How to Grill the Perfect Steak, According to a Professional Chef

Plus, tips on how to season your steak and know when it's done.

Grilled steak with salt and peper
Photo: vasiliybudarin

Summer is quickly approaching, which makes it the perfect time to brush up on your grilling skills. Grilled steak is a summer cookout classic, and a delectable one at that, but the process can be a little intimidating. Which cut should you get? How do you know when the steak done? Here, we'll answer those questions with the help of chef Chris Frothingham of Great Road Kitchen—a New American restaurant in Littleton, Mass.—so that you're a grill master just in time for barbecue season.

How to Shop for Steak

Before you go to the butcher or grocery store, you should decide what you're looking for in a steak. Different cuts have different characteristics, and one might be better suited for your needs than another. For example, if you're looking for a fast-cooking, affordable cut, flank steak is a great go-to, but if you're willing to splurge on something luxurious and hefty, you might opt for filet mignon.

That said, the general attributes to look out for in steak are an even, vibrant color (a sign of fresh, high-quality beef) and as uniform a thickness as possible, which will ensure that every section cooks at the same rate. Another thing to keep in mind when you're shopping is that steak is an inherently expensive variety of meat. You'll get what you pay for!

Steak Grilling Tips

Here is some fundamental grilling advice from chef Frothingham that you can apply to every cut of steak.

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Clean and Season Your Grill

Make sure your grill is clean and seasoned with a high-heat cooking oil (like canola oil) before you get started. In order to avoid flare-ups, you don't want too much excess oil, which can affect the taste of your steak. Brush the grates before and after use so that it's unsullied and ready for your next grilling adventure.

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Be Patient With Charcoal

If you're using charcoal, be patient! Let the coals burn to a nice, even heat, and your patience will be rewarded with the delicious, smoky flavor of a charcoal grill.

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Temper the Meat

Temper your meat before it hits the grill. Allow it to sit at room temperature for about an hour before you start grilling, which will make the steak cook faster and more evenly.

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Don't Skimp on Seasoning

Always season steak with kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper to enhance the meat's natural flavor.

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Leave the Steak Alone

Once the steak is on the grill, let it be! By poking it, you run the risk of drying it out, and if you move it around too much, the meat won't get a good crust or marks from the grill.

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And Let it Rest

After taking the steak off the grill, let it rest for about half the time it cooked for before cutting into it. During this stage, the juices redistribute, making for a more tender result.

Now that you know the basics of grilling steak, let's delve into how to best grill some specific cuts of meat.

How to Grill Flank Steak

Flank steak is a lean, relatively thin cut that cooks quickly on a hot grill. Since flank steak is less fatty than other cuts, it's best to marinate it for extra flavor. Frothingham recommends a cilantro-forward marinade with garlic, lime juice, canola oil, jalapeño, honey, shallot, oregano, and salt. Reserve some to finish the steak after cooking!

  1. Marinate the flank for at least 10 hours.
  2. Preheat the grill. Once it's hot, drain the flank from excess marinade to avoid flare ups.
  3. Place the flank on the grill. You should hear a nice searing sound!
  4. Cook the flank steak for about four to five minutes on each side, or until it reaches your desired doneness. Chef Frothingham prefers an internal temperature of 135 degrees.
  5. Let the steak rest before slicing against the grain and serving. Reserved cilantro marinade, grilled onions, and warm tortillas make for a wonderful accompaniment to flank steak.

How to Grill Skirt Steak

Chef Frothingham's favorite cut, skirt steak, is long and thin with a slightly chewy texture (in a good way!) that pairs well with marinades.

  1. Marinate the steak for at least 10 hours.
  2. Preheat the grill. Once it's hot, drain the skirt from excess marinade to avoid flare ups.
  3. Cook the skirt steak for about three to five minutes on each side, or until it reaches your desired doneness. Chef Frothingham prefers an internal temperature of 130 degrees.
  4. Let the steak rest before slicing against the grain and serving.

How to Grill a Rib-Eye Steak

Rib-eye is a fatty, flavorful cut of steak. You can marinate rib-eye if you'd like, but it tastes great with a simple seasoning of salt and pepper right before it hits the grill. As chef Frothingham says, "This is where less is more."

