There are few things that make the mouth water more than the scent produced when a steak meets flame on a grill for entertaining. Your friends and family will drool over. Of course, this is followed shortly by the sizzle of the surface searing on the grates, and the shimmer of rendering fat glistening on the surface. Give it a flip, and the magic repeats all over again, this time more pronounced. Yet, there are times when despite the backyard chef’s best efforts, the end product has been a piece of meat that was perhaps “Underwhelming.”
To truly understand the best grills that make a great steak, we need to take a moment or two to look into the art and science of what makes a great steak.
For starters, you want to source good meat. Tender cuts with good marbling like ribeye, New York strip, T-bone, and porterhouse tend to be the most popular, with filet mignon being reserved for special occasions. Still, there are other cuts like flank and inside skirt Steak that will also make a mean batch of fajitas. Regardless of where it comes from on the steer, all steaks benefit from one thing:
A good sear.
Also known as the “Crust” this is a micro-thin layer of powerful flavor compounds created when meat and other protein-rich foods are exposed to short-term high heat. Technically known as the “Maillard Reaction” the flavor and aroma it produces are designed to trigger hunger and the desire to satisfy the reward response in the brain. Now it’s worth bearing in mind that with steaks this tends to occur best in the presence of direct heat, such as exposing the surface of the meat to direct flame or ripping hot metal grill grates.
So, what does this mean when it comes to buying a grill specifically meant to make a great steak?
It means that by and large smokers, wood pellet grills, and other cooking appliances that use indirect heat will not develop the kind of flavorful crust that will make you weak in the knees. Don’t get me wrong, a wood pellet grill is fully capable of producing a flavor steak infused with a pleasant smokiness. Some even have an optional broiler plate that lets you convert them into a direct heat grill. However, most work best for smoking meat or for wood fire baking purposes. Which they do great at!
When it comes to making a flavorful sear on a steak, direct heat is the thing you want to prioritize first!
What Other Characteristics Go Into A Great Steak Grill?
We could sit here and argue the merits of gas over charcoal until everyone was blue in the face and there would still be people entrenched in their own camp. Yet there are a few features that can help set one grill above another that goes beyond the preference of fuel source.
Charcoal Or Grill Grate Height Adjustment
While exposing a steak to high heat certainly helps develop a flavorful sear, you might not want to leave it on maximum heat for a minute or two. A grill that lets you move the charcoal firebox up or lower the grill grate down allows you to develop a powerful sear, then you can move the heat slightly away from the steak, which will allow it to finish through to rare, medium, or medium-rare on the inside, without turning the beautiful sear into a burned crust.
Dampers For Superior Heat Control
Even if a charcoal grill doesn’t have the ability to adjust the height of the grate, you can still get by with easy to control dampers. Just remember that the lower damper is designed to let air in, which feeds the flame. The upper dampers hold heat in under the lid. Cranking the lower damper wide open and closing the upper damper will give you a hot fire with superior heat retention.
Creating Dual Heat Zones For A Gas Grill
A gas grill with multiple, independently controlled burner elements also gives you the opportunity to develop two distinctly different heat zones. You could start out by firing up one side on high, and the other side of the grill on medium-low.
Once everything is properly preheated, you lay the steak on the high heat side for a minute and a half. Then gently slide it over to the medium-low side for another two to three minutes to warm the interior. When you’re ready to flip, place it back over the high heat side, and repeat. This will give you a nice medium to a medium-rare interior with a nice exterior crust. Just keep in mind that you can’t necessarily do this with a gas grill that only has a small burner.
Does A Warming Rack Matter?
Chances are you’ve had a time or two where you took your steak directly off the grill, and cut into it, only to see the pink juices flow out onto the plate. What’s left behind is a once succulent piece of meat turned dry.
This is due to the nature of protein fibers and their tendency to contract when heated. If you give a piece of meat 3 to 5 minutes to “Rest” the meat fibers will loosen and the juices will redistribute. You can do this by removing the steak from the grill and wrapping it in heavy-duty aluminum foil, or by removing it to a cooler part of the warming rack. This will keep the meat warm, without advancing the level of interior doneness.
Do Infrared Grills Make A Good Steak?
Most infrared grills use a propane flame to heat a special ceramic element. At that point, it emits powerful infrared radiation, which is safe for the food, while also helping to lock in moisture as it sears. You see infrared doesn’t breakdown the natural moisture layer of the food it cooks. Instead, it radiates heat energy into the meat. It does this very quickly, which gives it the ability to perfectly sear the exterior while cooking the interior to a beautiful pink doneness.
The Best Infrared Grills For Grilling The Perfect Steak
Best Gas And Charcoal Grills For Making The Perfect Steak
When it comes to gas and charcoal, the basic features and heat output that we discussed earlier are the things that matter most. Preference between which fuel type is best is a debate that is sure to rage eternal. The following are some of the best charcoal, gas and combination grills to consider for grilling the perfect steak.
Best Wood Pellet Grills For Making Steak
As we discussed earlier, the indirect heat produced by most wood pellet grills will indeed cook a fine, smoke-infused steak. It will just be lacking the seared on crust that you get from direct fire. Not to worry, there are a few wood pellet grill manufacturers who sell units with a sliding broiler plate to expose the internal flame.