Grilling is a tried and true way to cook steak, but it can also seem overwhelming. After all, there’s an incredible number of steak cuts to choose from. They can’t all be treated the same. While you can grill most cuts of steak, some turn out much better than others. So, what are the best steak cuts for grilling?
As you’ll see, fattier cuts tend to be preferred, partly because these are often the most tender steak cuts as well. The fat content makes these steaks more forgiving and reduces the risk that you’ll overcook them. Fatty cuts also tend to taste amazing. You know what I mean, right?
That said, there are plenty of options. Most steaks that you buy in a butcher’s shop or order online can be cooked on the grill if you’re careful about your techniques and cooking time. This is true whether you're cooking outside or using an indoor smokeless grill instead. Today, let’s take a close look at the best options for your grill – the steaks that you simply can’t go wrong with.
It’s impossible to go past the ribeye, as this is such a famous cut of steak. It’s also a crowd favorite for grilling.
As the name suggests, ribeyes are cut from the rib section of a steer. They initially have the bone attached, so you can buy versions with or without the bone.
The marbling is what makes ribeye steak stand out so much. There’s a lot of fat, which contributes to the meat’s rich flavor. The fat content also makes ribeyes versatile and easy to work with. Even complete beginners should be able to grill or pan fry a ribeye steak without any problem.
The steaks are excellent if you first sear them and then finish them off slowly on the cooler part of the grill. Or, you can flip the process around by starting with low temperature cooking and finishing with high (this is called the reverse sear and is becoming incredibly popular).
The tenderloin is a small and finely grained cut of steak that comes from underneath the ribs. It doesn’t get much exercise, so it has little connective tissue and is one of the tenderest cuts of steak.
Tenderloin steaks tend to be fairly small, but they’re also quite thick. The thickness makes them a little tricky, as you won’t get the right level of doneness from high heat cooking alone.
Instead, you’ll want to use a combination of direct and indirect heat. This will allow you to raise the internal temperature to the right level, without overcooking the exterior.
New York Strip
The New York strip is a steak cut you’ll see time and time again. You could have even had it before without being aware, as this cut of steak goes by many different names.
The steak is a good middle ground option, as it has some marbling but contains much less fat than a ribeye. Similarly, it’s a fairly tender steak that still has some chewiness to it.
The leanness and chewiness aren’t enough to detract from your experience (in fact, the New York strip is an ideal steak for many people). They do help bring the price down though, making this a cut you can enjoy regularly.
Flank steak is one of those cuts that doesn’t sound like it should be popular, yet it is. We’re talking about a tough and lean cut of steak from a cow’s diaphragm.
The toughness makes marinating the steak all but essential. Acidic marinades work the best. These help to break down muscle fibers, increasing the meat’s tenderness in the process. Just be sure to avoid over marinating the meat.
This isn’t a steak to cook well done either. It would end up far too tough. Instead, the most you can cook it is medium (and medium rare tends to be much better).
Despite all these issues, flank steak is a popular choice for fajitas. The flavor and chewiness balance tends to be perfect.
You might even be able to find flank steak at a low price. It was once very cheap, but this isn’t always the case now, as demand has been rising.
Skirt steak is incredibly similar to flank steak. Not only does it look much the same, but you must also follow all of the discussed steps to make it tender.
Skirt tends to be more flavorful than flank steak, but the difference isn’t that major. You can easily swap one type out for the other when preparing meals.
Both steak cuts come out best when cooked over a high heat. This makes them excellent in a cast iron frypan or on the grill.
Flat Iron Steak
The flat iron steak still isn’t that well known, which is a shame, as the cut has plenty going for it. In particular, flat iron steak can be tender when cooked well, while still providing plenty of flavor.
It’s also a fairly inexpensive cut. As such, it’s an excellent choice if you want delicious and tender steak, without breaking the bank in the process.
Grilling is the best way to cook this steak. You don’t even need to marinate it, although you can. In fact, flat iron steak is exceptional when marinated, as it easily takes on the flavor of the marinade.
The filet mignon is a very special cut of meat. It is cut from the narrow end of the tenderloin and is even more tender than the rest of the tenderloin. As a result, it is also a very expensive steak cut.
