Research shows that nearly three out of four Americans choose beef as the meat they grill most often, but nearly 30 percent don’t know how to BBQ beef to the desired doneness. We show you how to BBQ steak to perfection & claim your title to neighborhood grill master.
For guaranteed, delicious results when grilling beef there’s two things you need to know:
- The different cuts of beef & how to prepare them
- The proper grilling technique for the cut of beef you’re barbecuing
1. Know your cuts of beef.
The Best Cuts for Grilling
The best cuts for grilling include naturally tender beef which doesn’t require a marinade but are ready for the grill as is or with your choice of rub or flavorings.
- rib eye
- strip loin
- top sirloin
- filet mignon
- ground chuck
The best thickness for steaks is about 3/4″. All you need to do is sear each side and it’s done!
Cook larger cuts of beef such as ribs & roasts and steaks or burgers over 2″ thick using indirect heat, on low, cooked very slowly. (See how to master the 2 Zone method with indirect heat in How to Grill Like a Pitmaster: BBQ Tips from Chris Lilly)
Cuts That Require a Marinade
Cuts that are an excellent choice with a tenderizing marinade
- inside and outside round
- eye of round
- sirloin tip
- cross rib
When making your own marinade use a mixture of
- high smoke point oil such as canola, olive, avocado
- an acidic ingredient such as lemon or lime juice, apple juice, red wine, yogurt, buttermilk, vinegar or vinaigrette
- an aromatic like garlic and onion
Allow 1/2 cup of marinade for every pound of beef.
Marinate the meat in the refrigerator for a minimum of 4 hours, turning the meat periodically to allow even marinading. Pat dry with a paper towel before grilling so the liquid doesn’t affect how the meat cooks.
The Difference Between Rubs & Marinades
Rubs add flavor and marinades tenderize and add flavor.
Here are tips on when to use a marinade and when to use a rub, how to apply them, and how long to use each for your purpose.
- marinades are used with thinner cuts of beef such as steaks because they only penetrate 1/4″ into the meat
- you can purchase prepared marinades or make your own signature marinade flavor
- to tenderize, marinade for at least 4 hours – overnight is best
- marinade in a resealable plastic bag or glass container – metal containers have a chemical reaction that affect the flavor
- always marinade in the refrigerator so bacteria doesn’t have a chance to grow & cause illness
- don’t tenderize more than 24 hours or freeze meat in the marinade; it will affect the texture of the meat and make it mushy
- don’t reuse marinade that was with raw meat due to bacteria like Salmonella and E. coli
- rubs are used on roasts, steaks and burgers to add a certain flavor
- dry rubs contain herbs & seasonings; they become a paste when wet ingredients are added such as worcestershire sauce, mustard, soy sauce are added
- rubs can be applied just before grilling or for a few hours in the refrigerator
2. Know the proper grilling technique.
Prepare the Steak
You should generously salt and pepper all sides, including the edges of a steak to make the beef more tender and juicy. But salt needs time to draw the moisture out, break down the muscle fibers, and allow the juices to be reabsorbed.
Serious Eats Food Lab did a test involving several thick-cut bone-in ribeye steaks, salting them at 10 minute intervals before grilling. They salted steaks from 50 minutes before grilling right up to just before tossing them on the BBQ.
The results? In their words: “If you’ve got the time, salt your meat for at least 40 minutes and up to overnight before cooking. If you haven’t got 40 minutes, it’s better to season immediately before cooking. Cooking the steak anywhere between 3 and 40 minutes after salting is the worst way to do it.” (See the details here.)
Ideally, you should prepare the meat the night before barbecuing and refrigerate.
- marinade if necessary
- apply a rub if you wish for a unique or signature flavor
- season best cuts of beef with salt and pepper on both sides and edges
At least 20 minutes before grilling take the meat out of the fridge. It needs to be room temperature to allow the beef to cook evenly. (Placing cold meat instantly chills your preheated grill, and the inner portion of the cold steak will take longer to grill.)
Trim visible fat from meat before grilling to prevent flare-ups.
Always keep raw meat separate from other foods. (After putting beef on the BBQ, use fresh plates and utensils for the cooked food.)
Prepare the Grill
Clean & oil the BBQ grates with flavorless high smoke point oil such as canola oil.
Temperature control is critical when grilling. (It’s the “entry trick” to being a grill master: read more at Easy Grilling Techniques for Perfect Cookout Results.)
Let the BBQ preheat to at least 450°F for proper searing. (Use grill after the oiled grate is finished smoking.)
2 Zone Fire for Steaks Over 2″ Thick: this method ensures meat isn’t charred on the outside before the inside has reached desired doneness.
It is exactly what it sounds like – a grilling surface that is separated into two areas:
- one high-heat side with charcoal directly under the grates
- one low-heat side with no charcoal under the grates, using indirect heat
(This can be accomplished on electric & gas barbecues by having the burners on one side or the front turned off.)
(For more information on the two-zone fire, see How to Grill Like a Pitmaster: BBQ Tips from Chris Lilly.)
The sign of an amateur griller is that they like to play with their food! Never poke with a fork or press on steaks and burgers – the flavorful, tenderizing juices are lost and there are more flare-ups, causing charring.
Turn using long handled tongs for steaks and spatula for burgers. Never use a fork.
For Steaks Under 2″
For steaks under 2″ thick, use the 60/40 grilling method. Grill for 60 percent of the time on the first side and 40 percent of the time after you turn over the food. This will give you an evenly cooked steak.
For Steaks Over 2″
For steaks and burgers over 2″ thick, sear & slide. Sear the meat and then slide it over onto the indirect heat area to finish cooking.
Let them know you’re a grill master by the professional grill marks on your steaks.
Test doneness with meat thermometer: Cook burgers to 160°F and steak to doneness by temperature in chart below. (Most chefs prefer their steak medium rare.)
Let the beef rest for 10 minutes on a warmed plate. The meat needs time to reabsorb its juices. Your meat will not get cold, it actually continues to cook while resting.
After it rests, slice against the grain for more tender slices.
The T bone steak needs a little more attention.
Because the T Bone steak has a leaner side and a fattier side, it requires a different grilling technique called the reverse-sear.
The smaller side of the steak is like a tenderloin. Since it’s leaner, it barbecues faster. The larger side of a T bone is like a strip loin. Since it’s fattier, it cooks slower.
The answer to this problem is called the reverse-sear. This means you begin barbecuing the T bone steak on the low heat side of the 2-zone BBQ surface. Then, you sear the steak on the high heat zone for a nice crust.
Prepare steak as usual. Place the steak on the grill on the low-heat side, with the larger strip loin portion closer to the heat, and the small tenderloin portion farther away from the heat source. This allows it to cook more evenly.
We hope you’ve acquired all the knowledge you need to BBQ steaks to perfection. Try grilling different cuts and impress your guests!
60/40 grilling method chart for steaks courtesy of Omaha Steaks
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