Nothing says summer like a beautiful day outdoors standing at the grill with a gorgeous cut of steak and a perfect glass of wine.
Of course, many of us have also had some pretty mediocre steaks off the grill, and some of us may have even been the ones who grilled those steaks and feel responsible for the lackluster results. The good news is this: For any mistakes we’ve been making grilling, there is a fix that can upgrade the resulting steak in a major way, according to our experts.
From choosing the right cut of meat for grilling, and making sure your cooking temp and time matches up to its cut and thickness, to seasoning and keeping the grill hot but not too hot, there’s a whole lot to consider during the deceptively simple act of throwing a steak on the grill. But get it right and you’ll be rewarded with a pretty special dinner to enjoy at the end of the evening. Now, let’s get some tips on exactly how from the grilling specialists themselves.
Choosing the wrong steak is an all-too-common grilling mistake
Not all steaks are created equal, and choosing the right cut of meat will make a big difference when tossing it onto the grill.
The first mistake people make with meat is buying poor quality cuts. "Meat is like electronics — buy cheap, and you will be very disappointed. Buy the best meat you can…grass fed, organic, choice meat or better, NOT select," Frederic Delaire, Executive Chef at Loews Miami Beach Hotel, told Mashed.
Buy a thick cut of steak; thin cuts overcook too easy, but a thick one will be more forgiving. "A thick cut allows for control and for the fire to infuse more flavor. It also gives a little room for error," Joy Beber, Executive Chef and co-owner of Joy Cafe in Atlanta, told Mashed.
Once you choose that steak, be forgiving with the fat, too. Fat is not a bad thing! People often trim all the fat off of meat thinking it is bad for them, "this is where the flavor is," according to Delaire. "Always leave some fat and it will melt during cooking and give great flavor to the meat," Delaire said.
Treating your grill right is key for delicious steak
When it comes to mistakes when grilling meat, it’s first things first, and not having a clean grill is often mistake number one. This may seem obvious, but it’s an easy one to miss.
"You must have a clean grill and clean it as you go. This will help create a proper sear and prevent burning," Olivier Senoussaoui, Executive Chef at the Loews Atlanta Hotel, told Mashed. Why wouldn’t you want a clean grill before getting started? That’s also a way to avoid stale flavors from another dinner carrying over!
Once you have a clean grill, you need to think about the right use of a heat source. Using fuel to start your grill when cooking with charcoal is another mistake. "Burning fuel to start the grill can make meat taste funny. Use a chimney starter to light charcoal, which is available at any hardware store," said Senoussaoui.
And then, respect that grill by using the right tools on it. Using a fork to turn meat on the grill is a crime! "All of the flavor of the meat will be released when you pierce it. The best way to flip your meat is by using tongs," said Senoussaoui.
Not getting the grill hot enough could mean lackluster steak
Oftentimes, people are looking for those classic grill marks — or diamonds as some call them — but they don’t allow the grill to get hot enough and then move the meat too often. "It’s a classic mistake, and the signature grill marks don’t set in and you end up letting too much heat out while trying to manipulate the steak," Kita Roberts of Girl Carnivore tells Mashed.
To master those grill marks, you must make sure the grill is hot enough. "Instead of tossing steaks right on the grill, allow the grill to come to temperature for 15 to 20 minutes before you even plan to put the steak on," said Roberts.
The grill needs to be holding heat, and the grate needs to be hot enough to sear the meat initially, creating the classic crosshatch. "Once the steak hits the searing hot grates, close the lid and ignore it for one minute. Rotate 45 degrees and then wait another minute before flipping the steak. The thicker the steak, the longer the cooking time, but on average, for a one-inch steak that one-minute trick is perfect to nail the signature grill mark we all want when not cooking in cast iron, but over a grill!" said Roberts.
This trick works whether you are cooking directly over the coals or doing a reverse sear.
Be sure to choose fresh herbs when grilling steak
Grilling is so associated with summer, and summer means fresh flavors. What better way to appreciate that then to use herbs from your garden?
"Summer is the season for fresh herbs and spices. Build flavors to enhance the overall taste and presentation of your steak with what you already have," Michael Ollier, Senior Corporate Chef for the Certified Angus Beef brand, told Mashed.
One idea is to build a brush with herbs from around your house and some oil and to baste the grates on your grill with the mixture for added flavor. "Simply dip into a bowl of your favorite oil and brush directly onto the grates. The heat will awaken the herbs, bringing out their aromas," said Ollier.
Another idea is to rest your grilled steaks on top of your favorite chopped herbs and olive oil to automatically create a board dressing. "The heat from the steak will activate the flavors from the herbs, infusing the fresh taste with the robust beef flavor," said Ollier.
Cutting into a steak while grilling is unnecessary
One of the biggest mistakes people make when grilling a steak is cutting into it to see if it’s done while it’s still cooking. It’s understandable why it may seem like a helpful thing to do, but it’s a disaster for that meat.
