How to Know When Steak is Done

It’s the age old question that comes up every time you grill a steak: How do you know when steak is done?

If you’ve ever grilled a steak, you’ve probably had the urge to flip it “just one more time” or cut through the middle to make sure it isn’t raw… after all, who wants to work up an appetite for a juicy burger but get the wrong kind of juicy? Because so many factors affect cooking time, it can be tricky knowing when to pull a steak off the grill for best results. Luckily, you’re about to get the scoop on how to grill a steak to remember every. Single. Time.

My number one pro-tip is to invest in an instant-read thermometer. Over time, you’ll develop an eye for knowing when your steaks are good to go, but until then, a digital thermometer will guide you along the way. Additionally, familiarizing yourself with your grill will help, as you’ll be able to gauge how you like to heat it and how long to grill different kinds of steak according to the desired temperature. Aside from those two key elements, here are five things that’ll help you know when your steak is done.

Gas or Charcoal

It’s not the heat source but how hot it’s running that counts. Whether gas or charcoal, make sure your grill gets hot prior to putting a good steak on it, as this will help the grate produce a good sear. Personally, I preheat the grill for 20 minutes after arranging the coals or firing it up before I put steaks on it.

Thickness & Size

Your choice of steak affects cook time and the overall outcome. For example, a classic porterhouse shouldn’t be less than an inch-and-a-quarter thick, which takes longer to cook than a thin, boneless sirloin. Conversely, smaller steaks take less time than hefty tri-tips. When it comes down to it, steak size matters.

Steak Temperature

Just like grill temperature, steak temperature affects timing, too. Taking a steak straight from the fridge and onto a fire doesn’t produce the best results. So, make sure to allow your steak to reach room temperature and grill to fully preheat for if you want to get the most out of your steak, like this char-grilled one. Unless you’re using restaurant-grade grills, which run significantly hotter than home appliances, you’re better off letting the meat warm up once taken out of the fridge.

Bone-In or Boneless

In my experience, bone-in steak tends to be more popular because of their rich flavour, whereas boneless steaks are milder. However, bone-in is more expensive and a bit bulkier, which constitutes a slower cook time than its boneless counterpart.

Direct or Indirect Heat

When cooking over direct heat without a lid, make sure to add two to four minutes to the overall cook time for your desired level of doneness. If you feel like getting creative, you can play with other fun methods like a chimney starter. Please keep in mind, though, that most home-grilling recipes are written with a direct grill-cover in mind, as well as indirect heat unless otherwise noted.

Environment & Weather

Outside temperatures and wind patterns also contribute to how well your grill holds heat, which is another reason I love preheating: doing so allows me to check the temperature and ensure its stability. Once the grill preheats and reaches the internal temperature goal, it’s usually happy grilling from there. But, if stronger weather joins the cookout, you may need to man the grill more than you would otherwise.

Digital Thermometers

The bottom line is meat thermometers, like Char-Broil’s Instant Read Digital Thermometer, are the only way to ensure your steak turns out well without playing guessing games. While grill, location, thickness, and temperature are just a few of hundreds of factors coming into play, they’re significant enough to make or break your steak game. Hedge your bets on a good thermometer, you won’t regret it.