Grilling steaks is much more than just a way of preparing your next meal—cooking steaks on the grill is all about the quest for perfection. And when it comes to grilling a steak, one thing that can't be stressed too much is the importance of getting the grill as hot as possible.
Under-salting is one of the most common mistakes home cooks make. But another is not using enough heat—and this is especially true when it comes to cooking steaks.
Sometimes this is because there's not enough heat available to begin with—home stovetops don't pump out as much heat as commercial equipment. But in many cases, home cooks tend to get a little jittery when they see a lot of smoke or hear a big, loud sizzle, and they turn the heat down. This is a natural reaction, but it can work against you sometimes.
Grilled Steaks Are the Best
The grill is the best place to cook a steak. And apart from those fancy range-top grills, grilling takes place outside. This is convenient because with the level of temperature you want, you're going to generate a good amount of smoke. And no matter what kind of vent hood you have, you probably don't want that much smoke in your house.
So, when it comes to grilling outside, should you use a gas grill, charcoal, or wood? The choice is up to you (you will always find people who favor one type over the other), but whatever type of grill you use, just make sure it gets really hot—so hot that you shouldn't be able to hold your hand about an inch above the grill for more than two seconds.
Get the Grill Smoking Hot
Obviously, you don't want to burn your food or start a fire, but when you're grilling a steak, it's really important to use the highest heat you can generate. This is because high heat cooks faster, and the less time your steak spends cooking, the more tender it will be.
Another reason we want high heat is that it's the only way to produce the Maillard reaction, which is a chemical process responsible for forming the flavorful brown crust on the exterior of a steak.
If your pan or grill isn't hot enough (or if you try to cook an ice-cold steak), you won't be able to achieve that brown tasty goodness. Instead, you'll get a tough gray steak without a lot of flavor.
Grill Pans: Friend or Foe?
We all may agree that grilling is the best way to cook a steak, but not everyone owns or has access to an outdoor grill. Luckily, there are a few alternatives. You can certainly broil a steak in the oven, and you can cook it on the stovetop using a cast iron skillet or grill pan. A grill pan is a perfectly legitimate way to cook a steak—provided you are able to get it hot enough. For that reason, your best grill pan is one that's made of cast iron.
Cast Iron is the Way to Go
Whether a skillet or a grill pan, cast iron is the best material for cooking steak since it is able to get to very high temperatures. If you have the choice between skillet and grill pan, go with a flat cast-iron skillet. The grill pan will produce the grill marks, but the flat skillet cooks more evenly. (Obviously, if you really care about grill marks, use a grill pan.)
Although cast iron is heavy and a pain to take care of (particularly grill pans, because the ridges make them harder to clean), cast iron gets hot, and more importantly, it stays hot.
When cooking with cast iron, make sure you open your windows and turn the fan to high on your vent-hood. You'll also want to pour off any fat that collects in the pan while you're cooking.
Whether you are using a grill pan or flat skillet, do not overcrowd the pan. An average skillet will accommodate two good-sized steaks. If you try to squeeze a third steak in there, you'll cool off the pan too much.