5 Tips for Grilling the Perfect Steak from Kirby’s Steakhouse Chefs

filet steak on a grill with orange flame behind it and all around

How many of your summertime celebrations involve gathering around the grill with friends and family to enjoy steaks? We’re guessing most of them.

Do your steaks turn out tender and juicy, or do you find yourself wishing you’d just gone out?

Our chefs – Javier Davalos and Clarence Alexander – share advice for how to make your steak experience at home more like visiting your favorite Kirby’s location.

How do you choose the best cut of steak for grilling?

Chef Davalos: Always look for marbling in your steaks.  A lot of people will think it’s just a fatty steak, but actually, that’s what makes your steak tender when it’s cooking. The fat marbling just melts into the steak making it stay juicy – not dried out.

Chef Alexander:  Among other things, the selection of meat depends on the person who will be eating it. Some people like leaner meats like tenderloin or filet. Those who want deeper flavor will want something like a ribeye. If your tastes fall somewhere in between, go for the New York Strip. When my friends and I are cooking steaks we will get one of the several different cuts, cook them all, slice them, and share them off a big butcher board. Everyone gets to do a tasting, and it’s a great conversation starter.

How do you cook steak to the proper temperature?

Chef Davalos: The simplest way to make sure you cook your steak to the proper temperature is to use a digital meat thermometer. If you want your beef rare, cook it to 120 degrees. For medium-rare, the temperature is 125 degrees, medium is 135 degrees, medium-well is at 145 degrees, and well done is at 160 degrees. Chicken always needs to be cooked to at least 165 degrees at a minimum. For safety, pork needs to reach 145 degrees as a minimum temperature.

Chef Alexander: The easiest and most reliable way is definitely the digital thermometer. However, another option is the method of touch. You make an “okay” sign with your thumb and forefinger and use your other forefinger to poke the base of your thumb. The amount of “give” at the base of your thumb is equal to the “give” of a steak when it is medium rare. If you then touch your middle finger to your thumb, the base of your thumb shows more resistance and is equal to that of a medium steak. With the ring finger and pinky finger, you can do the same thing and the resistance is the same as a medium well and well done respectively.

How do you decide whether to marinate a steak, add toppings, or keep it simple?

Chef Davalos: There are always different things you can do to change up the flavors. Mostly it depends on what you like and what you are in the mood for when you’re cooking. When you’re grilling you can try wet marinades, rubs, or simple salt and pepper. When you’re getting ready to put the meat on the grill, I always suggest resting your meat and letting it warm to room temperature. It helps to grill the steaks so much better.

Chef Alexander: I find myself choosing to marinate steak when it is a less expensive cut or a tougher cut of meat. You can choose to do a cold marinade in the fridge, which requires about 24 hours, or you can marinate meat for about three hours at room temperature. The marinade will penetrate deep into the meat to instill flavor. I feel like toppings elevate the flavor profile. Whether it is a lobster tail with a cream sauce or crab in a béarnaise, it doesn’t change the flavor of the meat—toppings just add flavor. In addition, seasonings and crusts add to the flavor. You can grind mushrooms or peppercorns up and roll the steak in it before you sear it to elevate the taste. Whether you are interested in a light and fresh flavor or if you are going for a richer, heavier flavor will help you decide how to top or crust your steaks.

Infographic showing a method of testing your steak against the tension in the muscles of your hand to determine the doneness level of the steak

How do you decide which method of heat to use?

Chef Davalos: Grilling on a gas grill gives you more control with grill temperature. When grilling with charcoal or wood, it’s a little more work. Personally, that’s my favorite. I can say charcoal and wood gives the meat a unique flavor. To prepare your charcoal or wood, pile it in the middle of the grill and add lighter fluid. Let it all rest for a couple minutes, then add a little more lighter fluid. When it’s time to light it up, let it burn until you can see a whitish outer layer around the charcoal or wood pieces. When you see the white layer, distribute the pieces around the inside of the grill. That’s when the meat can go on. Remember to always keep an eye on what’s cooking on the grill, especially fatty meats. Always move the meat to a new spot on the grill if it looks like flames are building when the fat melts into the fire.

Chef Alexander: For leaner steaks, I like to do a char – Pittsburgh or black and blue. I use an incredibly hot iron skillet to create a char on all sides of the steak, while still leaving the inside rare. For something with more fat content, I like to put it on the grill. Grilling a fattier steak helps break down the fat and tenderize the meat. Another method I use is sous vide. I like to use this when I can’t use an open flame but I want the meat to have an incredible flavor and consistent doneness and texture. You can simply set it and forget it.

How do you grill sides to go with your steaks?

Chef Alexander:  You can grill almost any veggie if you cut it or wrap it right. I enjoy grilling vegetables and it adds a nice charred flavor.  For zucchini or squash, I cut them about half an inch thick and lay them directly on the grill. If you want asparagus or potatoes you can leave the way they are. Roasting corn on the grill gives it a sweetness and caramelization everyone enjoys. Don’t forget to season your grill before putting anything on it, meat or vegetable. You can simply cut an onion in half and rub the cut side along the grates of the grill. This will help to keep the food from sticking to the grill and you’ll be more satisfied when pulling food off the grill.

If you are more interested in throwing a party or family gathering but don’t want to grill the steaks yourself, don’t forget Kirby’s caters. You can choose from a customizable menu and let us craft the perfect meal for any gathering. Our chefs are up to any task, whether from backyard gathering to summer engagement parties.