Grilling up a steak that's the talk of the neighborhood all starts with two things: selecting a good cut of meat and pairing it with the right grilling method.
Here are some of the most popular cuts along with tips and tricks for grilling them:
Rib eye steak – rib eyes, also know as Delmonico steaks, are the easiest steak to grill. Why? Because they're nearly impossible to ruin by overcooking. Since they have more fat marbling than almost any other cut of steak, they'll remain tender and juicy even when well done – unless, of course, you char it to blackened crisp. Don't worry though, preventing this disaster is easy...
If a flame-up does occur when all that luscious marbling begins to melt, move the steak to a cooler section of the grill.
Rib eyes are best when cut between 3/4 and 1 1/2 inch thick and really nice cuts will have generous fat marbling throughout but only a modest amount of edge fat and little, if any, gristle or sinew running throughout them.
Grill your rib eye by searing each side over high heat for 1-2 minutes then finishing it over medium heat until it reaches your desired doneness.*
Filet Mignon – renowned for its tenderness and leaness, the tenderloin steak is the upper crust (and often, most expensive) of steak cuts. However, because it is so lean, it has a very mild, almost bland flavor compared to other steaks and it can dry out very easily. One way of adding both flavor and moisture to a piece of tenderloin is to wrap a piece a bacon around it. Another is to marinate it.
Filets should be 1 to 2 inches thick and have almost no marbling or edge fat – nothing but vibrant deep red meat.
To grill a filet mignon sear it over high heat for 2-4 minutes then place over medium heat until your desired doneness is reached. (If wrapped in bacon you may want to turn it on it's sides and keep over high heat a bit longer to crisp the bacon before moving to medium heat – keep in mind this will mean less time over medium heat to reach your desired doneness.)*
Strip steak – New York strip, Kansas City strip, shell, club ... this cut of steak is so common and celebrated it has come to me known by more names than you can shake a stick at. And it's easy to see why – more tender than a sirloin, less pricey than a tenderloin, it tends to be the cut where affordability meets texture and flavor. While all strip steaks are cut from the top loin, boneless strips are typically referred to as NY or KC strips whereas bone-in are called clubs, shells, or simply strips.
Strip steaks should be cut at least 3/4-1 inch thick – our favorite thickness for strips here at AtG is 1 1/4 – and are best grilled over high heat for 2-4 minutes then place over medium heat until your desired doneness is reached.*
Porterhouse – if you look closely, the two areas of meat comprising a porterhouse steak should look familiar. The larger section of meat to one side of the bone is the top loin muscle, a.k.a. a strip steak. To the other side is the tenderloin, a.k.a. a filet mignon.
If you want the cremé-de-la-cremé of porterhouses, look for one that has a significantly sized piece of tenderloin on one side and no vein cut – a very noticeable almond-shaped area – on the strip side. While the strip of sinew that separates this almond shaped bit of meat from the rest of the strip isn't a big deal, there's no reason to pay for a piece of gristle in your steak.
Porterhouses are usually 1-2 inches thick (...even 3" thick porterhouses aren't unheard of) and a good size steak will feed two to three people.
To unlock all it's juicy goodness, grill a porterhouse the same way you would a strip steak – sear both sides over high heat for 1-2 minutes each, then place it over medium heat until it reaches your desired doneness.*
T-bone steak –no, your eyes aren't playing tricks on you... The t-bone does look just like the porterhouse – almost. Both steaks are cut from a section of beef called the Short Loin: porterhouses are cut from the half closest to the back end of the cow, t-bones from the half that's closest to the front end of the cow. That means two things...
First, t-bones tend to be a bit more tender than porterhouses since they're further from the cows legs and therefore get a little less of a workout when the cow moves, and...
