Last Updated on April 16, 2020
My first real restaurant job was in Northeast Kansas, home to some of the highest quality beef on the planet.
While I had been eating steak since I was old enough to chew it, I learned an important lesson about grilling from this restaurant: There’s a huge difference between cooking a steak, and making the best possible steak that you can with the equipment and ingredients you have.
About three months into this job, I had finished training as a bartender but still knew very little about cooking, much less how to make the best grilled ribeye. After a particularly busy Saturday night, as I was wiping down bottles and cleaning the bar, the owner (and head chef) asked me a question that would change my life:
“You wanna learn how to cook a ribeye? I’m hungry.”
I jumped at the opportunity to learn from this veteran chef, and took careful notes while following his lead. While it’s been more than a decade since he taught me how to grill a perfect ribeye (and what to serve it with), my memory of that day is still fresh and new.
So today, I’m going to pass on the ribeye grilling secrets that my first chef gave to me -- and throw in a couple of new tricks that I’ve learned along the way, too. By the end of this article, you’ll be ready to use whatever tools you have at hand to get the best flavor possible out of this fabulous cut of meat.
Let’s get to it!
How to Choose the Best Ribeye
If you don’t have a personal relationship with your local butcher, chances are you’ll need to learn a little bit about steak cuts before grilling up a perfect ribeye.
Picking a great steak doesn’t have to be hard work, though. Just keep these 3 simple markers of quality in mind when looking for your next cut of meat:
Thickness makes a world of difference whether you’re grilling on an open charcoal fire or on a gas range. Look for cuts that are between 1 and 1 ½ inches thick; this is the sweet spot for easy grilling and perfect consistency.
Be sure to avoid cuts under 1 inch thick -- they’ll cook far too quickly, often leading to chewier, less flavorful steaks. Similarly, avoid anything over 1 ½ inches thick unless you like your steak on the raw side of rare; they’re almost impossible to cook evenly throughout.
The thin white lines that run through a steak are a great indicator of how flavorful the whole cut is going to be. Called “marbling”, these deposits of fat are best when they’re evenly sized and evenly distributed throughout the whole cut.
Too much marbling, and you’ll end up with a steak that’s more gristle and fat than it is delicious. Too little, and you run the risk of having a chewy steak that takes way too long to grill.
#3 USDA Grade
Beef sold in the United States comes with a handy grading system for overall quality:
Select steaks are… Not very good. Pass on these for much of anything besides stew meat.
Choice cuts of meat are of a very high quality, but have less marbling than the highest grade… And therefore, a little less flavor.
Prime beef is the king of quality, having a perfect balance of texture and flavor. Of course, it’s also the most expensive -- so save it for special occasions.
Should I Use a Dry Rub?
Grill masters are notably divided on the issue of how to properly season a ribeye for grilling.
In one camp, you have the steak purists. They’ll insist that anything more than salt and maybe a little fresh ground black pepper is an insult to quality steak. My first chef definitely fell into this category, choosing to season his ribeye with just a heavy sprinkling of maldon flake sea salt.
On the other side, you have the flavor scientists. They absolutely love tinkering with every step of a cooking process, and will do anything to coax a little extra flavor out of their dishes. Dry rubs from this side can add a fascinating flavor to a steak.
MY approach, though, falls somewhere in the middle:
If you’re using Prime beef, stick with just salt; for any other grade, feel free to go crazy with your spicing.
This way, you’re not mucking up the flavors of a really amazing (and really expensive) cut of beef… But you also get to play with spices for your day-to-day cooking. It’s the best of both worlds!
Now that you know how to pick out the perfect ribeye for grilling, you can decide whether or not you really need a dry rub for extra flavor. Assuming that you’re going with a “Choice” quality ribeye, try this dry rub for an extra burst of complex flavor:
Combine all of these ingredients in an air-tight container and give it a shake to mix. Kept in a dark cupboard, it will last for months.
Preparation & Cooking Instructions
30 mins - 6 hrsCooking Time:
If you’re using a dry rub, go ahead and coat your steak evenly with the dried mixture, then leave it for 30 minutes to 6 hours (or as long as you have patience for). It’ll be ready to grill whenever you are.
Whether you’re cooking on gas or charcoal, you need to get your cooking surface HOT. I’m talking really, really hot!
But first, brush your grilling surface with an oil that has a high smoke point (I use canola oil). This will help get those perfect grill marks without letting your steak stick and tear.
Then, have an oven preheated to 450 degrees (or a cooler spot on your charcoal grill) ready for the “indirect heat” phase of cooking.
With all this ready, all you need to do is grill your steak for 4 minutes on each side over very high heat, then move it to your oven or cooler spot on the grill to finish cooking for another 8 to 10 minutes.
Final Tips on Getting a Perfect Grill Every Time
Last but not least, be sure to let your steak rest for at least 5 minutes before cutting it. This helps to seal in the juices, making for the most flavorful ribeye possible.
As for the side dishes? There’s really nothing better than smooth, buttery mashed potatoes and a grilled vegetable like asparagus to round out the whole meal.
Thanks for reading today, and we wish you luck with all of your future grilling experiences!