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.
The Culinary Cook has fantastic resources for the chef and home cook. Be sure to check out the related posts for more information.
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. I am sure there are some methods out there I have not seen, and I hope to one day try those as well.
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 its 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 is 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. 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 easily identify it by the discoloration it has over other spots on the grill, as the area is whiter than the rest. Knowing how long to grill a steak rests on these basics foundations. Conversely, know your “cool” side, where you have no fear of burning if left alone. If you’ve got a serious hot spot/cold spot formed, check out this site for the top reviewed grills.
Click here for more information on the grades of steak.
Timing is Everything When Cooking a Steak
Grill temperatures vary from grill to grill and that affects the time it takes to cook a steak. If you’ve mastered your own grill because you set it at a certain temperature and put it on a certain spot and leave it for a certain time, your method will fall to pieces the minute you attempt to cook a steak on a different grill. Don’t be rigid! In order to perfectly time it takes to grill a steak, you start with the Time factor. Because time is a constant, it is best used in conjunction with the other 2 factors
It’s a pretty simple concept. The longer an item sits over (or under, if broiling) a heat source, the more the item will be cooked. Know this and you’re halfway there.
No Two Steaks Are Alike
Throw the thicker steak on first and give it a head start. Doesn’t matter how long, maybe a minute or two. The thicker the steak the longer it will take to cook.
Fun Fact: Professional cooks avoid utilizing the oven for very thick (Baseball cut steak) steaks because they tend to forget them! Thus, instead of using an oven, thicker steaks are cooked on the cooler side of the grill.
Using Your Eyesight to Cook a Better 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 transfer ability.
- 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. Do not listen to those websites that tell you otherwise – they are not real cooks!
A steak with pools of blood forming on the top is a steak that is medium
The touch can be deceiving at first, due to the fact that the protein fibers within the steak tighten up when it is first put to flame. 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 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.