Cooking instructor and author of Planet Barbecue Steven Raichlen knows a thing or two about grilling a steak, and today he’s debunking a few grilling myths that’ll help make your weekend barbecue that much better.
The perfect steak is one of the “high holies” of the grill. So let’s dispel some common myths to help you nail the perfect steak every time.
A steak is a steak is a steak.
Not all steaks are created equal and each requires its own special way of grilling. Thin ones, like skirt and flank steaks, should be grilled quickly over a hot fire. Thick steaks, like a porterhouse or T-bone, require a two zone fire – the hot zone for searing, the medium hot zone for cooking the meat through. Tough, fibrous steaks, like flank steaks, should be scored on the top and bottom to tenderize them and thinly sliced across the grain when served. Lean steaks, like filet mignon, require added fat, either in the form of an oil-based marinade or a wrapping of pancetta or bacon.
You should bring a steak to room temperature before grilling.
Leaving meat out at room temperature is a formula for disaster and there isn’t a respectable steak house in the world that does it. Steaks (indeed, any meat) should be kept ice-cold – and bacteria free – until the moment they go on the grill. (When you’re working over a 600° to 800°F fire, it takes mere seconds to take the chill off the meat.)
Salt toughens steak. Don’t apply it before grilling.
A generous sprinkling of salt (kosher or coarse sea salt) and cracked black peppercorns applied just prior to grilling gives you the savory crust and robust flavor characteristic of the best steak house steaks. Grill masters from Florence to Florianópolis back me up on this. Season steaks right before they go on the grill. Just don’t season them hours ahead or the salt will draw out the meat juices and make the steaks soggy.
A barbecue fork is the proper tool for turning a steak.
Stabbing a steak with a fork serves only to puncture the meat and drain out the juices. Turn your steaks with tongs.
Turn the steaks often while grilling.
If you watch really top steak masters from around the world, you’ll notice they turn a steak only once. Why? This produces a better crust.
The best way to check a steak for doneness is to cut into it with a knife.
Again, cutting the meat releases the juices. The best way to check for doneness is to poke a steak with your finger. A rare steak is soft and squishy; a medium rare steak is yielding; medium is gently yielding; medium-well is firm; and well-done is hard and springy.
Steak tastes best sizzling hot off the grill.
Like most grilled meats, a steak hot off the grill will taste leathery and dry. You need to let it rest for a few minutes on a warm plate before serving. This allows the meat to “relax,” making for a juicier, more tender steak.
Finally, for flavor, sheen, and succulence, don’t forget to drizzle a little extra-virgin olive oil, melted butter, or beef fat over your perfectly grilled steak before serving. Think of it as the varnish on your masterpiece.