The idea of grilling a steak seems simple. But in reality there are quite a few common things people are doing wrong. From start to finish, here are 10 things you might be doing wrong while grilling your steak, and how to correct your mistakes to grill the best steaks you’ve always wanted.
Selecting Thin Steaks
Some steaks that are less than 1 inch thick. These cook too fast on the high heat of an outdoor grill. The interior will be done long before the steak achieves a good sear or grill marks. Buy steaks that are at least 1 ½ – 2 inches thick for optimal results. If you selected thin steaks, grill them straight from the refrigerator to slow down the internal cooking while the outside sears.
Burning the Spices
Grilling uses high temperatures that will burn most spices, including ground black pepper, once they come into contact with the hot metal grates. Unless you enjoy the flavor of burnt spices, apply all spices after searing and while finishing the steak away from direct heat. You can also add the spices you enjoy in the form of a compound butter while the steak rests.
Skipping the Salt
There is a myth that salting a steak prior to grilling will dry out the meat. It would take several days and cups of salt for that to happen. In reasonable amounts, salt interacts with the proteins and natural sugars in the meat to create a tenderizing process that also enhances flavor. Use a good quality salt with larger crystals, such as kosher or most sea salts, and apply a shake or two on both sides of a steak and rub it in up to 24 hours before grilling.
Grilling Wet Meat
Taking steak right out of the package and placing the wet steak on hot grates will result in steamed steak. Moisture on the surface of the meat will instantly turn to steam and cook the steak, preventing it from browning properly. Use a paper towel to blot the surface moisture from the meat before grilling.
Overusing Cooking Oil
Coating grill grates with oil just prior to placing meat on them does absolutely no good. If the grates are at 450°F, the ideal heat for creating a sear, most oils will smoke. A small amount of cooking oil lightly brushed on the salted, dry surface of the steak can help conduct heat evenly over the surface of the steak; but once the steak browns, the surface proteins will separate from the grill grates, eliminating the need for oil.
Forgetting to Clean the Grill
You wouldn’t drink beer from a dirty glass, nor cook in a dirty frying pan or eat from a dirty plate. So why use a dirty grill? Left over food, sauce and grease from previous cookouts can throw off the flavor. All grates should be cleaned after each use to prevent build-up of gunk. If your grill has metal grates made from cast iron or bare steel, use a neutral vegetable oil to season them. It prevents rust and conditions the grates to better conduct heat.
Setting the Searing Temperature Too Low
The heat source for grilling a steak needs to be at least 450°F for ideal browning and grill marks. Grilling steaks at a lower temperature won’t achieve the best sear, and the extra time it takes to produce the sear will most likely result in overcooked meat. Once the meat is seared on the surface, you can move it to an area of the grill with a lower temperature and use indirect heat to finish cooking.
Using Only Direct Heat
High temperature direct heat is great for creating a perfect sear, but not for cooking the inside of a steak. By using only direct heat, you may end up with a perfectly seared steak that is too rare, or a well-cooked steak that is burnt on the surface. For a truly exceptional steak, sear the surface of the meat over high direct heat and then move the steak to indirect heat to finish roasting. This might be a different area of your grill if you are outdoors, or your oven if you are grilling indoors. This technique is used by restaurants to get steaks to the right degree of doneness without overcooking it the outside.
Trusting Your Palm Over a Thermometer
There are many tricks to testing a steak’s doneness by touch. This might be effective if one were to cook the same kind of steak at the same thickness each time. Since most people grill different cuts and sizes, the best way to tell if the steak is done is by using an accurate instant read thermometer. Insert the thermometer at the side edge of the steak (through the fat if there is any) and into the center of the meat.
Carving Hot Meat
During grilling,the inside of the steak is tightening, squeezing out moisture that is kept in by the sear on the outside of the steak. If you cut the meat as soon as it is removed from the grill, its juices will run out all over the plate or cutting board. Resting the meat before slicing allows the muscles to reabsorb some of the moisture. As the meat cools, the juices also become more viscous, so they will stay in the meat when sliced.
References and ResourcesHow to Grill the “Perfect” Beef Steak
A Trick For Grilling Thin Steaks
Mythbusting: “Palm Reading Steaks”
ResourcesMore Smart Tips for Grilling Thin Steaks
Tips About High Temperature Grilling
Sugar Burns & Other Facts Of Life