Grab your tongs and get ready to put some fire into your backyard cooking career.
1. Pick the right cut. The route to a great steak -- whether you grill with gas or charcoal -- begins right at the meat counter. Buy steaks that are 3/4 to 1-1/2 inches thick -- any thinner and the inside will get overcooked more quickly than expected. Also, the most tender and flavorful steaks are the ones with the most marbling -- which is the tiny white flecks and veins of fat within the meat. You'll most likely find either select- or choice-grade meat at your store; select-grade has less fat, choice more. Some specialty butchers and supermarkets also offer prime beef, which has even more marbling.
2. Read before you cook. If you haven't done so recently, get out the manual that came with your grill. It's full of necessary information that will help you be the best backyard chef on your block. And take note, the cleaner your cooking surface, the better your steaks will taste. We suggest you scrub with a wire brush when the grill is hot; the best time is after you're done cooking.
3. Season. Take the steak out of the refrigerator, shake on your favorite seasoning blend or pepper, and brush or rub the steaks with olive oil or cooking oil; it will lessen sticking and help create steak-house-style grill marks. Save the salt until after grilling.
4. Keep the fire moderate. A steady, medium temperature is the key to success. If using charcoal, put in enough coals to make one layer on the bottom of your grill. After they're lit, allow coals to burn until covered with gray ash (a stage called medium coals.) Make sure you preheat the cooking grill over the coals for 3 to 5 minutes before the meat goes on, then immediately start grilling (charcoal stays at the right steak-cooking temperature about 45 minutes). For gas grills, adjust your controls to what the manufacturer recommends.
If the steaks are not quite done, just pop them back on the fire for 2 or 3 more minutes. When the time is up, either cut into one of the steaks for a peek, (that's the steak you'll give yourself) or use an instant-read thermometer inserted horizontally into the meat. The USDA doesn't recommend serving steaks that are less than medium rare, and well-done steaks are usually drier and less tender. A steak is rare at 140 degrees F and well-done at 170 degrees F.
For steaks thicker than 1-1/2 inch, remove from the grill when a thermometer registers 5 degrees F under the desired doneness. Cover with a loose tent of foil and the steak will continue cooking to the right degree of doneness. Once meat comes off the grill, let it stand for 5 to 10 minutes -- covered with foil.
Emergencies. If coals flare up, move the meat away from the flames (and reduce heat on a gas grill), or put the lid on the grill until the flames die out. And never put water into a flaming grill; you can cause steam burns or spread the fire.