Cooking the perfect steak on the grill is both an art and a science—it can take years for even the most talented chefs to learn the tricks they need to succeed. To help you become a steak master in your own home, we asked some of the country’s best chefs to give us their secrets for how to grill the best steaks. Armed with these tips, you’ll be well on your way to the best cookout you’ve ever had.
1. Go to the butcher whenever possible.
You can find steaks at any grocery store, but you don’t necessarily know where they came from—or how long ago they were cut. Instead, opt to go to a butcher for all your steaks. And if that’s not feasible, shop at a grocer that cuts meat in the store, like Wegman’s or Whole Foods.
2. When in doubt, pick the ribeye.
The best steaks for at-home grilling are marbled beef ribeye steaks or bone-in ribeye steaks (often called “cowboy steaks”), says Michael Vignola, Corporate Executive Chef at Strip House and Bill’s Bar & Burger. “The marbling enhances the flavor of these cuts while basting the meat in the cooking process to ensure a juicy steak,” Vignola says. Not sure what marbling is? It’s the little white flecks of fat in the meat.
3. Look for thickness.
When selecting your steaks, try to get one that is at least an inch thick, if not one-and-a-half or two inches. “The thickness will help in achieving that bullseye red center of perfection,” says Vignola. “I prefer buying a larger, thicker cut steak and carving for my friends and family.”
4. Get the center cut.
Always get a uniform cut of meat from the center, advises Chef Phil Yandolino, founding chef at BRIO Tuscan Grille. “Whether cooking a New York strip steak, a porterhouse steak, or a tenderloin, the uniformity that a center-cut provides can help to maintain the quality of the end result and will ensure even cooking,” Yandolino says.
5. Go for grass-fed beef.
Grass-fed beef is not only higher in omega-3s, but it’s also better tasting than the average cut of beef. “Now that I’ve gotten used to the cleaner, fuller taste of grass-finished beef, grain-fed beef tastes really one-note to me,” says Kim Brauer, chef and recipe developer at Marx Foods.
6. Think outside the ribeye.
Yes, we think ribeyes are a great cut of meat. But if you don’t want to drop a bunch of cash on an expensive meal, you can still find a good piece of steak. “Choosing less-common cuts is a good way to get a great steak at a better price point,” says Brauer. “The teres major (the shoulder), for example, is almost as tender as a filet mignon at a third of the price, and I think it’s even tastier.”
7. Avoid “enhanced” beef.
Skip the steaks that say “enhanced” on the label. This means the meat has been injected with additives, which can affect your meat’s taste. Another common enhancer is saline solution, which is meant to increase the steak’s size and moisture levels.
8. Don’t trim the fat.
When you’re preparing your steak for the grill, don’t cut the fat off! Fat might look unappetizing on the sides of an uncooked steak, but don’t cut all of it off. Fat gives taste to steak, so leaving a little bit on there—in addition to the marbled bits mentioned earlier—can give your bites a little extra oomph.
9. But do trim the skin.
Depending on which cut you choose, you may need to trim some silver skin off your steak, says Brauer. “This looks just like it sounds—silvery, slightly-shimmery bands running along the side of some steaks that don’t soften in cooking and hang around as gristly bits,” he says.
10. Oil it up.
Use a canola and olive blended oil to coat the steak before seasoning it. “Either an 80/20 or 90/10 ratio [of canola to olive] will get the job done,” says Vignola. “Be sure to lightly coat the steak. The oil will allow the surface temperature to get seared fast, ensuring a juicier final product as well as greatly aiding the charring of the meat’s surfaces.”
Save your expensive olive oils for salads, where their subtle flavors will shine brightest. Plus, some oils can’t handle high head and can actually hurt your health!
11. Skip the fancy marinades…
In addition to oil, a well-marbled steak only needs coarsely ground black pepper and kosher salt to bring it to flavor perfection. “Be sure to season a bit more than you might regularly season a sautéed item,” Vignola says. “Some of the steak’s seasoning will be lost in the grilling process; you want to be sure to have enough on the steak to get the job done.”
12. unless you have a “lesser” cut of meat.
Add a marinade to make lesser cuts like tri-tip and flank steak tastier. “This will help in providing more flavor and help break down its fibrous structure,” says Albert Balbas, executive chef at d.k Steak House in Waikīkī, Hawaii. An easy one to try? Mix some olive oil, balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, dijon mustard, and garlic together for an easy, flavorful steak marinade.
