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Grilling the perfect steak is not rocket science but it does require an understanding of basic principals to prepare a tender and juicy steak.
- Meat Selection – Leaner does not mean better. Select meat that comes from the tenderloin, short loin and rib primal cuts. This includes New York strip, t-bone, fillet mignon and porterhouse cuts. I trim my steaks of most of the fat at the edges to minimize flare-ups. However, the rest of the meat should be well “marbled.” This means the steak should have a decent amount of intramuscular fat laced throughout the muscle tissue.
- Thickness – With the exception of fillet mignon, I like my steaks cut no thicker than 1”. This allows me to achieve a nice char on the meat and still produce a medium-rare steak. I like my fillet mignons 1½” to 2”.
- Seasoning – Good quality meat does not require a lot of seasoning. You want to be able to taste the meat. Seasoning should be a supporting element to the steak, not overwhelm it. Use less expensive cuts to create strong flavor profiles. See my article at http://thymeforachef.com/
resources/grilling_4.htmlfor more on using rubs and seasoning mixing. When salting your meat, remember that salt will draw moisture out of the meat. Therefore, either salt your steaks right before you put them on the grill, OR salt them at least 30 minutes prior to grilling. 30 minutes or more is required to allow the salt to dissolve and allow the extracted juices to re-absorb into the meat.
- Grill Cleanliness – Despite what Uncle Bubba told you, all the grunge coating on the grates is NOT a flavoring agent! Take the time to get your grill hot enough to ash off any debris from previous grilling. If the grill is still billowing smoke and firefighters are at your door because your neighbor thought your house was on fire, the grill is not yet clean. Once the smoke has subsided almost completely, give it a good scrubbing with a steel or brass brush, whichever the manufacturer recommends for your grill.
- Heat – Make sure the grill is hot. This along with proper lubrication will prevent your meat from sticking to the grates. The typical grilling temperature for 1” steaks is approximately is 550 °F to 600 °F. Go to http://thymeforachef.com/
resources/grilling_3.htmlfor guidelines on how to determine temperature and the doneness of the meat simply using only your hand.
- Lubricate your grill – Once your grill is cleaned and hot, the only thing required to complete your symphony of flavor is to make sure you lubricate the grates on your grill. Use either a canola aerosol spray, or a rolled up towel with some canola oil on it that you can rub across the grates using a pair of tongs.
Now you are ready to cook! Simply place the steak on the grates and:
- Allow them to cook for 3 to 3 ½ minutes.
- Lift them and rotate the about 45° to achieve those fancy grill marks you see in the commercials, allowing them to cook for another 3 to 3 ½ minutes.
- Using tongs, flip the steaks (ONCE), and allow them to cook for another 3 to 3 ½ minutes.
- Lift and rotate 45° and allow them to cook 3 to 3 ½ minutes to get those pretty marks on the second side.
Doing the math, this means your steak will have cooked for 12 to 14 minutes total. 12 minutes is typically rare and 14 minutes is medium rare. Cooking any longer will result in a dry steak. Never cook beyond “medium.” If you cook a quality steak beyond medium, I humbly recommend you get a piece of rawhide from Petsmart and gnaw on it; you will save money because the rawhide is significantly cheaper than the steak and lasts about as long.
Be kind to your meat. Handle it as little as possible. It didn’t do anything to you, so leave it alone and don’t bother it. This means:
- No forking the meat to turn it, or otherwise manipulate it. Use tongs. Remember, the meat is dead; there is no need to spear it with anything. Beside, “fork” is the four-letter F-word in grilling. There is no need to use that kind of language or implement.
- NO pressing!!!!!! Do not press down on the meat with a spatula or anything else. Again, the meat is already dead; you do not need to prove it to yourself. There is no life remaining, nor need to beat on it. Allow the meat to give you what you paid for: juiciness, texture and flavor.
- NO cutting into it to see if it is cooked! This only drains the life juices from what was potentially the world’s best steak, and is a public demonstration to all grill masters and casual observers that you have no clue what you are doing. If you do not review my Grilling Temperature Management page under the Resources section to overcome this unnecessary aggravated assault on defenseless meat, sell or donate your grill to a worthy cause.
- NO constant flipping, this just dries out the steak as the flipping does not allow the surface temperature of the steak to get hot enough to caramelize. This is also a sign of indecisiveness, a lack of confidence, and that you do not understand the importance of taking time out to enjoy a quality micro-brew, or other frosty adult beverage while grilling. Get counseling as soon as possible.
In summary, four things are required of the grill to produce a perfectly cooked steak: the grill must be cleaned, hot, lubricated, and you must handle the meat as little as possible.