There’s nothing like chilling outside in the sun with an iced drink, listening to some funky music, and grilling up a fantastic meal. Luckily, as temperatures rise and the days get longer, we inch closer and closer to these days that I live for. I really enjoy this slow-paced, relaxed and somewhat primal form of cooking as it’s quite different from my every day kitchen-bound cooking. You get to hear different sounds, smell different mouth-watering smells, and feel different textures and sensations. Plus, barbequing is relatively effortless. All you really need is some good, high-quality ingredients to start out with and the grill will take care of all that intense flavour building.
To kick off the start of barbeque season, I thought I would provide a thorough overview of how to make the most popular barbeque food: steak. There are so many ways to cook a steak, but in my opinion, grilling the steak is your best bet at getting that delicious, juicy, beefy steak flavour. But before we get into the cooking methodology, it’s important to know a bit about the different cuts of steak and which ones are the best for grilling.
Types of steak (and their aliases)
- Rib Eye (aka Côte de Boeuf): This cut of steak is a top steak for grilling. It has lots of marbling, and has a rich flavour because of this. This steak is best cooked on a grill or in a cast iron pan over high heat. Since it is so tender, I like to cook this steak to a medium doneness.
- Strip Loin (aka Strip Steak, New York Striploin): Just like the rib-eye steak, this cut is a top steak for grilling. It is tender and has a true beefy taste. Look for a strip loin with even marbling throughout the cut to ensure the meat stays moist and tender on the grill. This steak is best served rare to medium-rare.
- T-Bone: This cut of steak is what steakhouses were founded on. This steak contains a cut both the tenderloin and strip steak with the t-shaped bone separating the two. This steak is tender but may have a bit of fat around the outside. Trim some of that off, get these babies on the grill, and cook no further than medium-well.
- Filet Mignon (aka Tenderloin Steak): This pricy cut of steak will leave your wallet a little empty, but your tummy will be full and satisfied. This cut is tender but not fatty and does not shrink very much once cooked. Filet mignon steaks are great wrapped in bacon and grilled or pan fried with a flavourful garlic butter-thyme sauce.
- Skirt Steak (Flank Steak): If you have ever had authentic Mexican Carne Asada tacos, you have had skirt steak. This cut of steak is flavourful but slightly on the tough side. This cut typically comes in quite a large piece but is even in thickness throughout, making it easy to cook. This steak is great for marinating or for adding dry rubs and grilling on the BBQ. Make sure that you cook this steak no further than medium doneness and to slice this steak against the grain to ensure it is easy to chew.
- Top Round (aka London Broil): This cut of steak is very lean and has a mild beef flavour. It has a slightly chewy texture to begin with, so you want to cook this type of steak no further than a medium doneness. For those looking to not spend too much money on steak, this cut is very economical.
While my favourite cut of steak is a strip loin, no matter what cut you choose, you want to make sure that the meat is fresh, and is bright red to a red-brown in colour. The more brown the steak is, the more aged it is. Aged steaks have a deeper beefy flavour and are really tasty but make sure to use them soon after you buy them. When buying steaks, I also make sure to ensure that it is even in thickness, has consistent marbling throughout the cut, and has a small fat cap on the outside of the steak. If you go to a good local butcher, they will likely have perfect or near-perfect cuts for you to choose from. And if you are ever in doubt or have questions, don’t hesitate to ask the butcher! They are there to help and are typically willing to share their knowledge and cooking tips.
Doneness & Temperatures
When it comes to cooking steak, I follow the wise words of Hank Hill (see below). I will cook a steak only to medium-well doneness, but I will never, and I truly mean NEVER, cook a steak to well-done. It just loses all of its tasty juices and gets tough, which is not what you want in a steak. I say that if you are not a fan of the raw texture of medium-rare or rare steaks, go for a medium-well doneness; there is just a touch of pink left in the center of the meat and is juicy, but blood isn’t pouring out over your plate.
Rare: This steak has a warm center and is bright red in the middle and browned on all sides. This is for those true steak lovers who enjoy the raw texture and lots of bloody juices. The steak is soft to the touch and has an internal temperature of 120 to 130 degrees F.
Medium-Rare: The center of the meat is warm, bright red, and is surrounded by pink meat and browned sides. The steak has give to the middle and has an internal temperature of 130 to 135 degrees F.