There’s no need to marinate the filet mignon and even if you cook it straight, it’s still tender enough to be cut with a fork (no steak knife required). The only catch is the flavor, as filet mignon is much milder than most other cuts of beef.
Filet mignons turn out well when cooked on the grill. They often take from 10 minutes to 20 minutes for an inch thick piece of steak, depending on the doneness you want. That time is for a fairly low cooking temperature. As you increase the temperature, the cooking time will decrease.
While filet mignon is easy to work with, you’ll still need to keep an eye on it. Overcooking the meat will make it dry and chewy. Besides, it’s an incredible waste to ruin such an expensive piece of meat.
Chuck Eye Steak
Chuck eye is a fairly uncommon cut of steak, so it’s often overlooked. However, it’s also an exciting option, as chuck eye has most of the tenderness and flavor of ribeye – at a much lower price.
That combination of features is why this cut is often called poor man’s ribeye.
Like ribeye, chuck eye steak and be easily cooked on the grill. There’s no need to marinate it first. Simply treat the cut exactly like you would ribeye.
Hanger steak also sometimes goes by the name butcher’s steak, as it’s sometimes seen as a butcher’s hidden treat, one that they hold back rather than sell. That name highlights just how undervalued hanger steak is.
The cut of meat hangs down from the diaphragm (hence the name). This isn’t an active muscle, so it’s relatively tender. It’s also packed with flavor.
It can be a little tricky though, as hanger steak is initially covered in sinew that needs to be removed before it is used. Still, butchers generally remove this before selling the cut, saving you the work.
Hanger steak can be treated much like skirt or flank steak. This means it should be marinated first, then cooked over a high heat. The cut isn’t as tough as flank steak though, making it easier to work with.
Merlot steak is an unusual butcher’s steak cut. You might not see it often, but it’s quite an exciting one, as it is both tender and tasty. Plus, it’s still relatively inexpensive (although this may change as the cut becomes more widely known).
Merlot steak is similar to flank steak in some ways, with a familiar shape and thickness. However, flank steak is tough and must be marinated before use. The merlot cut has more tenderness, so you can skip the marinating step entirely.
Just a short sear on each side is enough to cook this steak. Of course, you can marinate the steak if you want to. Doing so simply makes it even more tender.
The T-bone is always a favorite. Not only is it large and easy to recognize, but the steak also tastes amazing.
Much of the appeal comes from how the T-bone is actually two different cuts of steak. You have a small piece of tenderloin on the left side of the bone and a much larger piece of strip steak.
Having two cuts like this gives you a fantastic flavor and texture contrast from one side of the steak to the other.
The differences in the steaks aren’t all helpful though, as they make the steak trickier to cook. It’s easy to overcook the tenderloin side, while you’re trying to get the strip steak perfect.
One trick is to focus on a steak that’s at least two inches thick, then reverse sear it. Doing so involves cooking slow over a low heat at first, then increasing the heat towards the end. This is easily done if you have two heat zones on your grill. Otherwise, you could do the low heat cooking in your oven, then finish the steak off on the grill.
A porterhouse is very similar to a T-bone, with the same split of two different cuts of steak. But, porterhouses tend to be larger and they contain more tenderloin than a T-bone.
The reverse sear technique works well here too, helping you to get the desired level of doneness with minimal fuss.
Sirloin tip is an inexpensive and lean cut of meat. Yet, it can also be delicious and tender if you prepare it well.
Marinating the meat is often essential. This provides tenderness and flavor, while reducing how much the steak dries out.
Once the steak has been marinated, ideally overnight, you can cook it on the grill. Let it rest for a while, then cut it against the grain. As with most lean steak cuts, it’s best to only take this one to medium rare. Even cooking it to medium risks making the steak too chewy.
Sirloin isn’t as tender as cuts like tenderloin. However, it’s also a cheaper cut of meat and can be delicious and flavorful when prepared well. The price is low enough that many people can eat sirloin regularly
Top sirloin is the most popular of all sirloin cuts. This lacks bones and much of the tough muscle, so the meat remains fairly tender. You don’t even need to marinate it.
