How to Cook Steak From Rare to Well-Done Effortlessly
During my time as a chef, I spent a lot of time behind the grill cooking steaks and chicken breasts by the dozens. Cooking hundreds of steaks per week has trained me to know exactly how to cook the perfect steak no matter the thickness, or cut to any temperature (As steak done-ness is often referred to). This guide is going to tell you how to master the grill and impress your guests! This guide will teach you how to grill any steak, any thickness to any temperature.
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Don’t bother with complicated graphs and charts that plot the thickness relative to the heat and times you by the second. Not only are they focusing on the wrong aspects, but they set you up to believe that cooking anything, not just a steak, can be broken down into oversimplified reductions. The fact of the matter is the time it takes to grill the perfect steak depends entirely on your ability to gauge the signs the steak gives to you as it cooks.
Instead of having a rigid methodology towards steak cooking, you have to be dynamic and understand the different phases that beef goes through as it cooks. This will help you when facing a thicker or thinner cut, or perhaps cooking on a new grill that you are unfamiliar with.
Tools and Resources
There are a few great ways to cook a steak. Being prepared with the proper tools and resources means that you will help achieve the highest potential your steak has to offer. I have cooked steak in almost every way imaginable, and the know-how is made much easier with the right tool.
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Top Grill for Cooking Steak
When looking for a grill, it is very important that you try not to be drawn in by the pretty finish and big, shiny knobs. They are likely a tell-tale sign that it is hiding some suspect qualities. A high-quality iron grilling surface is a must for me. I simply cannot use stainless steel grills as they have a hard time marking anything (Remember, presentation is king). A good BTU and heat distribution are vital as well. I recommend Weber, and you can check out which BBQ grill I recommend on Amazon by clicking here.
Top Cast Iron Frying Pan
Another fantastic method which is popular in Europe is to use a cast-iron frying pan (or hot skillet). The cast iron retains the heat incredibly well and provides a cooking surface that is unmatched by other materials for cooking steak. Spooning butter on a salt and pepper encrusted steak with rosemary sprigs is one of my favorite dishes to cook. For our recommended cast iron pan from Amazon, be sure to check it out by clicking here.
How long to cook a steak depends on three major factors: Time, Sight, Touch. A steak’s temperature cannot be determined without utilizing all three factors together to paint the proper picture.
Visual Steak Temperature Guide
The Grill Hot Spot
First things first. Know your hot spot and know it well. You want to cook steaks at the highest temperature you can get on the grill and that is knowing where the hottest spot on the grill lies. Every grill has one, and you can identify it by the discoloration it has over other spots on the grill. Knowing how long to grill a steak rests on these basics foundations. Know your “cool” side as well, where you have no fear of burning if left alone.
Click here for more information on the grades of steak.
8 Easy Steps to Cooking Your Steak
- Preheat grill
- Season your steak(s)
- Place steak(s) on grill at 45° angle
- Rotate steak 45°
- Flip steak
- Rotate steak 45°
- Remove from grill
- Rest for 5 minutes minimum
No Two Steaks Are Alike
Steaks can come in a variety of cuts and thicknesses. This can change how you long to cook your steak on the grill, in the oven, or in the cast iron pan. Many people tend to get comfortable with a certain type of steak, such as grocery store varieties, that they are unfamiliar with more exotic cuts. Have a game plan for the thickness of your steak
Steak Temperature Prior to Cooking
A big factor in over or undercooking a steak is the inconsistency of the steak temperature prior to cooking. A cold steak will take much longer to reach the desired temperature than a room temperature steak. It is preferable to cook your steak at room temperature as it will cook quicker and more consistently. However, there is no harm in cooking your steak cold – it will just take longer
Steak Cooking Times and Internal Temperatures
|Degree of Doneness (Beef)||Temperature|
|Rare||Less than 50°C (122°F)|
|Medium Rare||55°C (131°F)|
|Well Done||69°C (156°F)|
Cooking a Steak in the Oven
For larger, thicker cuts it may be necessary to transfer your steak from the grill or skillet to the oven to finish cooking. This is common with baseball cuts or steams with large bones in them. It is not common to cook thinner steaks (Less than 2″) in the oven. Steaks this thin tend to overcook quickly.