Medium: The steak has a thick band of light pink meat through the middle and be surrounded by a light brown meat and browned sides. This is most people’s favourite doneness for steak. The steak should still have a give to the middle but feel firm to the touch. The internal temperature for this steak is between 140 to 150 degrees F.
Medium-Well: This steak has very little to no pink and is mostly light brown in colour throughout. The steak will be firm, but will have a slight give in the center. The internal temperature for this steak sits between 155 to 165 degrees F.
Well-Done: I’m not even going to go there…
Preparing a Steak
Before the steaks hit the grill, there are some important steps that you should to follow. The first is to remove the steaks from the refrigerator 20-30 minutes before you want to grill them. Allowing the steaks to warm up to room temperature will ensure that the steak cooks evenly throughout and that you aren’t left with a cold, uncooked center.
Additionally, before you grill the steak, it is important to season it well. I season my steak liberally with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper on both sides and a drizzle of olive oil. Depending on the size of the steak, I use about 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons of sea salt to season both sides of the steak and about 2 tablespoons of ground black pepper. I love peppery steaks!
Some other great seasonings to add to the steak include a Canadian classic, Montreal Steak Spice Rub (black peppercorns, mustard seed, coriander, dill seed, garlic and chili flakes) and a tasty Carne Asada marinade.
Cooking a Steak
You can use an outdoor charcoal or gas grill to cook your steak, or you can even do this indoors on a well-seasoned cast iron griddle or cast iron pan. I would strongly advise to avoid cooking steaks in an everyday metal (or even worse, non-stick) pan as these do not impart the best flavour to the meat and may cook the steaks unevenly.
Whether you choose to cook on an outdoor or indoor grill (or a cast iron pan), the first trick to cooking a great steak is to make sure that your grill (or pan) is smoking hot. The grill should be between 450 to 500 degrees F. If you are using a BBQ, you will be able to read the temperature right off the grill, but if you are cooking inside on a griddle or pan, you may not be able to tell the temperature. To see if your grill is hot enough, check for white whisps of smoke rising from the grill. When you start to see smoke, you know it’s good and hot! You can also hold your hand about 10 centimeters above the grill and feel the heat on the palm of your hand. If you can’t hold your hand above the grill for more than 3-Mississippi counts, then it’s ready to go.
Before you place your steaks on the hot grill, drizzle about a tablespoon of olive oil onto a paper towel and rub it quickly across the grill grates. This will prevent the steak from sticking to the grill. Don’t worry about any flare ups, it will die down…just make sure you work quickly! If you are using a cast iron pan, add the oil directly to the center of the pan and swirl to evenly distribute.
Place the steak on the grill and do not touch it for at least 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. This will allow those beautiful charred grill marks to form and for the juices to really get sealed in. Flip the steak onto the other side and let it cook for another 1 1/2 to 2 minutes.
To get that classic cross-hatch pattern, turn the steak by 90 degrees when you flip it back over to the other side. Let the steak cook for another 1 to 1 1/2 minutes before flipping it over again. This cross-hatching will obviously only work for a grill, not a pan.
Now is a good time to check for the doneness of the steak. A good rule of thumb is that for every inch of thickness, cook the steak for about 10 minutes to get a medium doneness. You can use your judgement to determine the doneness of steaks from what I described above, or use an instant-read thermometer to get the most accurate results.
Resting & Serving
Letting the meat rest is the final step to cooking a great steak. While cooking, the steaks juices have been moving throughout the meat and they need some time to settle and get back into the meat before you cut into it. I let the meat rest for at least half the cook time, covered with aluminum foil to keep the steak warm. As an elegant finish to the steak, you can spread the tops of the steaks with some salted butter before covering them up and letting them rest. This adds great flavour and extra richness to the steak!
After the steak has rested you are ready to serve! You can serve a whole steak per person like a traditional steak dinner or you can slice it up into strips and serve it on a platter. If you opt to slice the steak, make sure that you slice the steak against the grain to make it easy to chew. I like to slice the steak up and serve it with my homemade Chimichurri Sauce. This herby, Argentinian sauce brightens up the beefy flavours of the steak and is generally a great sauce to have on hand all summer long! It not only goes great on steak, but also on grilled veggies, fish and chicken!
And there you have it- my guide to grilling the perfect steak…just in time for summer and for Father’s Day! I am always looking for steak recipes to feature on my blog- what are your favourites? Leave me a comment in the comments box below!
I hope that this quick and easy guide comes in handy this summer and that you enjoy your tasty steaks with your friends and family! Happy grilling!