13. Start with a clean grill.
Clean your grill with a wire brush after every use—and make sure to do it while it’s hot. “When preparing the grill for a cut of steak, heat it for about 30 minutes or so, allowing it to heat to approximately 600 degrees Fahrenheit,” says Yandolino.
As it’s heating up, brush the grill grates with oil to prevent any sticking. But be careful about using a cheap or old brush in which the wires get caught on the grill; believe it or not, but this is the very cause for an uptick in hospital visits in the summer months.
14. Light up with charcoal.
Gas grills might be popular, but master chefs prefer to use charcoal grills. Use a chimney starter to light up, suggest Anthony Chin and Wade McElroy of Horse Thief BBQ in Los Angeles. “This eliminates the need for lighter fluid, which can impart a bad taste onto your meat,” Chin says.
15. Make sure the grill is hot before you start.
High heat sears the cooking surface of the meat, which translates to a juicier steak and allows the delicious char to happen.
If you’re cooking with charcoal, make sure you wait until the charcoal turns white and is evenly spread out, adds Robert Liberato, executive chef at STK LA. “Don’t rush the process with extra lighter fluid or throw a steak on the grill when there is an open flame,” Liberato says. “That only immediately burns the meat.” And that gives it a bad flavor, not the “I like it burnt” kind.
16. Don’t let the grill get too hot.
A little flame is your friend, but a lot is your enemy. “Keep two sides of the grill hot and move the steak to the second hot spot if the first grilling area is aggressively flaming up,” says Vignola.
Dousing with water is a last resort. “You want to keep the grill as hot as possible, but if it’s between the house going up and a well-charred steak, I’d give a nod to keeping the house intact,” Vignola says. Us, too!
17. Forget the fork.
It might be easy to stab your meat with a fork to turn or flip it, but resist the urge unless you want an unevenly cooked steak. “Fork punctures allow juices to escape and can lead to drying, less flavorful protein,” says Liberato. “Always use a spatula or tongs.” It sounds minor, but these are the little things that add up to cooking the best steak ever!
18. Don’t be a drag.
Don’t drag the steak over the grill when turning; simply pick it up in one motion and place it back with the same motion. “Once you have started the steak on the hot spot leave it be, allow it the meat to sear evenly,” says Vignola. “Once the meat is charred, pick it up and flip onto the cooler spot of your grill. Flipping the steak too often can sabotage the charring of the meat and eliminate most of the seasoning on the steak.”
19. Keep tabs on the temperature.
Always keep an instant-read meat thermometer handy while grilling. It takes the guesswork out of determining its cooking status, especially when cooking for a group of people who want theirs prepared at different temperatures. A rare steak should hit 120 degrees Fahrenheit, while a medium steak should top 140 degrees Fahrenheit, and a well-done should hit at 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
20. Add grill marks like a pro.
Those perfect grill marks are like a stylish garnish to your meal. They’re pretty simple to do, too. “To make diamond grill marks on the meat, sear it on an angle and then turn before flipping the steak to the other side,” says Balbas.
21. Be patient.
We know you can’t wait to devour your creation, but be patient! Once any piece of meat is cooked, it’s important to let it rest for seven to 10 minutes (depending on the cut) before slicing. “Since the juices get squeezed to the outside during the cooking process, allowing it a chance to sit will help the juices disperse evenly throughout the center of the meat,” Liberato says.
22. Give your steak an encore.
After the steak has rested, put it back on the grill for about 30 seconds on each side just before serving to get a surface sizzle going. “A little sprinkle of gray sea salt on the steak allows for a gentle and focused re-seasoning of the steak,” says Vignola.
23. Add a bit of seasoning.
Rub on some seasoning for a little added flavor. “Pink Himalayan sea salt, pink and white peppercorns, cinnamon, brown sugar, chili and chipotle powders, and espresso powder-based rubs will all elevate the meat’s natural flavor,” says Yandolino.
24. Don’t overlook the importance of butter and herbs.
For a mouthwatering filet mignon, butter and garlic are the key ingredients. Chef Saul Montiel of Cantina Rooftop in New York City suggests adding butter, thyme, and smashed garlic for a to-die-for steak.
25. Pair it with red wine.
It’s finally time to eat! How can you make the experience even more amazing? Just add wine. It’s a well-known fact that the right pairing of red wine and steak can elevate the flavors of both. You’ll want to stick with red over white or rosé because red wines have more tannins that complement the fats in your steak. Not feeling very confident about your wine choice? You really can’t go wrong with a Cabernet Sauvignon or even a Malbec.