10 Mistakes We're (Almost) All Making When Grilling Steak
And how to fix them.
Grilling steak can be quite intimidating, especially for beginners. But the hassle is well worth it when you have steak that's beautifully seared on the outside and perfectly tender on the inside. Before you fire up the grill, make sure you're not falling victim to one of these common mistakes. Ahead are 10 mistakes to avoid when grilling steak and how to fix them.
Related: How to Cook Steak 4 Different Ways
1. Choosing the Wrong Piece of Steak
Arguably the hardest part of grilling a steak is choosing the right one to begin with. There are a few important factors to consider when choosing the right steak for grilling:
First, you're going to want to select the right grade of steak. You'll typically find three options in a U.S. supermarket: Select, Choice, and Prime. Prime grade accounts for just under two percent of all beef in the nation, so it can be difficult to come by in your average supermarket. However, Select grade and Choice grade are readily available. Select grade beef is just above what the USDA deems edible, so it's worth it to spend the extra money for Choice, if you can swing it.
Next, you'll need to look at the fat. When it comes to steak, fat equals flavor. Look for steak that has a bright red color and a decent amount of marbling. Marbling is the intramuscular fat present in high quality beef.
And finally you'll want to decide on a cut. This will ultimately come down to personal preference, but certain types of steak do lend themselves to grilling more than others. These popular types of steak are great for grilling thanks to their well-marbled meat and tender muscle: tenderloin, New York strip, ribeye, top sirloin, t-bone, and porterhouse.
2. Grilling Steak Straight From the Fridge
Taking your steak straight from the fridge to the grill will result in one of two things: The outside will char while the inside remains undercooked or the interior will require so much cooking time to reach doneness that the steak turns dry and gray below the surface. Neither of these is ideal, as the goal of grilling steak is to lightly char the outside while cooking the inside to tender, juicy doneness.
So what's the solution? Take your steak out of the fridge about 30 minutes to an hour before grilling. This is also the perfect time to season it (more on that below). The only exception to this rule is if you're using a thin steak. Grilling a thin steak cold can help to prevent you from overcooking the center.
3. Forgetting to Pat Down the Meat
Part of what makes grilling steak so appealing is the delicious crust that develops from the meat on the hot grates. However, wet meat is going to steam and prevent you from getting that crisp outer crust. Be sure to pat the meat dry with a paper towel before seasoning and grilling in order to develop an even crust.
4. Skimping on the Seasoning
When it comes to grilling steak, salt is essential. It's the secret to a bold, flavorful crust. When you think you've salted enough, salt more. You actually lose a lot of seasoning during the grilling process, so it's pretty difficult to over-salt.
Here's what you should do: salt the meat with sea salt or kosher salt (plus any other spices you may prefer) about 30 minutes to an hour before grilling, and leave the meat out to sit at room temperature. This way, the salt will begin to penetrate the meat, and when the steak hits that hot great you'll get a mouthwateringly-good crust.
5. Using Charcoal Briquettes
While convenient, using charcoal briquettes and lighter fluid can add an unpleasant kerosene flavor to your steak. Instead opt for wood or natural lump charcoal when available. You can also use a propane grill, but the best results will come from hardwood or hardwood lump charcoal (like this Amazon bestseller).
6. Flipping the Steak More Than Once
Ever heard of the Maillard reaction? It's a chemical reaction between amino acids and sugars that gives browned food its distinctive flavor. It's the reason for that beautiful sear we're all trying to achieve when grilling steaks.
But turning your steak too much defeats the purpose of searing the outside to get it all brown and delicious (and to lock in all the juices). Instead of flipping every few minutes, put your steak on a hot grill until it starts to caramelize, and flip it just once.
7. Not Using a Meat Thermometer
No matter how much of a grill master you consider yourself to be, trying to test the doneness of a steak by hand is very tricky. Using a meat thermometer (this $13 thermometer has over 10,000 reviews on Amazon) helps take the guesswork out of temping a steak.
Beef should have an internal temperature of 145 to 160 degrees F, depending on how you prefer it. Refer to our guide on grilling times for beef to see just how long you should cook your steak to reach the desired temperature.
8. Cutting Into the Steak Too Soon
It's important to remember that just because a steak is no longer on the grill, doesn't mean it's finished cooking. If you don't let your steak rest, all of those flavorful juices are just going to go to waste on the cutting board.
Allowing your steak to rest, rather than cutting straight into it, gives the collagen in the meat time to thicken the juices, giving you a more flavorful, juicy steak. You should allow your steak to rest for at least five minutes before cutting it. Larger cuts of meat, like flank steaks or hanger steaks, should rest for five to 10 minutes.
9. Slicing With the Grain
Cutting in the same direction as the grain will make your steak harder to chew, since the muscle fibers will remain intact. Always cut steak against (or perpendicular to) the grain, as this cuts through the fibers making them easier to chew.
10. Waiting to Clean Your Grill Grates
Once you've successfully grilled your steak without making any of the mistakes above (of course), the work is still not done. A dirty grill means a mediocre steak, so cleaning is a must. The best time to clean your grill is while the grates are still hot.
After each use, clean the grates using a wire brush (you can get this one on Amazon for $4) to remove debris. Pour vegetable oil on a paper towel and rub the grates with it to prevent food from sticking during future use. Learn more from our guide on how to clean a grill.