Tips for Grilling Steak

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

What Makes the Grades?

These are the three primary grades of USDA beef:

PRIME represents meat with the best marbling, shape and size. About 2 percent of all the beef graded in the United States fits in this category. Most prime meat goes straight to restaurants and is quite expensive.

CHOICE has less marbling and is more reasonably priced than prime. It is of high quality; almost half of all U.S. beef fits in this category.

SELECT is leaner, less marbled and less expensive than prime and choice beef. It can be overly lean, though, and is the least desirable of these top three choices for grilling.

When Is a Steak Done?

The pros can tell the doneness of a steak just by the way the meat reacts to gentle pressure. Unless you buy and cook the same cuts all the time, you're better off using a reliable instant-read meat thermometer. Or you can make a small slit or nick in the center of a boneless steak to peek at the color. The USDA recommends cooking steaks to an internal temperature of 145 degrees for medium-rare, 160 degrees for medium and 170 degrees for well done.

Basics of Grilled Steak

6 to 8 servings

Because the thickness and size of these nine affordable cuts vary greatly, a range of cook times is given in the following directions. If the steak is properly browned on the outside but still not done to your liking, transfer it to a cooler zone on the grill.

-- 3 pounds steak (choose from one of the cuts shown at right)

-- Vegetable oil, for the grill grate

-- Marinade

-- Sauces/Condiments

1) Marinate the steaks: Place the meat and marinade in a large resealable plastic food storage bag. Seal and massage through the bag to distribute the marinade. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to 1 day.

2) Light the fire/prep the steaks and the grill: Prepare a two-zone, medium-high fire (direct and indirect heat). For a charcoal grill, light the charcoal in a separate chimney starter. Distribute two-thirds of the coals on one side of the grill and the remaining coals on the other side. For a gas grill, preheat half the burners on medium-high and the rest on medium-low. Once the fire is properly lit, you should be able to hold your hand about 6 inches above the hot zone for 4 or 5 seconds (400 degrees). While the grill preheats, drain the steaks and pat dry with paper towel. Set them on a large platter and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Use a stiff wire brush to clean the grill grates well. Wad some paper towels into a ball, dab in some vegetable oil and lightly grease the grates.

3) Grill the steaks: Place the meat on the direct-heat side of the grill and cook undisturbed for 2 to 3 minutes, until it has browned and can release easily from the grate. (On a gas grill, close the lid.) Use tongs and a spatula to turn the steaks over. Cook on the second side for 2 to 5 minutes, until the steaks have browned and start to firm up somewhat (press on them slightly to judge this). Transfer the steaks to the cooler, indirect-heat side of the fire. Insert an instant-read thermometer horizontally, into the side of the meat (with thin cuts such as skirt or hanger steaks, insert the probe at a 90-degree angle). At this point, it should register 130 degrees for what I consider medium-rare or 135 degrees for medium, or make a nick with a paring knife to check for the desired doneness. Or continue cooking until the meat is done to your liking.

4) Let the steaks rest, then cut: Transfer the meat to a cutting board and let it rest for 5 to 10 minutes. Cut into thin slices against the grain. Serve with a variety of sauces or condiments on the side.

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