so good it just melts in your mouth.

(Psst: Don’t forget to make one of these 34 amazing grilled side dishes while you’re grilling up that steak!)

If you’re wondering how to grill a thick steak without over- or under-cooking it, have no fear! As a former restaurant chef, I know a few tips and tricks to turn super-thick-cut steaks into perfectly cooked dinners. Read on to learn about my favorite techniques for grilling steak. These tips will turn you into a pro in no time!

1. Salt the steak at least 30 minutes in advance (but, preferably, overnight)

Salting is the very best thing you can do for a large steak. You don’t need much salt – just a nice sprinkle of kosher salt over the entire surface. Then, place it on a rack (uncovered) inside the fridge.

For best results, you’ll want to salt the steak a day in advance. If you’re running short on time 30 minutes will work…but when it seasons longer, the salt can work its way deep into the meat. As the salt seasons the meat, it also pulls out moisture. Given only 30 minutes, you’ll have to blot off that excess moisture off with a paper towel. But, with more time, the brine will reabsorb into the meat and create a super flavorful steak.

2. Prepare your steak for the grill

Part of this step is the infamous “allow your steak to come up to room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes.” While that’s great when you have the time (because it promotes even cooking), it’s not strictly necessary. For example: in most restaurants, your steak is kept under refrigeration until the moment you order it. So, while this step is helpful when grilling steak, it’s not required

A better way to prepare your steak for the grill is to make sure the surface is very dry. If you salted it the night before, you’re set. The steak sat uncovered in the refrigerator and the surface dried out really nicely. If you didn’t have time for that, pat it dry (super well) with paper towels before hitting the grill.

3. Grill over indirect heat

You might be used to grilling steaks over a blazing hot fire. If you’re cooking a 1-inch steak (or, a thinner cut like flank steak), that’s definitely the way to go. When it comes to thick-cut steaks, you’ll end up burning the exterior before you can reach a perfect medium-rare inside. Solving this problem is easy: it’s all about time and temperature.

Set up your grill for indirect heat and cook the steak on the cooler side. This will promote even cooking, inside and out. When it gets close to the desired cooking temperature (about 10 degrees away), flip it onto the hot side of the grill. Sear it for a few minutes on each side until it’s finished cooking and you’ve gotten your grill marks. This reverse sear method may seem counterintuitive, but it creates the best browning and a nice, caramelized crust.

4. Sous Vide your Steak

If you really want a perfectly cooked steak and you have an immersion circulator (like the Anova Culinary Sous Vide Precision Cooker), now’s a good time to try out sous vide cooking. This style of cooking uses vacuum sealed bags to cook food in a water bath. It really takes out all of the guesswork – the water bath will cook your steak to a consistent, perfect temperature edge to edge.

Anova has an app that details the exact time and temperature to cook your steak for every level of doneness. Simply seal up the bag, drop it into the water bath, and let it cook away. Once it’s finished cooking, you can bring it out to the grill to give it grill marks and to brown the exterior (that same reverse sear method we talked about in the indirect heat tip).

5. Use a Meat Thermometer

Professional chefs cook so many steaks in their career that they know the level of doneness just by touching the meat. You might feel pretty comfortable with this technique on thinner steaks, too, but it’s harder to estimate the temperature of a really thick steak. Take the mystery out of it by investing in an instant-read meat thermometer (we like the Lavatools Javelin).

Your meat thermometer doesn’t care how thick the steak is, so take advantage of its precision. You’re aiming for 130° F for rare, 140° F for medium-rare, 150° F for medium, and 160° F for well done. The steak’s temperature will continue to rise the additional 5 degrees as it rests.

6. Don’t Forget to Let it Rest

As with all large cuts of meat, you should let your steaks rest before slicing into them. You want those juices to redistribute within the meat instead of spilling out onto the cutting board! A good rule of thumb is to let it rest for 5 minutes per inch of thickness (or, ten minutes per pound). For most steaks, that means anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes. Don’t worry – I promise it won’t get cold while it rests!

Since a thick steak takes a bit longer to grill than a thinner steak, go ahead and prepare one of these grilled appetizers while you wait to keep everyone from getting hangry!

Get grilling!
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Lindsay D. Mattison
Lindsay is a professional chef, recipe developer, writer and developmental editor. After years of working in restaurant kitchens, she turned to writing to share her skills and experience with home cooks and food enthusiasts. She's passionate about using local, organic ingredients and teaching others how to incorporate seasonal food into their diet. Lindsay still cooks professionally for pop-up events, writes for several publications and is the co-author of two books about Ayurveda.