How to Grill Any Steak in 5 Steps

May 27, 2013

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Today: How to grill any steak like a pro.

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Some of the best steaks I’ve eaten in my life were not cooked in New York, nor in Chicago but in Italy. Specifically in Tuscany off of the A1. The A1 in this context is not a steak sauce, it’s the autostrada that runs through the center of Italy and through the heart of Tuscany. The most esteemed meat for the grill there is chianina beef. Domestically, the closest cut would be a double-thick porterhouse steak. For seasoning you need nothing more than coarse salt, pepper, and lemons to squeeze at the table.

What is important is that you cook this over real wood charcoal. Propane and briquettes are for sissies, okay? Gas grill? No! In Tuscany they might throw dried vine cuttings on the coals. An alternative is to add wine barrel staves, which you can find at kitchen stores like Sur La Table and Williams-Sonoma. I don’t want to go all paleo on you but this is all about meat and fire. The smoke is an important part of the flavor. Nothing artificial is used here. 

How to Grill Any Steak in 5 Steps

1. For your fire, begin with a chimney starter. For ignition I like to use either a paraffin cube or else natural Big Green Egg “Fire Starters” or at worst crumpled newspaper. You just light a match to the accelerant, below the charcoal. This will flame up vigorously. After 15 or 20 minutes, the flames will die down and the coals will glow grey and red. Pitch those into the bottom of your grill.

More: Still not sure how to light a grill with a chimney starter? Watch this video.

The type of grill you have really doesn’t matter as long as you are using real charcoal. Open the vents. If you are using any other soaked wood, like barrel staves or wood chips, add those now. Be prepared for the fact that it’s going to get ridiculously smoky. It should also get really hot. If you have a temperature gauge on the outside, aim for 450° F to 500° F. Add more wood if needed.


2. Your choice of steak is up to you. Talk to your butcher. A really thick bone-in steak is best as in the porterhouse mentioned above. Your steak needs nothing more than a rub with salt and pepper before putting it on the grill. If you want to get fancy you can dip a branch of rosemary in olive oil and lemon juice and brush it with that. But don’t go nuts with your mop sauce or whatever.


3. Lay your steak on the grill, close it, and let that hunk of meat sizzle.


4. Try to turn it only once because I hate “flippers”. Some people don’t think they are cooking if they are not constantly flipping. You want to hold those juices in the meat. How long before the flip will depend on the thickness of the steak and the heat of the fire. Go for it when the lower edges of the steak are looking browned and caramelized -- for the steak pictured it was only a few minutes.

grilled steak


5. To check for doneness I use an instant read probe thermometer. I want it to come to just under 130° F for medium-rare. Some people use the finger poke method, which is okay if you are good at it.

If you've pulled it too early, no big deal. Put it back on the grill (in an area with lower, indirect heat if it's getting close), cover, and check it again soon. When you are satisfied that your steak is done, yank it off and tent with foil, let it rest for at least 10 minutes.

Really the only condiment necessary to serve are lemon wedges. There you go!

Some other thoughts on grilling: the Argentinians are masters at this. I bow down to them. They will bank up their coals at the perimeters of the grill so that you get a hot but indirect source of heat and hot smoke. The grill I use has a “trap” I can open to toss in more charcoal if desired, which is easier than taking everything off and putting it back. But don’t worry, this will still work on your Weber.

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Photos by James Ransom

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Stafford
  • gracebeey
  • monsan
  • Glen Powers
    Glen Powers
  • rdm
Standup commis flâneur, and food historian. Pierino's background is in Italian and Spanish cooking but of late he's focused on frozen desserts. He is now finishing his cookbook, MALAVIDA! Can it get worse? Yes, it can. Visit the Malavida Brass Knuckle cooking page at Facebook and your posts are welcome there.


