For all its popularity, steak can be nerve-racking: Did I buy a tough cut? Should I marinate? How do I know when the darn thing is done? For answers, we turned to chef Michael Ollier of the Certified Angus Beef brand’s Education and Culinary Center in Wooster, Ohio.
What makes a good steak?
In a word, marbling—white flecks of fat that melt during cooking to “baste” the beef from the inside out. Good marbling acts as a sort of insurance policy against overcooking. It also plays a key role in the USDA’s beef grades. The designations prime, choice and select refer to quality, palatability and consistency. Independent graders assess meat, so you can trust that the words mean something. Select translates into a noticeable reduction in tenderness, flavor and juiciness. (Like most things in life, you get what you pay for!) Besides grade, you also want to consider cut. Here are a few of my favorites.
A bargain Top sirloin is lean but juicy, flavorful and moderately tender. You can marinate it to enhance flavor. Alternate names include center-cut sirloin, baseball, sirloin cap or coulotte.
A healthy choice Tenderloin (aka filet mignon) is pricey, but it’s also extremely lean, with a meltingly tender texture and mild, delicate flavor. If you don’t mind serving sliced steak (rather than a whole cut), flank is another diet-friendly pick.
A newcomer Butchers have recently “discovered” the flat iron, a tender, boneless shoulder cut that is best served sliced across the grain. It also goes by top blade steak.
A splurge Ribeye is a richly marbled, robustly flavored steakhouse mainstay that commands premium prices for good reason. You might see boneless ribeye labeled Delmonico.
A secret Chuck eye steak comes from the same muscle as the ribeye, so you get flavor and tenderness at a lower price. You’ll probably have to ask the butcher to cut it. Tell him or her that you want the first two cuts from the chuck eye roast (from the end adjacent to the ribeye).
How do you grill it?
1 Fire up early When the steaks go on, they should sizzle immediately, so you need to fully preheat your grill to high. Searing caramelizes the exterior and enhances flavor—not to mention creates a mouth-watering aroma to tempt the neighbors!
2 Season simply but generously With a good cut, kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper are all you need. Season at the last minute, while the grill preheats.
3 Stay close Most steaks (up to 1 1⁄2 inches thick) need just 3 to 5 minutes on each side over direct, high heat. For thicker cuts, you may need to move the steaks to indirect heat after the initial sear to avoid burning the exterior before the center is cooked.
4 Guard those juices Use tongs or a spatula—not a fork—to turn steaks. Also resist the urge to press down on meat while it’s cooking. You’ll get a great show when the juices flare up, but your beef won’t be as juicy in the end.
5 Give it a rest Set the cooked steaks on a clean plate and loosely tent them with foil; wait 2 to 5 minutes before serving. The pause allows the juices to redistribute throughout the cut, so they don’t flood out when you slice it.
When is steak done?
A digital instant-read thermometer is the best way to ensure a steak cooked to your liking. Grip the meat with tongs and insert the thermometer through the side of the steak. The tip should be in the thickest part of the steak and not touching bone or fat. The list below indicates when to remove the steak from the grill—not its final temperature. As the meat rests under a foil tent (see No. 5, above), its internal temperature will rise to reach Certified Angus Beef’s recommended serving temps. Cook your steak how you like it; like most pros, I prefer medium-rare.
135° Medium rare
What's a simple flavor boost?
For a simple yet sublime flavor boost, brush garlic-infused melted butter on a generously salted and peppered steak right before removing it from the grill.
How can I dress up my steak?
Easy: Make chimichurri. This zippy Argentinian sauce tastes fabulous with grilled foods (especially steak), but it also pairs well with fried potatoes or eggs. In a food processor or blender, combine 1⁄2 cup each chopped fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley, chopped fresh cilantro, olive oil and red wine vinegar; 1⁄4 cup finely chopped onion; 3 to 4 minced garlic cloves; 1 teaspoon dried oregano; 1⁄2 teaspoon crushed red pepper; and 1⁄2 teaspoon kosher salt. Blend until herbs are very finely chopped. Serve immediately or chill, covered, for up to 1 week.