Grilling top sirloin is fairly easy. However, you need to pay attention to the cooking time, as the steak can cook fast and will be tough and chewy if overdone.
Tri tip was once an incredibly obscure choice. It’s a triangular steak cut from bottom sirloin, so it doesn’t sound appealing. Yet, the steak is surprisingly delicious and easy to cook. It’s also pretty inexpensive, which is always helpful.
The trick is to cook it over high heat. This means using a grill rather than in the oven. You can marinate it if you want, but doing so isn’t essential, the steak will still be tender if you cook it as-is.
Once the beef is cooked, rest it for a little, then slice against the grain. Sliced tri tip is particularly good in tacos, but can be used in many other dishes as well.
Top Round Steaks
Round cuts of steak come from the rump area of the cow. There are plenty of active muscles here, so round steaks tend to be relatively tough and low in fat.
That description doesn’t make these sound like great grill steaks. But, round steaks have one huge advantage – they’re affordable. Top round is particularly good, as it is fairly cheap, while also being more tender than many other round cuts.
It’s best to marinate the steak before grilling it. An acidic marinade will help with the muscle fibers, increasing the tenderness of the cooked meat.
For many people, ribeye remains the absolute best steak for grilling. The marbling helps make the meat flavorful, tender, and forgiving on the grill.
However, the steak you choose is only part of the story. Other things influence how your steak turns out too. Here are some tips to make sure your grilled steak is perfect every time.
Pay Attention To The Cooking Time
Cooking time matters more than anything else. Overcooked steak tends to be dry and chewy, and has lost much of its flavor. It’s important to avoid this, even if you’re trying for a well done steak (there’s a huge taste difference between well done and overdone).
The first step here is to research the cut you’ve chosen. Turn to websites or a grilling guide to see what the average cooking time is for the cut you’ve chosen.
Your steak might need shorter or longer on the grill, depending on its thickness, the grill temperature, and the like. So, it’s best to see the cooking time as a guideline rather than a magic number.
Using a meat thermometer helps to get the steak perfect every time. If you’re aiming for a medium steak, then you want between 135°F and 145°F in the center of the steak. The range is a little lower for medium rare and higher for medium well.
Bring It To Room Temperature
Please don’t cook steak straight from the fridge. Doing this leads to uneven cooking and can make your steak much less tasty.
It’s best to get it out of the fridge at least 10 minutes before cooking (possibly more) and allow it to reach room temperature.
Keep The Lid Off
The grill lid is helpful for thick cuts of beef that need a decent cooking time and indirect heat. But, you shouldn’t need to close the lid for most steaks.
Steak generally does best with high temperatures and fast cooking times instead. So, leave the lid where it is.
Let The Steak Rest
While there’s some debate here, most grill masters still recommend allowing your steak to rest for up to 10 minutes after you’ve cooked it. Doing so allows the juices to settle and means you don’t lose as much moisture when you cut into the meat.
Tenting foil over your meat helps to trap the heat in, so you don’t end up with cold steak. This approach isn’t absolutely essential though, so you can skip it if you simply can’t wait or are worried about the steak getting cold.
Try The Reverse Sear
Reverse searing is an interesting grill technique that you can try too. This starts with slow cooking over a low heat, then finishes with a quick sear at higher heat to lock in the flavors and create a nice crust.
The approach works best when you have two temperature zones on your grill. One will be lower than normal and relies on indirect heat (which means you may have the grill lid in place). The other is the more traditional high heat zone.
Reverse searing is perfect for thick cuts. It also works well for anyone who struggles with grilling steaks. It’s much easier to get the exact doneness you want with this technique than when you just rely on high heat.
What About Flipping The Steak?
This is another area that’s under debate. You’ll certainly need to flip your steak at some point during cooking. This is how you ensure it is cooked all the way through.
Some people suggest that you should only flip it once, as doing so multiple times risks drying the meat out. That’s not really the case though. Your steak is going to be just as moist regardless.
The biggest effect is on the exterior of the steak. Flipping it just once makes it easy to have nice clean grill marks on each side. Doing so multiple times makes it easier to get a good crust.
The steak will be delicious either way, so you can run with whichever approach you prefer.