Perfect cross hatch marks on a grilled steak may look awesome, but they are more than just a pretty face. They have an inner purpose.
Getting a good sear on your steak, or whatever it is you are grilling, helps your food release from the grill naturally. Sear marks seal in the juices and guarantee your food won’t stick to the grill.
Still. Let’s face it. Perfect grill marks are sort of a griller’s badge. Like a Cub Scout’s knot sample board or a basketball player’s three-point shot, a master griller takes pride in nailing a true “medium rare” and having nice, symmetrical cross hatch marks on their steak. The fact that sear marks bring out your food’s inner beauty is, well, doubly divine.
Here’s a little secret: It’s not that hard to do. You can do it in three and a quarter easy steps.
But before you break out the fat ribeye, remember that practice makes perfect. And also that fat ribeye is really pricey so let’s start with bread, onions, even tofu, before we move on to the meat candy.
Step 1: Get your grill hot. I mean really hot. Preheat your grill for at least 15 minutes on high with the lid down. Tepid grill grates won’t sear. Worse, tepid grill grates stick. You might need to finish a thick steak indirectly, but that’s later, after your sear marks are done.
Step 2: Oil your meat, not your grill. Same goes for onions, eggplant, tofu… though for the practice round on bread, don’t use any oil – that would be like grilling an oil sponge. I’m sure you knew that, but I try to write instructions with, say, my Cousin Vern in mind, who might try to grill oil-soaked bread.*
Step 3: Place your meat (or bread, or onions, or tofu) on the grill and leave it until your food tells you it’s ready. Huh? Yup, food will release from the grill naturally. Meats release collagen, fruits and veggies juices, and subsequently, once those sear marks have done their job and sealed in the juices, your food will be almost ready for the tragically hip, often forgotten B side after one more small step. A baby step, really. If you aren’t sure, you can sneak a peek by tipping your spatula under one corner and testing whether whatever you are grilling will come up without clinging to the grill grates. If there is a tug, it isn’t ready.
Step 3.25: Turn your bread/onions/tofu/or fat ribeye a one quarter turn (or 45 degrees) and let sear for a few minutes. Turn your meat using the center of the steak as the axis point. That way your cross hatch lines will, well, line up. This step won’t be as long as your first sear marks because your food is already hot and partially seared. If unsure, you can once again cheat by peeking under one corner with your spatula to see if your cross hatch marks are solid. Then you can flip.
Bonus tip: You only need perfect sear marks on one side, the side that is up and showing. Inner beauty only goes so far, after all. Besides, if you try to get crosshatch marks on both sides, chances are you will overcook your bread/onions/tofu/ or fat ribeye, a travesty indeed. At least for the steak. You have my permission to burn the tofu.
Equipment I used for this post: I used my smallest, most uncomplicated grill with no bells or whistles other than its TRU-Infrared technology: my trusty go-to camping grill, the Char-broil® Grill2Go. You can make perfect sear marks on any grill if you follow these 3.25 steps. Happy Grilling everyone!
*I don’t actually have a cousin named Vern, but I’ve always wished I did.