There’s nothing like the hiss and sizzle of a juicy steak on the grill. But figuring out the ideal thickness for your cut can be a bit of a challenge.
Do you go for a thicker slice for the most tenderness, or should you favor a thinner cut for quick, even cooking?
Some might say it comes down to personal preference, but there’s more to it than meets the eye. It’s also about making sure your meat cooks up tender and properly. A steak too thin won’t come out succulent, and a steak too thick will burn on the crust before it cooks within.
The thickness of the cut, then, can make or break your steak.
Fortunately, I’ve grilled up my fair share of steaks in my time and learned a thing or two about the ideal steak thickness. So grab a drink, follow along, and let’s talk all about it.
What’s the Best Thickness for Steak?
The ideal thickness for a steak is 1½ inches. It allows for a nice sear on the outside while still keeping the inside juicy and tender. It’s a happy medium that works well for the most common cuts, whether the ribeye, sirloin, or tenderloin.
I know that folks have different preferences when it comes to how they like their steaks cooked. For some, a rare steak is a steak cooked just right, whereas for others, it’s a steak not cooked at all. And that’s alright!
That’s where the heat of the grill and cooking time come into play. A 1½-inch thick steak will take longer to cook through than a thinner steak, so you’ll need to take your time on the grill. On a gas grill, you want medium-high heat. On a charcoal grill, you want to wait 20-25 minutes after lighting the coals so they ashen over and glow with steady, even heat.
A meat thermometer is your best friend when it comes to grilling steak, so make sure to use one. Insert the probe in the thickest part of the meat when you suspect it’s right about done to ensure it’s cooked to your desired level of doneness.
How Thick Is Too Thick?
Don’t get me wrong: Some folks like their steak thin as a dime while others prefer a nice thick cut. It’s a free world. But there is such a thing as a steak that’s just too thick to grill up right.
I will say that anything over 2½ to 3 inches thick might be a little too much for the grill and should be treated as a roast. I’m not saying it’s impossible to grill it up. But I am saying that, unlike thinner cuts, you’re going to have to use direct heat and indirect heat to cook it.
What you’re going to want to do is configure your grill for direct and indirect heat. This lets you make the best of both worlds. You’ll cook the steak till it gets to the right internal temperature using indirect heat, with the lid down. Then, you will give it a nice and good sear using direct heat, with your grill’s lid up.
When to Cut Steaks Thick
Thickness: 1½ to 2 inches
Right off the bat, I can tell you that well-marbled steaks taste their best when they’re cut thicker. Now, some of you might be wondering why that is. Let me explain.
Marbling refers to the small streaks of fat that run between the muscles. The richer the marbling, the more succulent the steak. This fat is what gives it the steak its rich, beefy flavor, and what helps to keep it moist and tender during grilling.
Not only that, but the fat content helps to distribute the heat in the steak during cooking, resulting in a more even cook, even if it’s cooked to a higher level of doneness. And because the steak is thicker, it’s easier to get a nice sear on the outside without overcooking the inside.
When to Cut Steaks Thin
Thickness: 1 to 1½ inches
Leaner steaks, on the other hand, are best cut thin.
A leaner steak has less fat content than a well-marbled steak, and it’s more prone to drying out during cooking. These steaks are best cut thin and cooked to medium-rare or medium, as cooking them to well-done can result in an overly dry, tough steak.
That’s why it’s best to cut leaner steaks thin, to no more than 1 inch thickness.
It allows for a shorter cooking time, which helps to prevent the steak from turning out as inedible as the leather on your boots. And because the steak is thin, it’s easier to cut through and chew.
Bone-In vs. Boneless Steaks
There are some differences between bone-in and boneless steaks that can affect the flavor and tenderness.
Bone-in steaks: These are steaks that have the bone still in, such as the ribeye or T-bone. The bone adds flavor to the steak as it cooks, and it can also help to insulate the meat and keep it juicy and tender during cooking. However, bone-in steaks can be more difficult to cook evenly because of the bone.
Boneless steaks: Boneless steaks are just that—steaks that have had the bone removed. These steaks are generally easier to cook evenly, as there’s no bone to conduct heat differently. However, they can be less flavorful than bone-in steaks, as the bone contributes some flavor during cooking.
Which is better for grilling?
It boils down to what you want. If you’re a fan of a more flavorful steak and don’t mind the added challenge of cooking a bone-in steak evenly, then go for it. But if you prefer an easier-to-cook, less flavorful steak, then a boneless cut might as well be the way to go.
The Bottom Line
The ideal thickness for a steak is 1½ inches, no doubt about it.
This thickness allows for a nice sear on the outside while keeping the inside juicy and tender, making it a happy medium that works for many cuts.
Even so, it’s important to consider the cut of steak and your desired level of doneness when determining the ideal thickness. Well-marbled cuts are best cut thicker; leaner cuts, thinner.