With summertime comes grilling time and one of the most common items grilled in the Midwest is steak. Cooking steak can be daunting for beginners. Knowing how to identify the various steaks and how to best prepare each for grilling is a good place to begin. Learning the range of doneness and how to achieve each takes some of the stress away from the grilling process. Over time, this becomes something of a reflex — you just know.
Degrees of doneness
Rare steaks have a cool red center and register at 125 degrees on a thermometer. Steaks cooked to medium-rare have a warm red center and register at 135 degrees. Steaks cooked to medium doneness have a warm pink center and register at 145 degrees. Medium-well steaks should be cooked to 150 degrees and have a slightly pink center. Well-done steaks have almost no pink and should be cooked to 160 degrees. While temperature is the best way to know if your steak is done, sticking a thermometer into the middle of a steak lets its juices run out. Invest in an infrared thermometer if you plan to do a lot of grilling.
Cooking times will vary based on the cut of meat and thickness of the steak. Generally, a one-inch thick sirloin cooked to medium-rare will take 8 to 10 minutes. The longer a steak cooks, the more firm the meat will become. A rare steak will have much more give or bounce when poked than a well-done steak.
Tips for a great steak
Using a wet marinade can enhance the flavor of your steak and make tough cuts more tender. Marinate tender cuts of beef for at least 15 minutes and no more than two hours. Any longer will cause the steak to break down. Tougher cuts should be marinated for at least six hours but no more than 24 hours.
A dry marinade or rub will also enhance the flavor of your steak and, unlike wet marinades, can be rubbed on the steak as much as three days ahead of grilling. They do not tenderize meat like wet marinades, however. Rub steak with olive oil before coating them in the dry rub.
Let your steak warm up to room temperature before grilling. This can take up to an hour depending on the cut and size of the steak. Going directly from the refrigerator to a hot grill will result in a chared outside and grayish inside.
When purchasing your steak, consider the thickness. Thin steaks cook fast — sometimes too fast — and end up overcooked before you know it. One- to two-inch thick cuts are ideal because it allows for the best char on the outside while the steak cooks to the perfect doneness on the inside.
Salt is your friend when it comes to seasoning your steak, especially if you haven’t used a marinade. Be generous and don’t worry about your steak being too salty. Salt serves a very important purpose of retaining water which results in a more succulent steak. Pat each steak dry with a paper towel — this allows for a browner crust — and lightly sprinkle each side with Kosher salt just prior to grilling. Press the salt into the steak. Kosher salt will give your steak a better crust on the grill.
Always let your steak rest for 10 to 15 minutes after removing it from the grill and before cutting or serving. This time allows for the juices to settle back inside the steak.
When slicing steak, always cut thin slices against the grain. This will produce a more tender bite that is easier to chew.
Best cuts for grilling
Flank steak is a lean and boneless cut with intense flavor. It is great for marinating and should be sliced thin after grilling.
A porterhouse steak can easily serve two people — or one with a big appetite! This steak is the perfect combination of a strip steak and tenderloin that are separated by a bone. It is also one of the most expensive cuts. A porterhouse should be simply seasoned with Kosher salt and cracked pepper before grilling.
A ribeye steak is rich and full of flavor. It has generous marbling throughout which only adds to its flavor when grilled. Kosher salt and cracked pepper are all these flavorful steaks need.
Skirt steaks are long, flat and full of flavor. They are not tender, however, so marinate them before grilling. Slice skirt steaks against the grain to serve.
Strip steaks are tender and lean and usually sold boneless. They have slight marbling that adds to their succulent flavor and texture. Season simply with Kosher salt and cracked pepper or a dry rub before grilling.
While a T-bone steak is smaller than a porterhouse, it has the same great flavor and tenderness at a lesser price. It is also a combination of the strip and tenderloin steaks but has less of the tenderloin than a porterhouse.
Filet mignon is a tenderloin steak and is the most tender cut you can buy. It has a buttery texture that makes it rich in flavor. Filets are sold boneless and often wrapped in bacon. Season this steak simply before grilling.
Flat iron steaks are cut from the shoulder and have a lot of connective tissue making it much tougher than other cuts. This requires it to be marinated for a long time before grilling then sliced thin for serving.
The eye of round and bottom round steaks are two of the best value cuts. They are sold boneless. Marinate both before grilling and slice thin against the grain to serve.
Sirloin tip steaks are boneless and fairly tender. They offer a good value and can be purchased as individual steaks. Marinate before grilling for the best result.