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Feb 9, 2013 04:27 PM

steak grilling question

What's the best way to grill a steak to a particular level of doneness? I've tried simply leaving the steak over direct high heat until the internal temperature is where I want it, but typically by that point the outer surface is burnt, even if I only want the interior to be medium (140 degrees F).

I've also tried the following procedure:

1. turn one of the burners on high; leave the other one off
2. sear both sides of the steak for about 1.5 minutes on the high burner, then move the steak to the section of the grill with no burner on; leave the high burner on
3. close the grill lid and let the interior of the steak reach the desired temperature via convection cooking

The problem is that step 3 takes forever. I can leave a seared steak on the cold side of the grill with the other burner on high and the grill's lid closed for 10-15 minutes and the interior of a 3/4"-1" thick steak still won't reach medium doneness by then.

What am I missing here? Is there a better way to finish off the interior of a steak after the exterior has been seared? Is my method fine, but my grill isn't good enough?

For some reason this idea works fine with a cast iron pan - sear the steak on the cast iron pan, and then put the steak in the oven to cook the interior to the desired level of doneness without overcooking the exterior.

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  1. James Beard wrote a book many years ago on outdoor cooking. I don't have it, but there is an essay on the subject in Beard on Food. He wrote that "one of the greatest mistakes is adding too much fuel." Let the fire burn down to coals, and spread them out for even heat. "The whole grill (should be) evenly heated with a surface temperature between 350 and 375 degrees (F), the ideal medium for cooking."

    For a two inch steak, 10 minutes per side is rare. If you want the outside charred, do it at the end by bringing up the firebox. If the steak is charred before cooking, you have too much heat under it.

    I haven't tried this, but am merely reporting what Beard wrote. He considered himself an expert on this subject — it was one of the first books he wrote.

    2 Replies
    1. re: GH1618

      10 min per side on any type of heat, direct or indirect, will produce shoe leather.

      1. re: MonMauler

        Only if you have too much heat. That's the point Beard makes. The OP charred his steak without cooking it because he used too much heat.l

    2. try bringing your steak to room temp (or close to it) before grilling. that way the center will not be stone cold, and will reach your target temp sooner--before the exterior is burnt.

      1. We use a gas grill for cooking steak, and don't find it necessary to use a combination of high heat for sear/reduced heat to cook. Nor do we use indirect methods for cooking steak, ever.

        High heat on a gas grill is generally too high for cooking. Just use that to preheat the grill, or to burn off the gunky residue on the racks. Once the grill is preheated to the temperature you desire, we like about 400 degrees, reduce the heat to medium-high for cooking the steak. I'm describing how we use our Weber Genesis grill, which has a thermometer in the lid, and for each of the three burners a scale printed next to the dials that indicates low, medium, and high. I never pay attention to what the temperature ends up being after reducing the gas to the burners (once the thermometer reads 400 degrees).

        A 400 degree temp and direct heat is sufficient to give a good sear with no burning. Leave the steak alone for the right amount of time, then turn it once and finish cooking. If the heat is about med-high the interior will cook properly and the outside will continue to sear but it won't burn. If the steak is burning the heat is too high, so move to a cooler part of the grill, but keep it over direct flame. And we always keep the lid closed.

        Based on our grill, our method, and our experience, a 3/4" thick to one-inch thick steak would take about three to four minutes total - maybe two minutes per side.

        Timing is difficult to advise. The thickness of the steak and the grill both affect the timing. Last night we had small, thin, boneless NY strip steaks that cooked about 90 seconds per side. It takes practice. We don't use a thermometer to check the interior temperature, and our steaks generally are done to our liking (one likes mostly rare and one likes med-rare). We also use the touch test, pressing a finger into the steak and comparing it to how the same press feels on the skin between thumb and forefinger.

        What kind of grill do you have?

        4 Replies
        1. re: janniecooks

          The grill is actually just the grill that is setup at my apartment complex's pool. It's the bottom right model in this picture:

          I can't imagine these are high quality grills, but it's what I have for the time being.

          I've never thought of searing the steaks on anything less than maximum heat. Maybe that's the problem. All of the steak grilling recipies I had read up to this point had always said to sear the steak over direct high heat.

          1. re: Citizen_Snips

            The grill you are using is fine and can produce a properly grilled steak. Depending on the thickness of the steak is how you should determine the method you use to finish the steak. thin steaks, direct heat. Thick steaks may require some indirect heat....You can ensure the results better with the aid of instant read thermometers or digital prob thermometers.

            There's a new push for grilling to turn steaks more frequently, than the standard....mark-cross mark-flip-mark-cross mark. Instead, you would....mark-flip-mark-flip, cross mark-flip cross mark....and or continue flipping as necessary to reach your target temperature. The concept behind this is more even or consistent grilling.

            I have grilled over high direct heat, over hot coals and directly on the coals. Try grilling directly over a Chimney Coal makes for an excellent steak result.

            1. re: Citizen_Snips

              You may have read that, but you admit that the outside is burnt. Lower the heat.

              1. re: Citizen_Snips

                I'm sure the grill you're using is as good as any other. I note that they don't have a thermometer in the lid. Our grill, which has a cast iron lid and body, takes about 10 minutes to preheat to 400 degrees (at least that's what the thermometer says). So next time, just preheat the grill for ten minutes at high, reduce to medium-high and add your steaks.

                Grills are different. Mine is older, and has some spots that are hotter than others. The chief griller in the family knows where the hot/cool spots are and uses that knowledge to manage the food while it's cooking.

                Yes, maximum heat will burn the steak. I only use it to burn off grilling residue. It vaporizes food! Indirect heat is useful for foods that need longer cooking and will or may burn over direct flame, or get dried out. For example, I always cook chicken, whether whole or parts, using the indirect method. Ribs would dry out if cooked over direct flame. Steaks and burgers, on the other hand, benefit from direct cooking at the proper temperature.

                Here's a link to the fingertip test for doneness, might help you.


                In short, forget about indirect cooking for steaks. Use lower than maximum heat, and cook for just minutes per side. Even the thickest steak I buy, maybe 1.5" to 2", takes no more than five minutes or so per side.

            2. I think the best method is debatable. IMO, the only way to perfect your preferred method is to practice, practice, practice. You will eventually know by feel (or maybe intuition) when the steak is cooked the way you like it. And, in the mean time you will enjoy your mistakes (one way or another).

              We grill year around. My DH has read and tried many different methods. He always goes back to his personal tried and true.

              1 Reply
              1. re: pagesinthesun

                Exactly, there is knowledge, and then, there is wisdom!

              2. Liberally salt and pepper a steak and let it come to room temperature. Put it on a grill, preheated to maximum temperature, directly over the flame. Let it sit until it chars. Turn it over, and wait until the other side chars. Pull it off the grill and throw a pat of butter on it. Cover the steak with foil, and let it rest 10-15 minutes. Serve on a warmed plate.

                A 2" steak should only need about 2-3 minutes per side.

                This method will produce a perfect black and blue steak. Adjust timing for thickness to achieve the same result with thinner cuts.

                1 Reply
                1. re: MonMauler

                  Great, but the OP wants "medium," not black and blue.