How to Cook Lean Steaks on the Grill

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These days, we are all looking for ways to trim the fat, so to speak, in our food budgets. Our purchase habits haven’t gone unnoticed, and grocery stores are responding to these new shopping habits with packaging that both pleases and entices us to purchase.

Having trained us for years to buy big ‘ol hunks of meat, grocers know that we first shop with our eyes – THEN with our wallet — when selecting steak in the meat case. That has prompted a unique approach by grocers – the steaks still appear to fill the package but are now very, very thin.

I can understand how the visual presentation of a large piece of meat is appealing, and when the price matches our budget – it gets snapped up quickly. BUT cooking a thin steak can be problematic for many backyard cooks. By the time you get the sear marks on the surface the steak is often overdone — especially if you prefer meat that is cooked rare or medium-rare.

Visually it looks large but ‘thin cuts’ are actually small and may be difficult for you to prepare on the grill.

Here are a couple of tricks I use to prevent overcooking those extra thin (under 1/2 inch) cuts of steak.  The first trick: “Freezer.” Well, I don’t actually freeze the meat, but I get it as cold as possible, dry the surface and give it a quick rub with a pinch of salt – then toss on the grate. I generally use a Char-Broil® Premium TRU-Infrared™ grill so the grates are easy to get to a temperature hotter than 600°F – so searing is not a problem. BUT, if you have a standard gas grill, a trick to use for browning the surface quickly on these thin cuts of beef or pork is to use a light coating of clarified (melted with the whey skimmed away) butter. Butter has a low smoke point, and clarified butter is a bit higher, but it will help to give your steaks a quick sear mark.

How does this work? The Maillard Effect is a scientific principle that teaches us that a dry slightly saline surface browns more efficiently. A thin steak at room temperature will cook quickly on the surface, while the interior will heat up past 140°F – resulting in meat with that somewhat unappealing gray color.

By chilling the steak down to near freezing, the surface will respond to the heat of the grates and brown, but the interior will require a bit more time to build heat. You may only get one turn and not have time for crosshatch grill marks – but the surface is more likely to have the brown crusty flavors you enjoy and the interior can remain in the “pink.”


9 thoughts on “How to Cook Lean Steaks on the Grill

  1. Thanks, that is very useful. I usually keep the steaks in the fridge, until i cook them. around here the steaks are always too thin, in my opinion. ill try freezing them first for an hour or two, before i grill them.

    1. Pete – thanks for the comment. Thin steaks are problematic to cook, but thicker steaks I like to warm up so that when searing on the outside they cook quickly internally. I have a friend who likes to cook them by placing in a cold oven, turning it on to the low setting and raising the internal temperature to about 100F degrees, then searing to finish. The steaks have a tasty crust and consistent pink internal. Welcome to the Cookout! ~ Barry ‘CB’ Martin

  2. Thats a great tip. I’ve been having this problem for some time and couldn’t resolve it. This will make my wife very happy!

    1. Al – Let me know how it turns out as each circumstance is different. Welcome to the Cookout! ~ Barry ‘CB’ Martin

  3. Great tips. My wife bought a lot of thin t-bones as they were on sale.Every time I tried to grill them the were too well done.I can’t wait to try again. Thanks

    1. Doug – my pleasure! Let me know how you adapt this to suit your circumstances and tastes. Welcome to the Cookout! ~ Barry ‘CB’ Martin

  4. How do I get my meat to have less pink on the inside without burning the meat on the outside ? The other night I grilled steaks on low heat and left them on each side for 15 minutes. The meat was still very pink on the inside.

    1. Jim – You can sear your steaks on the outside directly on the grates and then move them to the top rack of your grill and cook to your desired doneness without burning them. Hope this helps!


  5. Hiya Jim — I call that method described by Michael “Sear and Hold” — it’s a method used by steak houses and professional cooks to get the marks you like on the outside but finish the meat with a bit more control. The majority of outdoor grills that are either charcoal or traditional gas grills will dry out the meat if you continue to grill it over direct heat. So placing steaks, chops, burgers, chicken, etc. in a tray off of direct heat AFTER you’ve marked it on the grates is an excellent way to prevent this. With the Char-Broil TRU-Infrared grills I’ve experienced far less moisture loss during cooking so it’s not as big of an issue.

    Here’s a tip – beef begins to turn from pink to that grayish brown when it hits approximately 140°F so you can also use an instant read thermometer to keep tabs on what is going on inside the steak to determine what color it is. OVER 145°F should result in no pink. That’s another cool thing about the infrared grills, the meat remains moist even when cooked beyond that.

    I recommend you use the USDA guidelines for cooking and get a reliable instant read thermometer – an analog will set you back about $5 and I bought one recently at a Kroger store in the kitchen supply area. OR you can go for the more expensive digital ones – and get the reading about 3 seconds faster – for about $80. Just say’n.

    Welcome to the Cookout! Barry ‘CB’ Martin

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