Our technique for perfect grilled steaks is unique in a couple of ways. Our goal is to create a deeply caramelized, well-formed crust that translates to bold, savory flavor. Our recipe employs 3 effective kitchen tricks.
Trick #1: Pat Steaks Dry
Straight out of the wrapper, steaks are often moist with natural juices. Patting the steaks dry with paper towels removes surface moisture, which would otherwise interfere with browning—and with deeper browning comes better flavor.
Trick #2: Rub Steaks with Cornstarch
As odd as it sounds, don’t skip the cornstarch. The cornstarch absorbs additional moisture from the surface of the steaks. Drier exteriors mean even darker, more intense browning, which translates to bigger, more complex flavor.
Trick #3: Freeze Steaks Briefly
Put the steaks in the freezer before you fire up the grill, and let them chill for about 30 minutes. This time in the freezer brings down the internal temperature of the steaks so that they take longer to cook—a longer cooking time means that the exteriors of the steaks have even more opportunity to form nice brown crusts. If you don’t chill the steaks in the freezer before putting them onto the grill and you follow the recipe’s cooking times, the steaks will wind up overcooked.
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Why This Recipe Works: We chose well-marbled strip steak for our charcoal-grilled steak recipe because of its beefy flavor and moist interior. For the essential wood-smoke flavor, we nestled a few pieces of unsoaked wood chunks along the perimeter of the fire and grilled the steaks covered for the first few minutes to help trap smoke flavor. For the grilled steaks’ requisite deep-brown char, we needed to get the exterior bone-dry. To do this, we sprinkled the steaks with salt and cornstarch (which helped dry out the exterior) and then left them uncovered in the freezer.
Serves 6 to 8
Our preferred steak for this recipe is strip steak, also known as New York strip. A less expensive alternative is a boneless shell sirloin steak (or top sirloin steak). We prefer oak, but other types of wood chunks can be used. Flipping 3 times during cooking allows for even cooking and limits flare-ups. To substitute table salt for kosher salt, halve the amounts listed in the recipe.
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons kosher salt
4 boneless strip steaks, 1 1/2 inches thick (about 1 pound each)
4 (2-inch) unsoaked wood chunks
Ground black pepper
1. Combine cornstarch and salt in small bowl. Pat steaks dry with paper towels and place on wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet. Rub entire surface of steaks with cornstarch mixture and place steaks, uncovered, in freezer until very firm, about 30 minutes.
2. Light large chimney starter filled with charcoal (6 quarts, about 100 briquettes) and allow to burn until coals are fully ignited and partially covered with thin layer of ash, about 20 minutes. Arrange coals in single layer over entire surface of grill and, using tongs, place wood chunks directly on top of coals, spacing them evenly around perimeter of grill. Position cooking grate over coals, cover grill, and heat grate until hot, about 5 minutes. Scrape cooking grate clean with grill brush. Grill is ready when coals are hot (you can hold your hand 5 inches above grate for 2 seconds).
3. Season steaks with pepper. Place steaks on grill, cover, and cook until steaks begin to char, 2 to 3 minutes. Uncover grill, flip steaks, and cook on second side until beginning to char, 2 to 3 minutes. Flip again and cook first side until well charred, 2 to 3 minutes. Flip 1 last time and continue to cook until second side is well charred and instant-read thermometer inserted into center of steak registers 115 degrees for rare, about 2 minutes, or 120 degrees for medium-rare, about 4 minutes. Transfer to large plate and let rest, loosely tented with foil, for 10 minutes. Slice and serve.
Watch now: See how we tested charcoal grills to find the best bang for your buck.
In the test kitchen, we appreciate the beauty of bacon with a crispy and tender bite, rather than its being burned to a crisp. What innovative method ensures this perfect texture? We cook the bacon in water in a skillet.
Why? The addition of water keeps the initial cooking temperature low and gentle, so the meat retains its moisture and stays tender. By the time the water reaches its boiling point (212 degrees), the bacon fat is almost completely rendered, so you’re also much less likely to burn the meat while waiting for the fat to cook off.
Place the bacon (in strips or cut into pieces) and just enough water to cover it in a skillet over high heat. When the water reaches a boil, lower the heat to medium. Once all of the water has simmered away, turn down the heat to medium-low and continue cooking until the bacon is crisp and well browned. This way, the meat plumps up as it cooks instead of shriveling, leaving the bacon pleasantly crisp, not tough or brittle.
In order to ensure that a roast maintains its shape during cooking, it’s important to secure it with butcher’s twine. These are our two favorite knots to use:
1. Double Knot: Cut lengths of twine and space them at one-inch intervals under the meat. Then simply pull them over and tie a double knot. The only problem is that if you tie it too tightly or too loose, you have to cut it off and start over again.
2. Butcher’s Knot: Start by pulling both ends of the string toward you, then pass the loop of the upper string under the lower string and give the loop a half turn towards you. Pass the end of the upper string over the lower string and through the loop. Then pull both sides of the upper string to tighten. Finally, pull the lower string up and down until the knot is secure against the meat. The knot can now easily be adjusted.
Either option will ensure that our recipe for Classic Roast Beef Tenderloin comes out of the oven looking perfect.