You know how good they look on that steak or piece of fish that just came out, and you wish you could do that at home. Well I am here to tell you, yes you can get that same look at home and pretty easily too. Grill marks are just great when you see them on food an add a nice professional touch, but they also serve a purpose.
Grill marks really help with timing meat to make sure it is being cooked to the right temperatures on the inside. It is a visual cue to a cook or chef that things are moving along as they should be. You see, in a pro kitchen we have a grill, and on said grill we have zones. In each of these zones exists a rotation, a pattern or which pieces of meat or fish were placed first, so we know the next to come off. This system ensures that you get the right steak without a cook or chef having to cut it open to check. Grill marks can also be another clue, and they help make sure the meats gets cooked evenly.
A quick pause to talk about these zones. These can be useful if you are cooking large quantities of items for a gathering and people request well done and others want medium. By using zones and timing, you can make everyone happy. A pro grill will usually be slanted, this makes the front or back, depending, hotter than the other. This is where typically we will cook the higher temp items, Well dones and Medium Wells. The middle will be fare game for medium and the slower, cooler section will be great for our Rares. Find on your grill where the hotspots are and use them. If your stove is decent and holds a nice uniform temperature, you can create zones by adjusting heat. Those rocking it old-school with charcoal will find the outer ring is slower than the center.
Inside each zone we establish a FIFO, Fist in, First out, rotation, usually it is in the top left, and things progress clockwise, but every cook is going to run his grill his way, it is very hard to step in and take over. When I set up my zones I also set one up that is seasoning free for people who don’t like pepper and things on their foods for allergies and such.
PREPARATION FOR GRILL MARKS
You didn’t think it was going to be THAT easy did you? It does take a little preparation. First thing you need is a hot grill. I always start off with a nice hot grill that I leave alone for a good 10 minutes at full heat.
Next it needs to be clean, so brush the grill off well and make sure that all the little bits are off the grates top and bottom. It is much easier to do this after the grill has gotten hot and carbonized most of the bits from the last grilling session.
Now is the time to prepare your steaks, or fish, or chicken, and it is also the best time to season. When you season right before you place on the grill, it helps provide a small barrier between the meat and the grill which helps keep things from sticking. If you haven’t been convinced to buy Kosher salt yet, read this article, then go buy some. This is one reason alone to use it. Salt just doesn’t melt with heat so it is perfect for creating that barrier. It does dissolve, but if you season RIGHT before placement, you will be cooking like a pro and sticking less! I use about a 1/4 teaspoon on one side. This is a three finger pinch for me (thumb, two fingers).
Last, get everything ready and when you are just ready to put the steaks down, then you will oil the grill. I do this with a cotton towel that I soak in a little vegetable oil, and using a long pair of tongs, wipe over the grates. Just a thin coat here, we don’t want to burst into flames now!
NOW TO PLACE THE MEATGrill-Marks
Okay, everything is rocking and ready, we want to place the meat. A golden rule of cooking in general is to avoid excess movement in the meats. We don’t want to disturb the cooking process, so no excess poking, turning, spearing, etcetera. To this end, where we drop the meat will be where it stays through the first stage of cooking, so plan your plan and lay out your grill, then work your plan by placing the meats. Look at the chart below and you can see we tend to start placement at 10-11 o’clock. If you have an unusual shape, that’s fine, just remember to turn about 60 degrees when you pick it up.
This is where knowing how your grill works will be handy. Work with a timer and experiment how long it takes to cook a medium, a well or rare. By knowing this time you can nail a perfect steak every time. I know a medium, 1” thick New York Strip takes 8 minutes on my grill. Therefore, with a little math, it will take 4 minutes on each side, and we will turn it every 2 minutes. How this looks is like this.
So get out there and work with your grill, get to know it! Keep a little log on cooking times and you will get perfect steaks every time!