Stafford January 22, 2014
You mentioned a double thick porterhouse at the beginning, but the steak you have in the pictures appears to be a bone in ribeye. Which one is it?
pierino January 22, 2014
Stafford, you are absolutely right and a couple of my friends remarked on it. I do use and recommend a porterhouse. The ribeye in the photo is a stunt steak provided by Food52.
Stafford January 23, 2014
haha I wish I had stunt steaks as well marbled as that just lying around for a photo shoot. Thanks for clearing that up.
gracebeey June 15, 2013
Hi there, I believe that the only-flip-once rule is actually a myth. Heston Blumenthal recently explained why it's actually incorrect. It overcooks sides unevenly. His tips ( ) explain it scientifically. I've used his method since three months ago and it makes a huge difference.
The other thing that makes a massive difference is the resting period of at least 5-10 mins. It made a world of difference (he also demonstrated why this is, on that video above). I hope this helps!
pierino June 15, 2013
I respect Heston Blumenthal as a chef (even though he does get kind of "out there" at times). I absolutely agree on the "resting" but still disagree on the flipping. It's just not necessary to turn more than once. The key to doneness is to test with a probe. Again, NO MORE than 130F but for more rare steak closer to 120F---that part is up to you.
monsan June 3, 2013
thanks for this in-depth recipe experience. . . got one for cereal and milk? . . .
Glen P. June 3, 2013
It's been my experience that adding unlit charcoal to a cooking fire is not a good idea. If you need to add additional charcoal carefully add only live charcoal to the existing fire. Otherwise, you risk having a blackened coat of of ash and an off-taste on the meat which is the result of adding fresh charcoal and disturbing the original lump.
pierino June 3, 2013
Glen Powers makes a thoughtful point here. Adding live coals can be a tricky and dangerous process. What I do, should it be necessary to add more fuel is to use small hunks of wood (like cherry or hickory) that I've soaked in water or else those small pieces of charcoal that inevitably sift to the bottom of the bag. These are easy to add through the trap latch. The small pieces might spark a bit but they really don't add much ash. Excellent point though.
rdm June 2, 2013
Outstanding instruction on proper grilling technique! However, one of the most useful insructions I ever learned was to allow the steak to come to room temperature before I grilled it. Something I'm sure that you, as a master griller may take for granted, but for us rookies, it's an essential item to learn.
pierino June 2, 2013
rdm, excellent point regarding room temperature. Thanks for reminding us. You are absolutely right.
pierino June 2, 2013
This morning I was reading a short piece in La Cucina Italiana about Dario Cecchini the crazy Dante quoting butcher from Panzano---maybe the most famous butcher in the world right now. Presently he's marketing his own brand of herbed salt as "profumo del Chianti". I'm looking forward to trying it out if I can get one of my purveyors to bring it in. Otherwise it's available at
EBRandall June 2, 2013
I agree with 90% of this steak grilling instruction....I don't think you should close the lid on a charcoal grill because that will lower the heat. If you want to sear the outside of your steak, than you should keep the lid off. It's the reverse on a gas close the lid to make it hotter.
pierino June 2, 2013
Thanks for your observation EB, the reason for closing the grill is to obtain more of the smoke flavor. Lump charcoal burns rather hot. If you use a thick porterhouse as recommended it's going to take longer. Still you should turn it only once and rely on your probe for doneness.
Jason T. June 3, 2013
You could accomplish smoke flavor and sear by putting the steaks on the cold part of the grill to warm up with the lid closed. It is a nice and pretty article but this is the best instruction i have found:
gustus May 28, 2013
Inspiring! I'm in the market for a new grill, and now I know to look for one like yours with a trap to make it easy to add charcoal in the midst of cooking.
Lindsey H. June 2, 2013
pierino June 2, 2013
Thanks for your comment. I must admit though that I'm a bit skeptical about Traeger and I'm familiar with their product. Texan vs. Tuscan? I'll choose Tuscan. What's with the "wood pellets"? If you read the fine print it makes it seem like they are in the razor blade, printer cartridge, coffee cartridge business. Using "wood pellets" other than Traeger's house brand voids your warranty. For grilling a steak I'll choose a simple, well made, wood grill any day and pick my own fuels.