If you do decide to cook a steak in the oven, be sure to set a timer and sear the steak before you do. The caramelization of the surface is an important aspect of what makes a good steak.
How to Determine Doneness of Steak
When you first place the steak onto the grill, be sure to watch as the sides of the steak change color as they cook. This is a good indicator for choosing when to turn the steak 45°. When you are cooking a steak, turn it 45° before flipping it.
Once the steak has flipped over, notice when pools of blood start to form on the surface of the steak. Small drops indicate a steak that is medium-rare. Do not keep turning the steak over.
How to Achieve Perfect Grill Marks on a Steak
Proper grill marks are defined by the high temperature of the grilling surface. Cast iron produces the best marks, while stainless steel produces less prominent marks due to its heat transferability.
- Place steak on the grill and leave for up to 4 minutes (Depending on the thickness and the temperature of the steak this can be more or less)
- Lift the steak with your tongs. Note the angle at which the tongs are pointed. Rotate tongs and steak by 45° and place steak back on the grill (Preferably on a hotter area as the previous area would be cooler)
- After around 3-4 minutes, test the surface of the steak. If the steak is still firm, it is likely due to the muscle fibers tensing up. Flip the steak over facing the same direction
- Depending on your desired done-ness, your steak could either need another 45° movement. If not, it can be taken off the stove and rested for 5 minutes minimum.
Any more and you lose your grill marks and you lose your orientation on which side is more cooked.
The touch can be deceiving at first, due to the fact that the protein fibers within the steak tighten up when it is first placed on the grill. This means that the steak feels firm for the first part of cooking. This can be deceiving as you may feel the steak is becoming overcooked when it is actually quite rare.
It is very important to account for the resting period of a steak as it will continue to cook a bit after it is removed from the grill. This is called Carry-Over Cooking.
Using tongs, squeeze the steak on the sides. You will notice that a rare steak is soft and squishy and does not bounce back very quickly. A medium-rare steak is one that has just a little resistance when squeezed and goes back slowly to the original position.
A Medium steak is firm and when squeezed goes right back to the original position quickly.
A Medium Well steak is firm and tough to squeeze with little liquid coming out from the inside.
A well-done steak is very firm with little liquid. It is important to cook well-done steaks slower to retain as much moisture as possible.
Resting Your Steak
It is very important to account for the resting period of a steak as it will continue to cook a bit after it is removed from the grill. This is called carry-over cooking. The amount of juices that leak onto the plate is also a good indicator of the temperature of a steak. A steak swimming in a lot of red juices tends to be rare-medium rare while a steak with little clear/brown liquid tends to be on the more medium side.
Resting your steak, however, is a vital step in the process. Always allow the steak to rest for a good five minutes before serving. This allows the proteins to relax, making a more tender steak and also helps greatly with proper plate presentation.
Combining the Three Factors
These three factors might not seem like a silver bullet for determining how long to cook a steak, because there is an element of finesse. Experience plays a factor for sure in knowing what signs to look for, approximate time frame for a steak, and the familiarity of what the steak feels like as it goes through all its phases. Grilling is a skill that is developed over time.
Use all your senses to come to rational conclusions without having to cut into the steak. If you’ve had the steak on for a good 8-10 minutes, the steak feels firm and there isn’t much moisture coming off it anymore, it would be safe to say the steak is medium-well to well done.
What about if you just threw it on 3 minutes ago but it still feels tight and there hasn’t been any liquid seeping through the top? Probably a blue rare steak.
What about a nice squishy steak with a fair amount of juice coming from each squeeze after about 5 minutes or so? Likely medium-rare.