Grilled steaks and pan-seared steaks are really two completely different beasts flavorwise, but as far as cooking technique goes, there are only a few minor distinctions.
For one thing, the heat you can get out of charcoal briquettes (or better yet for searing—real hardwood coals) is far greater than what you can get out of a home stovetop range or broiler, leading to superior charring, as well as the singing of dripping beef fat which gives grilled beef its characteristic smoky, ever-so-slightly acrid (in a good way) flavor. It's a flavor you simply can't get from a stovetop or even a gas grill, both of which burn significantly cooler than coal.
Going thick is always a good idea on the gril—you want steaks at least an inch thick or sol—it's the best way to guarantee that you get plenty of good crust development while still being able to maintain a nice, expansive medium-rare center. But ultra-thick, Flintstone-sized double-cut bone-in big-enough-to-serve-two-fully-grown-Thundercats ribeye steaks (commonly referred to as "Cowboy Chops") require a bit of extra care when cooking. Their thick size makes them all too easy to end up with a burnt exterior and cold, raw middle.
Just like cooking indoors, the very best way to guarantee that you maximize that medium-rare center—you want to see pink from edge to edge—while still getting a nicely charred crust is to first cook the steak at a very gentle low heat before finishing it over ripping hot heat to sear its surface. It's better to do it in this order rather than searing first and cooking through after because a pre-warmed steak will sear much faster, minimizing the amount of overcooked meat under the surface (and we all know by now that searing does not lock in juices, right?)
Of course, all of our other tried and true steak tips apply here, including:
- Salt early and liberally, at least 40 minutes before you plan on grilling. This gives enough time for salt to draw out moisture then get reabsorbed.
- Flip regularly particularly during the first cooler phase of cooking. This'll help the steak come to temperature faster and more evenly. Since a steak this size can take up to half an hour to cook through, I flip it at least every five minutes.
- Use a thermometer to guarantee perfectly cooked steaks. No other method is as reliable. (See here for a temperature chart). For a thick cowboy chop, you can expect your final temperature to rise by about five degrees as it rests, which takes us to...
- Let it rest in order to allow muscle fibers to cool down and relax, so that the steak can retain more juices. I let steak rest until it's two degrees below its maximum cooking temperature.
Stay tuned for a SE Father's Day giveaway soon. We'll be giving away a couple of aged, insanely well-marbled two-pounder Cowboy Chops from The Double R Ranch, that will arrive in time for Dad's Day. Giddy-up.
In the meantime—tell me, serious eaters: what are your personal secrets for perfect grilled steaks?
For full instructions on how to best cook'em, click through the slideshow above.