The Right Temperatures for BBQ Grilling a Steak: Rare, Medium and Well-Done
You have a steak that you are about to put on the grill. You have your thermometers handy to check the temperature of the grill as well as the temperature of the steak. But just what is the right temperature for your steak? The answer depends on two things: the thickness of the steak and how well done you want the steak to be.
The thickness of the steak affects the temperature of the grill.
In order to properly grill a steak, the grill's temperature needs to be correct. Many people just try to make sure that their grill is approximately 400 degrees. This is fine if you're looking for an average. However, if you want to really grill a steak well, you want to be more specific than this. A thicker steak is going to cook better on a lower temperature whereas a thin steak can cook on a high temperature. This seems counterintuitive to some people (since you would think that you need hotter heat to cook through a thicker steak) but it's the way that it is.
Measure the thickness of your steak before grilling. If it measures 1 1/4 inches thick or thicker then you want to set your grill to a low temperature. A temperature of approximately 325 - 350 degrees is appropriate for a thick steak. This is the temperature of the surface of the grill. Two other indicators that you can use to make sure that the temperature is right are a hand count check and a look at the coals. The hand count check means that you literally hold your hand at grilling height over the grill and count how many seconds it takes before it's too hot to keep your hand there. A thick steak should have a hand count of five seconds. When you look at the coals of the grill, they should appear medium-low in temperature with a thick layer of grey ash on them.
What if you aren't cooking a steak that is this thick? A medium steak (3/4 - 1 inch in thickness) should have a grill surface temperature between 360 and 400 degrees. A hand count should be four seconds and the coals should be medium temperature with a light layer of grey ash on them. If you are cooking a thin steak (~1/2 inch in thickness) then you want a hot grill temperature of 425 - 450 degrees, a three-second hand count and medium-hot coals that don't have many ashes at all on them.
The temperature of the steak determines how well done it is.
The temperature of the grill is important for properly cooking a steak but it doesn't tell you whether your steak is going to be well done, medium or rare. To determine this, you need to check the temperature of the steak as it is grilling. If you want a rare steak, then you will want the temperature to be about 130 degrees when you remove it from the grill. (Note that the temperature will continue to climb about five degrees on all steaks when they are removed from the grill.) A medium steak will have a temperature of approximately 155 degrees. And a well-done steak will be about 165 degrees in temperature.
As you can guess, a very thick steak cooking on a low grill temperature until it is well done is going to take a lot longer to cook than a thin steak that you want rare. That's why there aren't specific grilling times for grilling a teak; instead, you want to rely on temperatures to give you the most accurate information for perfectly grilling a piece of red meat.