How to Grill the Best Steak

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The most foolproof way to grill the best steak? It's not complicated—it's about small details, like a picking the best cut, air-drying in the fridge, and making an herb butter sauce for basting. Fire up the grill!

Photography Credit: Nick Evans

My goal with this recipe was to create a grilled steak that would make a novice look like a master, and a master look like her backyard flame-created opus was mere child’s play.

Grilling the Best Steak

I wanted a juicy steak with a nice crust that was big enough to slice and serve family style, and that had a little finesse.

While cooking, I basted the steak in an herbed butter sauce. The sauce added a fresh, light flavor that balanced the richness of the meat. In the end, I had a steak everyone raved about, and that felt special but not overly fussy. It was the perfect main course for my Fourth of July party plans.

How to grill ribeye steak flip and baste the steak

WHICH CUT OF STEAK IS BEST FOR GRILLING?

When I first started working on this recipe, my top contenders for the steak were the ribeye (no bone), the rib steak (same cut as the ribeye but with the bone), the porterhouse, and the T-bone.

Any of those cuts will taste great grilled due to the significant marbling of fat, which leaves the meat tender, and flavorful. Let’s take a closer look at each:

  • Ribeyes vs. Rib steaks: A ribeye has the bone taken out; a rib steak, also known as a bone-in ribeye, is a ribeye with the bone in. Due to its extensive marbling, this cut cooks beautifully on the grill, bone in or out. Trim the thick fat from the outside edge—leaving it on will cause flame flare-ups that can give your steak an unpleasant burnt flavor. Don’t worry, trimming it off won’t result in lost flavor!
  • T-Bones vs. Porterhouses: People often confuse these two cuts, which is understandable because both cuts come from the loin (behind the ribs of the cow) and both have a T-shaped bone with meat on both sides. But porterhouses are larger and actually have more of the tenderloin than the T-bone. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Institutional Meat Purchase Specifications say the tenderloin of a porterhouse must be at least 1 1/4 inches thick at its widest, while that of a T-bone must be at least 1/2-inch.

Ultimately, I chose to use ribeye steak for its flavor, size, and the lack of bone — I wanted to slice and serve this steak family-style, and the fact that it doesn’t have a bone makes that easier.

The ribeyes I used to test this recipe were 1 1/2 inches thick and weighed in at a whopping 1 1/4 pounds each. Because this cut has extensive fat marbling, it stays tender and tastes great after grilling. A steak this size is also ideal for serving two people, which means less meat to manage on the grill at one time.

I chose to use a thick cut because of its forgiving nature for a newbie at the grill—it’s pretty easy to overcook a 1-inch steak, but adding just a half inch can give you some extra leeway when you’re first mastering the technique.

This being said, a big bone-in steak is an impressive sight and beautiful on a plate. Bone in or bone removed, it’s up to you!

Grilled steak recipe make the herbed butter sauce

AMP UP THE FLAVOR WITH BUTTER SAUCE

When I first began work on this recipe, I tried dry rubs, oil, and simple salt and pepper. All of these are wonderful things to put on steaks, but I felt like it needed more. (I had Fourth of July in mind, and I wanted to make it special but not complicated.)

I settled on basting the steak with an herbed butter sauce. First, because butter. Second, because I have an extensive herb garden and it didn’t require a trip to the store. I was worried that the butter might burn on the grill, and leave an acrid flavor, but it didn’t.

It was pure deliciousness. The herbs added complexity without masking the meatiness of the steak.

ADVICE FROM GRILLING EXPERT STEVEN RAICHLEN

Deciding the flavor and the cut I wanted was the easy part. I turned to grilling expert Steven Raichlen, founder of BBQ University, television host, and the author of more than 30 books on the topic of grilling, on how best to set up my grill.

He generously took my phone call while on tour promoting his most recent book release, Project Fire.

How to grill steak recipe get the grill hot

CHARCOAL OR GAS GRILL FOR STEAK?

Charcoal or wood-fired grills are always the best choice for grilling steaks because of the additional flavor and charring they provide. If you have a charcoal grill, you also can add different kinds of wood to the fire to contribute smokiness and enhance the overall flavor of the meat.

Don’t worry—you can still cook a great steak on a gas grill. If using gas, open the lid, turn on the gas, and light the grill. Don’t light the grill with the lid closed; gas can build up inside the grill and create an explosion.

