A Guide to Steak Grilling Times

Plus, tips from our Test Kitchen team.

Grilling a steak is among the most iconic summer activities, but for many, it’s also among the most daunting. There’s no worse feeling than investing in a high-quality (read: pricey) cut of meat only to find you’ve overcooked it. Add dinner guests into the mix, and what started out as a fun, warm-weather activity has turned into something far more stressful.

We’d like to help prevent that outcome. So, we asked our pros in the test kitchen to weigh in on how long to grill steak, how to test for doneness, and the differences between charcoal and gas grills.

How Long to Grill Steaks

First off, it’s important to establish that grilling steak involves a lot of variables, such as the cut and thickness of your steak, the type of grill you’re using, and your personal preferred doneness. So, while we can provide you with guidance and estimates to help you make the most of your steaks, it’s important to also use your own best judgment. With that in mind, we spoke to Food52’s Food Stylist Anna Billingskog to get her go-to timing for ensuring a perfectly cooked steak every time. Her guidelines (for a 1-inch-thick steak) are as follows:

  • For a rare steak (120°F to 130°F): 8 minutes on the grill, flipping halfway
  • For a medium-rare steak (130°F to 135°F): 9 to 10 minutes on the grill, flipping halfway
  • For a medium steak (135°F to 140°F): 10 to 12 minutes, flipping halfway
  • For a medium-well steak (140°F to 150°F): 11 to 12, flipping halfway

Another resource at your disposal is your local butcher, who can give advice based on their specific offerings. “My best bet is to chat with my local butcher and ask for [cooking] times or cues from them,” says Food52’s Food Editor Emily Ziemski.

How to Test for Steak Doneness

It can be tricky to know exactly when to pull a steak from the grill. A meat thermometer, inserted into the center of the cooking steak, is a surefire way to ensure accuracy—but “pok[ing] a hole in the meat you’re cooking…can let precious juices escape,” says Anna.

Instead, she likes to rely on what’s known as the “thumb” or “finger” test for determining steak doneness: “Touch the tip of your index finger to the tip of your thumb. The fleshy area below the thumb [on the palm] should give quite a bit. This is what meat cooked to rare feels like—it gives quite a bit and isn't too springy.”

For medium-rare (which Anna says is her “ideal” level of doneness), “press the tip of your middle finger to the tip of your thumb and press the fleshy area below [the inside of] your thumb.” Gently press the surface of your steak, and see how they compare. To test for a medium and medium-well cook, repeat those steps but with your ring finger (for medium) or pinky (for medium-well).

When in doubt, Anna errs on the side of undercooking her steak—that’s because the meat will continue to cook as it rests, even after it’s been removed from the grill or pan, thanks to the residual heat.

Another tip comes from Emily. “If the meat is sticking to the grates, it's not ready to be flipped,” she says. “Letting the meat do its thing on the grill without disturbing too much will yield those beautiful grill marks [and] a more even cook overall.”

Grilling a perfect steak is as much about finesse as it is about timing. Remember, patience is key.

Grilling on Gas vs. Charcoal Grills

Both gas and charcoal grills can yield beautiful results, but each offers slightly different advantages—and challenges—for the home cook. Known for its ability to give meat (and veg!) a distinctly smoky flavor, charcoal is especially great at reaching temperature extremes, whether you’re looking for a super-hot sear (in the case of a steak) or a low, slow smolder. However, temperatures on a charcoal grill can be difficult to control and maintain. Gas grills, meanwhile, won’t necessarily give your steak that ultra-charred or smoky finish—but they’re more convenient, easier to clean, and have precise temperature controls, all which make the process run more smoothly, especially for novice grillers.