How to Grill a Great Steak Every. Single. Time.

Tips from a line cook, butcher, and food stylist.

June 28, 2023
Photo by Julia Gartland

When I was a line cook, I spent the majority of my time working the grill. On a nightly basis, I was responsible for not just a grill full of various types and cuts of meat—I also had to ensure that when they reached the dining room, they were cooked to each customer’s preferred internal temperature. It’s a lot to deal with, and when an expensive steak is involved, things become even more stressful. While grilling at that scale and level of precision never becomes truly easy, if you set up your steak and grill correctly, successful outcomes are much more feasible. With that in mind, here is everything you need to know in order to grill the perfect steak for you.

How To Prepare Steak For The Grill

Roughly twenty minutes before grilling a steak, you should remove the meat from the fridge and allow it to reach room temperature. This ensures that your steak will cook evenly, preventing the dreaded combination of an overcooked exterior and cold, raw center. According to J. Fox—owner of Manhattan butcher shop Hudson & Charles—it’s important to be mindful of food safety precautions while doing this. “You want to make sure the protein isn’t in the 40°F to 140°F range for more than two hours,” he says. “If the temperature outside is 90 degrees, that means no more than one hour sitting out of refrigeration.”

While your steak reaches room temperature—or immediately after—you need to season it. As always, seasoning is a matter of personal preference. However, whenever I grill a steak, I season it the same way that I did in every restaurant I worked at: generously covered with kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper.

How To Prepare The Grill For Steak

The first step to successfully cooking a steak is to make sure your grill is clean and hot. To clean your grill, start by scraping its grates with an abrasive brush (like this one from OXO) or steel wool. This should knock out enough gunk to prevent the grill from imparting any burnt, unpleasant residue onto your steak. If you're working with a grill that has been neglected for an extended period of time (read: very, very dirty), it’s best to deep-clean the entire device.

Next, your grill needs to be lit. For gas grills, simply release the propane, ignite your grill, and cover it. When using propane, it’s best to keep an extra, full tank on hand—that way you’re guaranteed to have enough gas to make it through even the most lengthy barbecues. However, if you’re in a pinch, you should be able to grill a few steaks with a tank that’s only a third full. If you’re working with charcoal, refer to our in-depth guides on charcoal types and ignition for best results.

What Temperature Should You Grill Your Steak At?

For Food52 Food Stylist Anna Billingskog, grill temperature is a matter of personal preference. “If you’re looking for a ‘black and blue steak’—crank that grill as high as you wish. For all other doneness levels, I'd recommend keeping the grill temperature around 450°F to 500°F,” she says. If your grill becomes too hot, flare ups (bursts of flame capable of burning your steak) are more likely to occur. To quickly extinguish flare ups, J. recommends keeping a spray bottle of water near your grill.

To check that you’re somewhere within the ideal temperature range, simply read the thermometer included on the hood of most grills. If your thermometer is broken or the grill doesn’t have one, you can employ one of the many techniques. for guesstimating grill temperature.

How Do You Cook A Perfect Steak For Beginners?

Leave the steak alone. The key to grilling anything well is to make things as simple as possible, and performing beef acrobatics over an open flame is unnecessary. Frequently flipping your meat inhibits the development of a well-formed, charred crust while simultaneously encouraging juices within your steak to leak out onto the grill. When it comes to steak flipping, stick to Anna’s advice. “I recommend flipping once halfway,” she says, “but if you find your steak could use a little more char on either side, you won’t lose any points for flipping again.” To summarize: Don’t move your steak unless you need to.

If you’re new to grilling, the one thing that will dramatically improve your odds for success is a digital meat thermometer. Cook times will vary from grill-to-grill, steak-to-seak, and—seemingly—day-to-day, meaning the only exacting method for gauging whether a steak has reached your desired level of doneness is to measure its internal temperature.

How Long Should You Cook A Steak On The Grill?

Although this entirely depends on your grill’s temperature, the steak’s thickness, and your desired level of doneness, we recently developed an in-depth guide on steak grilling times. There, you can find estimated times for grilling a steak to your desired internal temperature.

However, if you want to ensure that all of the steaks you grill in the foreseeable future come out exactly as you’d like, buy a thermometer. Once you’ve got something to accurately measure temperature, refer to the bullets below to pair your desired doneness with an internal temperature.

  • For a rare steak: 120°F to 130°F
  • For a medium-rare steak: 130°F to 135°F
  • For a medium steak: 135°F to 140°F
  • For a medium-well steak: 140°F to 150°F

Our Favorite Steak Recipes

Now that you're equipped with proper technique, it's time to tackle some new grilled steak recipes. Here are four of our favorites.

What are your best tips for grilling steak? Let us know in the comments below!
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Paul Hagopian

Written by: Paul Hagopian

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