A Chef Shares The Biggest Mistake Beginners Make When Grilling Steak

First-time or first-in-a-long-time grillers may find it challenging to whip up a flavorful, seared steak on their first try. To make things easier, Food Republic asked expert CJ Jacobson, chef partner at Aba and Ema restaurants, for his advice. "Grilling is a direct, high heat cooking technique, so the most important thing is to be able to get a grill hot," he said. "Once a steak has proper char marks on each side, I like to cook a steak on a cooler part of the grill to bring the center up to the temperature I want."

In other words, take time to build that fire and get the grill roaring hot. Though Jacobson takes the time to finish steaks low-and-slow over indirect heat so they don't dry out, the direct heat of the flames is critical to caramelizing and charring the exterior. This layer of flavor is what makes grilling special, and skipping this would lead to disappointment at the dinner table.

Don't make the mistake of adding steaks to the flames before your grate has properly heated up. Though it's tempting to slap the meat down as soon as the grill's thermometer ticks upward, remember that the metal inside the equipment is slower to warm. Assume it will take about 15 minutes for the grates to pre-heat on a gas grill and up to 25 minutes for charcoal. As a bonus, this helps prevent the beef from sticking to the cold grates, resulting in a much prettier meal.

A shortcut to smoky flavor on the grill

Since cooking steak only takes a few minutes, it can be hard to imbue the protein with the smoke of the grill. Former "Top Chef" contestant CJ Jacobson has another hot tip to solve this. "I also love adding a touch of smoky rosemary to some of the steaks I eat," he shared.

The expert's clever seasoning process begins with adding sprigs of rosemary to the grates alongside the beef. He allows the herbs to light on fire, then makes his move. "Once it catches fire, I will lift the steak with a pair of tongs and tap [it against] the smoldering rosemary. This adds beautiful rosemary ash to the steak for a touch of smoke."

Newbies and advanced cooks alike can take this idea and run with it. Try allowing other aromatic fresh herbs like fennel fronds and woody thyme to hit the flames, too. Delicate leaves may be more difficult to burn without disintegrating, so try soaking them in water to protect them. 

When the herbs have their kiss of smoke, remove from heat and dust your meal with the ash. Or, you can blend them into a punchy chimichurri or salsa to infuse smoke and moisture into the steak. This can help cover up any "learning moments" you had while cooking with the grill. Extra rosemary ash can season sides like hummus and roasted vegetables, as well as seafood for surf and turf.