How to Grill the Perfect Steak

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Although the warm days of summer are fast becoming but a memory, the opportunity to host a Man Cave barbecue blow-out is still very much there. Football’s back on the TV, and guests can hang out inside while they wait for you to feed them with bovine offerings from the grill. However, there’s no surer way to take the “man” out of “man cave” than to deliver a plate full of brown, dull, overcooked steaks to your company.

You’ve probably seen the way steaks arrive at your table when you visit a steakhouse restaurant, and wondered to yourself, “Why can’t mine look like that?” In our recent article detailing 50 things every man should know, the ability to cook a steak featured at a lofty #8 on the list, and for good reason. Let’s face it, short of bear-wrestling and changing a tire one-handed, there are not many more manly essentials than cooking beautifully charred steak, oozing just the right amount of redness, with criss-cross grill marks and perfect seasoning.

Before we even slap our steak on the barbecue, let’s get back to basics. Cut selection. It’s especially important if you’re grilling steak for more than one person, that you choose an economical cut of meat. New York Strips are the way to go; they deliver a tasty piece of meat for the right price. Try to buy from a butcher, who can cut your meat as you request it. A thickness of about 1.5 inches, sourced from lower on the primal cut, is best. That’ll give you steaks thick enough to cook slowly and get those perfect grill marks, while also ensuring your steaks are not going to be enormous and expensive.

The jury is still out on whether allowing steak to reach room temperature is required. Some declare this step to be essential, others prefer to put an ice-cold steak on the grill, claiming it allows you to cook the steak slower and better. Either way, the most important step in the preparation stage is not your decision to sit your steak, but how you season it. Don’t go nuts with marinade and flavourings. You may think soaking your steak in these unnecessary rubs and sauces are making the end result more delicious, but more often than not they’re actually causing you to serve burnt steak. Even pepper will often burn on a hot barbecue, so before putting your steak on the grill, give it a rub with a little quality oil and salt, and just the smallest amount of pepper, if you can’t say no. If a saucy or heavily seasoned steak is something you can’t do without, consider adding these elements later in the cooking process.

If you don’t know what indirect grilling is, you are simply not the barbecue master you think you are. Swallow your pride and learn the method; watch your guests’ compliments increase exponentially, and buy me a beer some day as thanks. Indirect grilling involves lighting up the left side of your grill’s burners and turning the heat knob to high, or moving all but a couple of coals to the left of your charcoal barbecue. One side should be piping hot; the other should only be getting residual heat.

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Once you’ve set your grill up this way, close the lid and let the barbecue heat while you prepare your steak as above. We’re going to make grill marks! Slap your steak (or steaks) on the side of the grill with direct heat underneath it. Get a stopwatch out and leave the lid open. It’s hard to tell exactly how long this first stage will take without knowing the exact heat of your barbecue, but between the three- and six-minute marks, you should be able to see some sexy black char marks forming on the steak’s underside. Begin peeking at the bottom of your steak after three minutes without moving the steak, then rotate the meat 45 degrees on the grill so the grates are going in the other direction. Repeat this process for three to six minutes, and flip your steak over. Voila, do you see a lovely criss-cross of black marks? Congrats, now repeat the process for the other side!

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By the time you’ve done this process for either side of a 1.5-inch-thick steak, it should be at about the “rare”, or perhaps closer to medium-rare stage.  Don’t know what this means? Shame on you. But consider yourself ignorant no more.

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How do you know how rare your steak truly is without cutting into the steak to examine its pinkness, ruining it visually, and letting all the delicious juices seep out? It’s called the Thumb Test, and you definitely owe me that beer now.

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In order to cook your meat further than the rare or medium rare stage it will be at after its grill-mark stages, move it to the “residual heat” side of the grill and close the lid. You’re going to be “Thumb Testing” it every few minutes from now on, until it reaches your desired stage of rareness. Once it’s feeling about right, take it off the grill and slide it onto your plate.

As irresistible as this perfect steak is looking, I must urge you to patiently wait another five minutes before eating! Cutting into a red-hot freshly cooked steak will cause the nicely sealed-in juices to slide straight out of the meat and onto your plate. Sure, they can be mopped up, but it’s an undignified waste! Leave your steak to sit for five minutes, and let those juices settle, and the result will be far tenderer. You are now a man.