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How to Grill a Steak

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Select the Steak
Various cuts of steak on a cutting board.

Selecting quality meat is a crucial part of how to cook steak on a grill. Look for cuts that are well-marbled with little pockets of fat between muscle tissue. Marbling makes a more tender and flavorful steak.

Get these thicker cuts from the butcher, where you can request steaks that are 1 1/2-inches to 2-inches thick for maximum juiciness.

  • Ribeye: A ribeye is a very well-marbled cut that is full of beefy flavor. When you grill a steak with a high fat content, such as a ribeye, be sure to trim extra fat from the edges to reduce flare-ups from the hot coals.
  • Strip Steak: Whether you call it top sirloin, New York Strip or Kansas City Strip, this tender steak is full of marbling. It usually doesn’t need much trimming, making it easy to grill without flare-ups.
  • T-bone: This steak is named for the T-shaped bone that separates two cuts – the tenderloin and the richer, chewier strip steak. The tenderloin side cooks faster, so be sure to position it farther away from the hot coals and the strip side closer to the direct heat. 

These thinner cuts are known for plenty of beefy flavor and a pleasant chewy texture and can often be found pre-packaged in the supermarket. 

  • Flank: The flank steak is rich in flavor. Always serve flank steak sliced against the grain to maximize tenderness.
  • Hanger: Hanger has a strong beefy flavor and is especially good for marinating. Its looser muscle fibers will soak in flavor.
  • Skirt: The skirt steak is a very thin cut with plenty of fat and does very well with high-heat searing. It is important to slice skirt steak against the grain for tenderness.

Tip: The USDA evaluates beef and assigns a grade based on quality. Prime grade, with its abundant marbling, is primarily found in restaurants. Choice grade beef is high quality but has less marbling than Prime. Select grade is normally leaner beef. It may lack the juiciness and flavor found in higher grades.

Prep the Steak
A person seasoning cuts of steak before grilling.
  • Excess fat should be trimmed to reduce flare-ups. Leave 1/4-inch for flavor.
  • Sprinkle 1/2-teaspoon coarse salt per pound on both sides of the steak and return the steak to the refrigerator for an hour or two. The salt will be sucked into the meat and act as a brine to help keep it juicy and flavorful.
  • Remove the steak from the refrigerator 30 minutes before putting it onto the grill so that it comes up to room temperature.
  • Just before you grill a steak, use a paper towel to pat it dry and then season with salt and pepper.
Prep the Grill
A person pouring hot charcoal into a grill.

It’s the heat that matters most with how to grill a steak, whether you use charcoal grills or gas grills. With either, use two zones – one side of the grill for direct heat and the other for indirect heat.

  • Before steak grilling, clean the grill grates. Then, preheat the grill. The temperature should be very hot – between 550 and 600 degrees – when you grill a steak. Brush the clean grill grates with oil before placing any food on it.
  • If using a charcoal grill, start your charcoal grill 10 to 15 minutes before you begin cooking. When the coals are ready to grill a steak, use a long-handled spatula or tongs to spread them over half of the lower grate. Place the upper grate on top and allow it to heat up with all of the vents open.
  • If using a gas grill, use burners only on one side of the grill. Preheat to high.
Cook the Steak
Steak searing on a hot grill.

For cuts less than 1 1/2-inch thick:

  • Grill a steak over the hottest part of the grate over direct heat if it is a thinner cut.
  • Close the lid to prevent flare-ups.
  • Flip the meat with tongs about every minute to promote even cooking and browning as you grill a steak.
  • Remove it from the fire once the desired doneness is reached. Read more about steak temperature below.
  • Let the steak rest for five minutes before cutting.

For steaks thicker than 1 1/2-inch:

  • Use the reverse-sear method of how to grill a steak if the cut is thicker than 1 1/2-inch. With this steak grilling technique, you use indirect heat to cook the steak until it’s almost reached the desired doneness, then finish it with a quick sear over the direct heat.
  • Position the steak on the grill away from the coals.
  • Close the lid to prevent flare-ups.
  • Start checking the steak temperature after about 15 minutes over indirect heat.
  • Recheck every few minutes until the temperature reaches 10-15 degrees below the desired doneness temperature.
  • Use tongs to remove the steak from the grill.
  • If using a gas grill, close the lid and turn up the heat on all burners.
  • On a charcoal grill, gather the hot coals into a pile or add a half-chimney of lit coals to the lower grate.
  • When the heat has intensified, place the steak directly over the heat and turn every minute to get even browning.
  • Remove the steak when the desired temperature is reached.
  • Let the steak rest for five minutes before cutting.

Tip: Electric grills often lack the intense heat associated with gas, traditional charcoal and popular Kamado grills. If using the electric variety to grill a steak, allow for more cooking time, choose thinner cuts and rotate the steak clockwise frequently as it cooks so that more of its surface comes in contact with the heated ridges of the grill.

Steak Temperature and Doneness
A digital thermometer reading the internal temperature of steaks on a grill.

Use an instant-read thermometer to check the steak temperature while it’s still on the grill. It will increase another 5 degrees as the steak rests. 

These are guidelines for internal temperature and characteristics of doneness before resting:

  • Rare: 125 to 130 degrees. Seared on the outside, slightly cool and bright red inside.
  • Medium-rare: 130 to 140 degrees. Seared on the outside, firmer than rare but still red.
  • Medium: 140 to 150 degrees. Firm center with a pink color.
  • Medium-well: 150 to 160 degrees. Small amount of pink in center.
  • Well Done: 160 degrees and above. Firm center with no pink.

Note: The USDA recommends a safe internal temperature of 145 degrees and a rest time of at least three minutes for a beef steak.

Let Steak Rest
Freshly sliced grilled steak on a cutting board.

Place the meat on a plate or cutting board. Loosely cover with aluminum foil after you grill a steak. Let the meat rest for three to five minutes to allow juices to settle before cutting.

Prepare your heat, prepare your meat and you'll find grilling the perfect steak to be a delicious new skill you can enjoy the whole summer and beyond. Looking for grill tools and accessories? The Home Depot delivers online orders when and where you need them.