HOW HOT SHOULD THE GRILL BE FOR STEAK?

Raichlen recommends establishing two cooking zones in your charcoal grill: one that’s very hot for searing the steak, and one that’s medium for finishing the steak and cooking it through.

On a gas grill, heat the grill to 450°F with two burners going, which should only take about 10 minutes, then turn one of the burners down to medium to create two cooking zones.

Not sure if the grill is hot enough? Raichlen’s tip is to hold your hand 3 inches above the grill grate and count “1 Mississippi, 2 Mississippi…” If you can only hold it there for a second or two, the grill is hot and you’re ready to cook.

I followed Raichlen’s advice, and started my steak in the hot zone, then moved it to the medium zone to finish cooking. It worked like a charm.

How to cook steak on the grill How to grill steak recipe

HOW LONG TO GRILL STEAK

For a 1 1/2-inch thick steak, here are the general cooking times:

  • 6 to 8 minutes for rare (125°)
  • 7 to 10 minutes for medium-rare (135°)
  • 10 to 12 minutes for medium (145°)
  • 12 to 15 minutes for well done

Note that the USDA recommends cooking whole cuts of beef to an internal temperature of 145°F.

Keep in mind that the thickness of your steak, the heat of your grill, and your desired level of doneness will all impact the time it takes your steak to grill. Raichlen suggests checking the temperature of the steak by inserting a digital meat thermometer through the side, not top down. You can also use Elise’s handy dandy guide.

A FEW MORE TIPS FOR GRILLING THE PERFECT STEAK

  • Season, then chill the steak: I apply the same technique I use for getting crispy chicken and turkey skin to grilling this steak: season, then let it chill in the fridge uncovered for up to 48 hours. This essentially dry brines the steak while also letting it air-dry. This approach allows the surface moisture to evaporate while the seasoning has time to penetrate the meat resulting in deeply flavored steak that sears beautifully and develops a nice crust on the grill.
  • Start with clean grates: Just like you use a clean skillet with a little oil to cook dinner on the stovetop, you want to start with clean and oiled grill grates.
  • To flip or not to flip? Flip your steak to your heart’s content. Harold McGee, food science writer and author of On Food and Cooking, discovered that frequent flipping creates a steak that cooks more evenly and quickly than those flipped only once.
  • Grilling directly on coals: Raichlen seemingly knows an infinite number of ways to grill meat, and there’s one in his new book, Project Fire, that I particularly like: he cooks steak directly on hot coals—no grill grates necessary. I love the idea, and it’s on my list of things to try in the near future.

MORE GRILLED STEAK RECIPES TO TRY

How to Grill the Best Steak

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  • Prep time: 1 hour, 5 minutes
  • Cook time: 10 minutes
  • Rest time time: 5 minutes
  • Yield: 2 servings

This sauce goes well with any steak; you can also skip it or use a different sauce.

I prefer to cook thicker steaks and share them rather than smaller, thinner individual steaks. If you are a grilling novice, thicker steaks are also a little more forgiving.

In this recipe, I’m aiming for medium to medium rare. Ribeyes have lots of marbling, and I want that to break down; cooking it to rare wouldn’t accomplish that goal on a grill.

 

Ingredients

For the steak:

  • 1 1/2-inch thick ribeye, bone in or out (about 1 1/2 lbs. without the bone)
  • 3/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt or kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

For the herb butter sauce:

  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • Leaves from 4 sprigs of thyme
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 shallot, about half the size of a golf ball, minced

Method

1 Trim the fat: Remove the outer layer of fat from the ribeye. The interior marbling will flavor the meat, whereas the outer fat layer will produce flare ups on the grill, which can add a burnt (not charred) flavor to the steak.

How to cook steak on the grill trim the fat

2 Season the steak and refrigerate: Pat the steak dry with a paper towel. This removes surface moisture and will help you achieve a good sear.

Season each side with salt and pepper and rub them in a bit. Put the steak in the fridge, uncovered, for at least an hour and up to 48 hours.

3 Make the herbed butter: In a small saucepan, add butter, herbs, garlic, and shallots. Melt over low heat. Do this at least 10 minutes before you are ready to put the steak on the grill. The longer the herbs sit in the butter, the longer the flavors will infuse.