  1. Preheat the grill.
  2. Season the rib-eye generously with salt and pepper.
  3. Cook the rib-eye for about four to six minutes on each side, or until it reaches your desired doneness. Chef Frothingham prefers an internal temperature of 125 degrees. Rib-eye is a fatty cut, so watch out for flare ups.
  4. Let the steak rest and enjoy!

How to Grill Filet Mignon

Widely considered the most tender piece of steak, filet mignon has a fine-grained texture that melts in your mouth when cooked. Filet mignon doesn't have much fat, so it's important not to overcook it. Chef Frothingham likes cooking a filet in a cast iron skillet on the grill. A simple sauce of butter, rosemary, and garlic is a perfect pairing.

  1. Preheat the grill (with the cast iron skillet on top).
  2. Season the steak generously with salt and pepper before grilling.
  3. Add a little high-heat cooking oil to the skillet.
  4. Cook the filet mignon for about four to five minutes on each side, or until it reaches your desired doneness. Chef Frothingham prefers an internal temperature of 120 degrees.
  5. Let the steak rest before slicing and serving.

How to Grill Strip Steak (or New York Sirloin)

Strip steak is juicy and well-marbled with a bold, beefy flavor and the iconic shape of a wide top and small bottom. All it needs is the salt-and-pepper treatment, but a decadent Béarnaise sauce would also be lovely.

  1. Preheat the grill.
  2. Season the steak generously with salt and pepper before grilling.
  3. Cook the strip steak for about three to six minutes on each side, or until it reaches your desired doneness. Chef Frothingham prefers an internal temperature of 122 degrees.
  4. Let the steak rest before slicing and serving.

How to Grill Sirloin Steak

Sirloin doesn't have as much marbling as a rib-eye or strip steak, but it's still a great option for the grill—a hearty, versatile cut. Chef Frothingham notes that there are at least 10 cuts that can be considered a sirloin; the main difference between a N.Y. strip steak and a sirloin is the location on the cow and the fat content. He likes sirloin for steak sandwiches, or grilled and sliced over a big, fresh salad. You could marinate sirloin, or stick to salt and pepper.

  1. Marinate the steak (optional).
  2. Preheat the grill.
  3. If you didn't marinate the steak, season it generously with salt and pepper before grilling.
  4. Cook the sirloin steak for about four to seven minutes on each side, or until it reaches your desired doneness. Chef Frothingham prefers an internal temperature of 128 degrees.
  5. Let the steak rest before slicing and serving.

How to Grill Tri-Tip Steak

Tri-tip steak is a triangular cut that's on the leaner side, which means it's best marinated for a while before it hits the grill. For a slightly more affordable steak that still satisfies your craving for the richness of beef, tri-tip fits the bill. Chef Frothingham likes a miso marinade with yellow miso paste, honey, sesame oil, sriracha, canola oil, and rice wine vinegar.

  1. Marinate the steak in advance (anywhere from one hour to overnight) with a marinade of your choosing.
  2. Preheat the grill.
  3. Cook the tri-tip steak for about four to six minutes on each side, or until it reaches your desired doneness. Chef Frothingham prefers an internal temperature of 128 degrees.
  4. Let the steal rest before slicing and serving.

How to Tell When Steak Is Done

People have different hacks for testing the doneness of meat, but the most reliable way to tell when steak is done is with an instant-read meat thermometer. You can easily find affordable ones, and they'll give you peace of mind knowing that your steak is cooked to perfection. Make sure to stick the thermometer into the middle of the steak, and be sure it's not hitting a bone. If you're grilling multiple steaks at once, check the temperature of each one before taking them off; they could be cooking at different rates depending on their size, shape, and location on the grill. Lastly, keep in mind that your steak will keep cooking from residual heat after you take it off the grill and rise about 5 degrees in temperature.

Here's an easy guide to help you grill your ideal steak:

Rare: 115-120 degrees (to serve at 125 degrees)
Medium-rare: 120-125 degrees (to serve at 130 degrees)
Medium: 130-135 degrees (to serve at 140 degrees)
Medium-well: 140-145 degrees (to serve at 150 degrees)
Well: 150-155 degrees (to serve at 160 degrees)

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