Grillin’ better beef

Farm Forum

Kevin Kolman has a simple equation for making the world a better place. It revolves around family, food and grilling.

“When people are traveling more nowadays and they’re out of the house, when we can get behind a grill, get in that backyard with our family and friends—that’s one good way to reconnect,” says Weber’s “Grill Master.”

Farmers and ranchers create the raw ingredients, making those connections possible and the end result enjoyable. But some find themselves wishing they knew as much about perfecting a sizzling steak as they do about cattle rations.

In time for sunshine and summertime, here’s a quick look at how to apply the science of grilling:

Keep it simple

“Let the beef shine and complement it with seasoning and smoke,” says Jeff Savell, Texas A&M University meat scientist. “Don’t overpower it.”

He suggests a little salt and pepper.

“Always remember that kosher salt is flakier salt and weighs less than normal table salt,” he says. “So if your recipe calls for a tablespoon of salt, know that you really need 2 tablespoons [kosher] to equal it.”

Also, it’s usually best not to buy seasoning in bulk. “Pepper, once it’s ground, it’s losing its flavor pretty quickly,” he says as an example.

“Simple” doesn’t mean people can’t experiment with different flavors, just use them in moderation.

Time and temperature

Casserole recipes include a specific oven temperature and bake time. Usually a few minutes one way or the other doesn’t matter much, but on the grill 30 seconds could be the difference between done to perfection and overdone.

Kolman says it’s all about starting with a hot grill (pre-heated to at least 500 degrees) and paying attention.

“When I put a steak on, I’m going to set my phone to tell me when I need to flip it,” he says. “Trust me. That’s how I have fun at my barbecues.”

There’s no rule that says a certain cut should always be cooked a certain way.

“It’s not always time and temperature—it’s also thickness that plays real big into it,” Kolman says. Anything that’s cut especially thick—say a 2-inch steak—should be “roasted first and then seared.”

A good guide is 8 to 10 minutes of cook time for each inch of thickness.

Chef Michael Ollier, of the Certified Angus Beef ® (CAB®) brand culinary team, says grills provide a versatile cooking space, allowing for direct, high-heat cooking or low and slow techniques like braising or smoking. The latter are usually reserved for end meats, or cuts from the brisket, chuck and round.

“They have more collagen, or that network of webbing around the fibers of the meat,” Ollier says. “That webbing needs to be broken down, and the way to really break it down is through long amounts of time at low temperatures.”

Starting with highly marbled beef improves the experience, whether it’s a quickly grilled steak or a long-smoked brisket.

“Marbling in a piece of meat is less dense than protein, so it’s going to be easier to bite through,” says Phil Bass, CAB meat scientist. “Juiciness is affected by marbling and also the flavor—you have the beautiful buttery flavor that comes from marbling. The more you have it, the more that desirable flavor comes out.”

However, if you don’t get your grill hot enough, you’re not letting those middle meats shine, Ollier says.

“If you don’t sear the outside, you’re missing out on what we instinctively crave–contrast between the crisp outside and the tender inside,” he says.

Ollier often puts a cast iron pan right on the grill as he heats it up. “More and more I’m into that uniform crust, rather than a cosmetic grill mark.”

Preheating for 10 to 15 minutes also keeps the meat from sticking to the grates.

“Meat is 75% water, so the longer it’s on the grill, the more moisture that’s going to be cooked out of it,” Kolman says.

Give it a break

Patience is an important trait for any griller.

“If you are cutting into meat and you are getting a lot of juices coming out, that’s an automatic sign you’re not letting it rest long enough,” Savell says.

Coming off the grill, beef needs to rest for several minutes (5 for steaks and 10 to 15 for larger items) to let the moisture redistribute.

“When you have such high heat, the water molecules rushing all around are like water balloons blown up almost to capacity,” Ollier says. “If you run a knife through that steak when it’s in that state—when all the water molecules are running around and so ready to burst—you actually do burst them.

“If you give it a chance to relax, the water will realign itself within the fibers of the meat and they’ll be more like a relaxed balloon that’s only filled half way,” he explains. “Cutting a rested steak will keep juices in each bite.”

Some protest that they want a piping hot steak.

“Then you can just tent it with aluminum foil to retain heat or place it close to the grill to keep it warm,” Ollier says.

When it comes to slicing, the best method is always thinly, across the grain, the chef says.

Beef insurance

Skill and equipment must be paired with high-quality beef to get optimal results, Kolman says.

“You’re trying to mitigate as many liabilities in that process as you can,” he says, noting a consistent source of beef helps. “If I’ve got the pit, I know how to set that up. If I know how to season it, I’ve got that portion taken care of….you almost have to go through the whole process.”

Perfecting the art and science of a backyard barbecue really comes down to four simple things, Kolman says: Good beef, good grills, good seasoning and good instruction.

Want inspiration? Check out the recipes available at