While there are many tricks to make a steak fabulous, these five tips will make it even better.
Basic Grilled Steak
Credit: Lee Harrelson

A sizzling steak right off the grill is something few can resist. Follow these tips to make your home-grilled steaks fabulous.

1. Choose a Cut

For these recipes, we work with ribeye, tenderloin, and flank steaks. We use ribeye for the Basic Grilled Steak (top left) and the Grilled Herb Steak, since it's a tender, flavorful cut and needs little adornment. True to their name, tenderloin steaks offer exceptionally supple meat, but because of their lack of fat, they benefit from added flavorings, as in the Grilled Steak with Teriyaki Glaze. Flank steak lends itself nicely to salads when sliced very thin, as in Summer Steak Salad. Lean flank steak can be tough, which is why it requires thin slicing. When you take the flank off the grill, transfer it to a cutting board with a moat in order to capture juices as you slice.

2. Salt the Meat

Salt sprinkled on a raw steak draws out the juices and makes the surface of the meat moist, which in turn makes it difficult to brown. To avoid this, salt the meat when you start to bring it to room temperature, and pat it dry with a paper towel just before you put it on the grill. This allows the salt to seep into the steak and eliminates water drawn out by the salt.

3. Fire Up the Grill

Charcoal and gas fires each have advantages, so it's a toss-up as to which is best. A charcoal grill cooks hotter than gas, but it requires building a fire with briquettes. Gas grills are convenient because they need no fire building and it's easy to control the heat. In terms of flavor, charcoal and gas are on par.

The best grills for individual steaks are those that allow you to adjust the distance of the rack from the coals. Set the distance between the coals and the steak according to the thickness of the meat–three inches or less for a steak thinner than an inch, three to six inches for thicker steaks. Thinner steaks require intense heat to form a desirable crust before the heat has a chance to penetrate and overcook the meat, whereas thicker cuts need less heat and longer time to allow the middle to cook without burning the exterior. While the grill is preheating, let the steak come to room temperature before cooking, which helps ensure the meat cooks evenly.

4. Don't Overcook!

Because each grill's fire is different and cooking time depends on the size and shape of the steaks, it's difficult to give exact times. But there are four basic ways to determine doneness. The first two of these methods are best for novice cooks, while the last two can be learned through experience:

1. Cut into the steak in an unobtrusive place, and examine the interior to check the doneness.

2. Slide an instant-read thermometer through the side of the steak into the center to check the temperature. Keep in mind that the temperature of meat will increase five to 10 degrees after resting.

3. Use the touch test. A rare steak will feel fleshy, like an unflexed muscle; a rare to medium-rare steak will just begin to bounce back to the touch; a medium-rare to medium steak will feel firmer still.

4. Look for juices on the steak's surface. A rare steak doesn't release any juices. As the steak approaches medium rare, you'll begin to see red juices forming on the surface (you might also hear them sizzle as they drip over the coals). As the steak approaches medium, it releases more juices. As it approaches medium well and well, the juices will turn brown.

Remember, you can always put a steak back on the grill if it's too rare, but you can't uncook a well-done steak. Err on the side of undercooked.

5. Let the Meat Rest

"Resting," or standing, after cooking allows the meat to reabsorb its flavorful juices. If you serve the steak right away, those tasty juices will spill out onto the plate as soon as you cut into the meat.

After the steak is done, transfer it from the grill to a platter, and loosely cover with foil. (Don't cover tightly or stack steaks, or they'll overcook.) Let rest for five minutes per inch of thickness. Residual heat will cook steaks five to 10 degrees more during resting.

A Word on Portions

As a rule, Cooking Light recipes call for four ounces raw red meat per person, though we make an exception with the ribeye steaks. Markets typically don't sell ribeyes much smaller than eight ounces (unlike tenderloins, which are easy to find in four-ounce portions, or larger flank steaks, which are intended to serve several people), and you may not want to split a ribeye steak between two people. Although this is a bit more than our usual serving size, an eight-ounce ribeye steak is considerably smaller than portions commonly found in restaurants.

An eight-ounce ribeye steak yields about six ounces of cooked meat–350 calories, with about 39 percent of calories from fat. And sides will help balance the nutrition. For instance, the Basic Grilled Steak, a baked potato with one tablespoon of light sour cream, and a four-ounce serving of asparagus is a 407-calorie dinner, with about 35 percent of its calories from fat.