You can also make this butter up to 2 hours beforehand; if so, cover and refrigerate. Gently reheat the butter to melt it again before you put the steaks on the grill.

Grilled steak recipe make the herbed butter sauce

4 Preheat the grill: Prepare a charcoal grill for two-zone grilling, so half is hot and one half is warm. The grill is hot when you can only hold your hand over the hot zone for a second or two.

On a gas grill, heat the grill to 450°F with two burners going, which should only take about 10 minutes, then turn one of the burners down to medium to create two cooking zones.

How to grill steak recipe get the grill hot

5 Cook and baste the steak: Add the steak to the hottest side of the grill. Close the lid and sear for 2 minutes. Open the lid, flip the steak, and baste it with the melted herb butter and herbs. Close the lid. Cook for 2 additional minutes.

Flip the steak again and move it to a lower heat side. Baste it again with butter. Continue flipping and basting every two minutes for the next 6 minutes, closing the lid between each flip.

After the steak has been on the grill for a total of 10 minutes (for medium-rare steak), transfer it to a clean platter; it should read 137°F to 140°F internally. Baste it again with butter. (Continue cooking for longer if you prefer your steak more well-done.)

How to Grill Ribeye steak add the steak to the grill How to grill ribeye steak flip and baste the steak Grilled Steak Recipe grill the steak

6 Let the steak rest:  Let it rest for 5 minutes; it will climb another few degrees as it sits and the juices will redistribute.

7 Slice and serve the steak: Slice the steak against the grain. Pour any remaining herb butter sauce over top and serve.

How to cook steak on the grill serve the steak

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Summer Miller

Summer Miller is a freelance writer, recipe developer and author based in Nebraska. Her work has appeared in Bon Appetit, Eating Well, Grit, SAVEUR, and Every Day with Rachael Ray, among others. Her first book is New Prairie Kitchen (Agate Publishing, 2015).

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6 Comments / Reviews

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Did you make it? Rate it!

  1. chris

    i’ve been hooked on grilling ribeye, in its various versions, for years. i do, however, tend to leave the extra fat on because i use charcoal and flare-ups aren’t as common. i’ve been doing more porterhouse lately, just because it’s fun to share a steak and the two cuts are nice to have in one steak. i’ll have to try the herbed butter, which would be a new technique for me in that i never baste while cooking (even ribs and chicken). i’ve been eyeing ny strips lately, since that’s a cut i almost never use and want to add it to my regular rotation, so i might actually try this with strip steaks next time.

    • Summer Miller

      Hi, Chris! Thanks for your comment. I look forward to hearing how the herbed butter sauce turns out with the NY Strips. Have a great day!

  2. Cheryl Richardson

    I love Steven Raichlen, and anyone who refers to his methods is fine in my book. I have smoked and grilled almost all of my adult years which are more than I care to admit. I was really looking forward to your method of air-drying in the refrigerator, but didn’t see it in your article!! Did I miss something? Please direct me to that portion of your article, or to another area where I can read more. I have tried others’ methods and haven’t been overwhelmed with them, but would like to know your suggestions. thank you

    • Summer Miller

      Hi, Cheryl! It’s Summer, the recipe developer. I apply the technique I use for getting crispy chicken and turkey skin (https://www.simplyrecipes.com/crispy_golden_turkey_skin_4_methods_put_to_the_test_and_one_winner/
      ) to grilling a steak and getting a nice crust and sear. If the surface area is dry you will get a better sear. I essentially dry brine the steak by seasoning it then letting it rest in the refrigerator for up to 48 hours. This approach allows the surface moisture to evaporate while the seasoning has time to penetrate the meat resulting in deeply flavored steak with a nice sear. Good luck!

  3. Linda Holmes

    I only have an electric grill :( Will steak be as good on that?

    • Emma Christensen

      Hi, Linda! Emma here, managing editor. I think that you can apply these same principles to an electric grill. The results might be a little different, but I think you’ll still end up with tasty steak! Get your grill as hot as it can go — until a flick of water evaporates on contact — and then sear the steak on both sides. Continue cooking over lower heat (medium or so) until the steak is as done as you like it. Good luck!

How to grill steak recipeHow to Grill the Best Steak