For some reason people approach grilling steak one of two ways: Either they heat the grill with abandon, throw the steaks on, pull them off, and serve; or, they fret and worry, cutting into the meat every two seconds wringing their hands over whether it is done or not.
Both approaches leave something to be desired.
Grilling steak is easy—even grilling the perfect steak is easy, as long as you follow a few simple steps. As with anything, a bit of practice always helps, too. Follow these steps, grill a few steaks, and you'll be a grill master in no time.
Bring the Steaks to Room Temperature
Too many people take their steaks directly from the chilly fridge to the hot fire and it's impossible to cook a steak evenly that way. Pull the steaks out of the fridge about half an hour before you plan to cook them and let them come up to room temperature to give them a fighting chance to cook to the doneness you want.
Clean and Oil Your Grill
Start with a clean cooking grate and brush it (use a paper towel for this) with vegetable or canola oil (or other neutral-flavored oil) before heating the grill. Taking the time to brush off old bits of cooked-on food will pay off handsomely when your steaks release from the cooking grate with ease.
Heat Your Fire
For steaks with grill marks and seared surface, you want to heat your grill to high heat. What's high heat? When you can hold your hand about an inch over the grill grate for 1 second before it feels too hot and you must pull it away. But you also want a cooler, medium heat area of the grill to move the steaks to if they're seared and crispy on the outside but still need time on the grill. So have the coals to one side of the grill or be prepared to turn off a burner on a gas grill.
Touch Your Food
Chefs and the cooks who know their way around a kitchen (or a grill) know how meat feels when it's raw and when it's cooked. The only way to learn this is to start touching your food. Raw meat is almost squishy, rare meat is quite soft, medium rare meat resists your poking a bit, and medium meat springs back. Once meat feels firm, it's at least well, if not completely over, done. Start poking at your steaks to teach yourself the difference.
Don't Play With Your Food
Yes, you should touch the steaks, but once they're on the grill, don't keep flipping them and moving them about and poking them with anything but your finger! Put them down on a hot grill—they should sizzle immediately—and leave them there until they release of their own accord. If you're pulling or struggling with them, they are not seared and ready to flip. Flip them once and cook until they feel done. Do not stab them with a fork, releasing their flavorful juices to the flames below. Do not press on them with a spatula (who even came up with that?). Just let the cook. If you need something to do, shell some peas or shuck some corn or play a game of cards.
For Thicker Cuts, Use a Thermometer
For steaks cut at least 1 1/2 inches thick, you can use a meat thermometer and get an accurate reading. For rare, remove steaks at 120 F to 125 F; medium rare 125 F to 130 F; medium 130 F to 135 F.
For Thinner Steaks, Use a Timer
It's near high impossible to get an accurate temperature read on steaks thinner and 1 1/2 inches thick. Use a timer instead. For 1-inch thick steaks cook them 4 minutes each side over high heat for medium rare; 3 minutes for quite rare; 5 minutes for medium.
When in Doubt, Cut
Try to avoid this if you can, but if you really need to take a peek, remove a steak and use the tip of a paring knife to make a cut into the center of the steak to see how things are going.
Always Let the Meat Rest
This is perhaps the most important step that most people don't do. Let the steaks sit for 5 to 10 minutes before serving or cutting them. This gives the juices a chance to redistribute throughout the steak, which both helps it finish cooking evenly and keeps the meat moister and more flavorful.
Perfectly grilled steak is delicious with just salt and pepper. For a bit more pizazz, try putting a slice or dollop of Compound Butter on top of a hot steak. Heaven.