"Cooking meat to a safe temperature is not only critical in the food safety for your family and friends, but it is also easy with cheap, modern technology. We have the technology to help us be better cooks and the digital meat thermometer is probably my number one must-have for the kitchen," Jessica Randhawa, head chef and creator behind The Forked Spoon, told Mashed.
Steak, along with poultry, fish, and pork can now be cooked to perfection without having to guess and cut into the meat, which causes the loss of both moisture and nutrients. "Most readily available meat thermometers with replaceable batteries can be purchased for around $10, and some even have the temperatures for the various meats printed right on the thermometer itself," said Randhawa.
Not letting steak rest after grilling is another common mistake
Nothing kills a steak more than not giving it a few minutes to rest. "If you cut your steak right away, you’ll watch all of the flavorful juices run out," Ray Rastelli, Jr., butcher and President of Rastelli Foods Group, told Mashed.
Letting the steak rest allows the juices to reabsorb into the meat, creating tender juicy bites. "Ten minutes should do it," said Rastelli, who says if you have foil on hand, it’s best to create a "tent" around your steak to keep the heat in while it rests. Once it’s rested, slice it up and dig in.
This is the number one tip for juicier meat, according to Devan Cameron, chef and owner of recipe site Braised & Deglazed . "I know you’ll want to eat the steak right away but it’s crucial you let the steak rest in a warm place for 5-10 minutes," Cameron told Mashed.
Leaving your steak be will also allow the juices to thicken slightly as they cool, so when you go to slice your steak, you don’t have the juices spilling out everywhere.
Watch out for not drying steak well enough before grilling
The secret to a good steak is controlling the moisture. "Too much moisture will result in a grey, sad-looking steak instead of a nicely charred exterior," Devan Cameron, chef and owner of Braised & Deglazed, a food-focused website with recipes and tips, told Mashed.
If you want your steak to get a nice sear on the grill, pat drying it is crucial, and it’s as easy as the name implies. Just take some paper towels and use them firmly pat the meat on both sides before seasoning and searing. You want all the flavor you can get, but you want that without drawing out the meat’s moisture.
Pat drying is a great way to get that meat to have a beautiful sear and a gorgeous crust. Don’t skip this important step! Remember, people eat with their eyes first, so presentation is everything.
Flipping too much while grilling could ruin a perfect steak
Leave that steak alone! Once you have your coals and the grill searing hot, go ahead and throw it on and just let it be for a bit. "Most people constantly flip their steak in fear that it will char or overcook," Leonard Botello, pitmaster and owner of TRUTH BBQ in Texas, told Mashed.
You don’t have to do all that to prevent overcooking. Instead, "leave the steak face down for about 4 mins and really let that crust build before you flip to the other side," said Botello.
When you flip, you are really finishing the steak and waiting for it to reach your desired internal temp. "I prefer medium-rare, so I will usually pull around 125 to 130 [degrees] internally. At the end of the cook, right about five degrees lower than my pull temp, I like to flip the steak every minute until it reaches 125," said Botello.
You must still be careful though, because the temperature will spike, and you can easily overcook or burn your meat — and cutting right after is also not a good idea. "Once you have pulled at your desired temperature, let the steak rest for a minimum of ten mins. If you cut into it too soon all the rendered fats will pour out of the steak and the steak will oxidize or dry out very fast. The rest ensures the fats soak back into the giving you a very juicy bite," said Botello.
Don’t forget that your grilled steak needs salt, fat, and acid
Seasoning at the right time, and in the right way, makes or breaks the steak. And that’s all about salt and fat.
Salt the steak right before grilling, our experts say. "If you pre-season the steak it will dry out and the taste will change to more of a cured-meat taste," Devan Cameron, chef and owner of Braised & Deglazed, a food-focused website with recipes and inspiration for home cooks, told Mashed.
And remember that if you add the pepper before you grill, you will burn the seasoning. "Some people like this, but I think it’s nicer to have the taste of fresh black pepper rather than burnt pepper on a steak," said Cameron.
Another mistake with seasoning is not adding enough butter. "I like to brush the steak after every turn with a mixture of butter and vinegar," said Cameron. This gives it a bit extra flavor and makes a beautiful grilled crust on the outside. "Mix one tablespoon of butter with one tablespoon red wine vinegar in a small pan and brush this on the steak as it cooks," said Cameron.
Don’t forget the acid along with the salt and fat. Most grillers know that salt is important, but they might not realize that acid is almost just as important. "A light squeeze of lemon juice will make all the difference," Joy Beber, Executive Chef and co-owner of Joy Cafe in Atlanta, told Mashed. Beber likes to go with the traditional Tuscany way of serving steak, "with a nice drizzle of good quality olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice and all of the accumulated juices from the resting plate on top!"