Second, the tenderloin section is much smaller than on a porterhouse – which is how you tell the two apart. According to the USDA and Meat Packers Association, if the tenderloin portion is less than a 1/2 inch thick at it's thickest all you have is a bone-in strip steak... 1/2 to 1 1/4 inches thick and you have a t-bone ... and anything over 1 1/4 inches is a porterhouse.
While telling the difference between a t-bone and porterhouse may seem a bit tricky, remembering how to grill one isn't because they're both done the same way – sear over high heat for 1-2 minutes on each side, then finish over medium heat until it's done to your liking.*
As far as thickness goes, t-bones are usually cut about one inch thick so that an indivivual steak will be an appropriate portion for one person.
Sirloin steak – this cut is considered to be the most savory steak you can buy... but, it's also one of the toughest. The secret to transforming this flavor-packed piece of meat from a tough, chew toy into a delectable dish doesn't lie in how you grill it – it lies in how you cut it...
Go with sirloins that are 1 - 1 1/2 inches thick and, as with the other steaks listed so far, grill your steak by searing it over high heat for 1-2 minutes on each side then placing it over medium heat until it reaches your desired doneness.*
Now for the secret: when you cut it, instead of keeping your knife perpendicular to the board, hold it at a 45 degree angle or less to the cutting board to make thin, diagonal slices. By making thin cuts on an extreme bias like this, you can make a tough piece of meat tender beyond belief ... and you'll end up with long, broad, meaty slices that are charred on the outside, mouthwateringly pink in the middle, and look absolutely irresistable on a dinner plate. This carving method – which works on any tough but flavorful cut of steak – is known as the London broil style.
Flank steak – a flat, broad muscle from the underbelly of the cow, the flank steak is full of flavor but very tough and stringy. This makes it a prime candidate for marinating and London broil-style carving.
A flank steak should weigh in at 1 1/2 to 2 lbs and serve 2-4 people.
Grill it over high heat for 2-3 minutes on each side. And if you really want to have some fun, if your using lump charcoal you can forget the grill rack and place the steak right on the hot coals – it'll not only impress the neighbors, it will also eliminate flare-ups (no air between the meat and the heat means no chance for flames).
Skirt steak – prized for its rich, moist, beefy flavor, this cut is the top choice for making steak fajitas. Like it's neighbor, the flank steak, it too is a thin, fiberous cut from the underbelly of the cow – which means you should treat it, grill it, and cut it the same way.
Give your skirt steak a marinade if you like, sear it over high heat for 2-4 minutes on each side (you can place it right on coals if you're using lump charcoal), then carve it London-broil style (e.g. Slice on the bias holding your knife at a 45 degree angle to the cutting board).
There are actually two types of skirt steak – an inside skirt steak which is about 3/4 lb and will serve 1-2 people as a main course, 2-4 when served up in fajitas... and an outside skirt which weighs 1 1/2 to 2 lbs. and serve 2 - 4 people as a main course, 4-8 if in fajitas.
Flatiron steak – cut from the Top Blade which is found in the shoulder of the cow, the flavor-packed flatiron steak has a secret very few people know about: it's the second most tender cut of meat from the steer (the tenderloin is the most tender cut).
Why is this such a little known secret? Well, because the Top Blade was traditionally cut into blade steaks which tended to be very tough and full of connective tissue. It wasn't until 2002 that study sponsored by the Cattleman's Association uncovered a new way to cut the Top Blade that resulted in a tender, flavor piece cut of steak that had all of the gristle removed – that new cut is the flatiron steak.
Flatirons take to marinades like butter to hot bread, and taste best if grilled to no more than medium doneness.
They weigh 1/2 to 3/4 of a pound making one flatiron steak the perfect size for one person.
If you're lucky enough to find one (being that it was just discovered seven years ago, it's just beginning to make it's way into butcher shops and grocery store), we recommend grilling it over medium-high heat (400° F) for 3-5 minutes on each side.
* For step-by-step instructions on grilling a steak using the two-temperature, sear-and-finish method, check out the How long do you grill steakspage.