How to Pick the Right Steak for your Next Barbecue

Steak is the ultimate food for the barbecue, right? There’s nothing like a freshly grilled steak sliding onto your plate still sizzling and smelling succulent. I’m being a little sibilant, but you can hear that sound and smell that beautiful, barbecued, steak goodness as you read this. The thing is, that you need to know how to pick the right steak to ensure that you have the best experience. Let’s discuss what you need to know about selecting steaks for your next barbecue, things like grades of beef, cuts of steak, preparation methods, and best practices.


Grades of Beef

Beef graded on a scale to let you know the quality when you go to make a purchase. This scale can tell you about the value you will receive for the money you are spending, give you an idea of what to expect in that cut, and how to prepare it.


There are four grades in Canada

There are three main grades in the USA


Prime beef is the best of the best and as such you will be paying for it, but unlikely to find it in the supermarket. The amount of marbling and quality of meat means it will be the most forgiving when cooking, however, you don’t want to mess these up.


Taking up only 2 to 3% of the market, these are the best of the best. Prime steaks have a lot of marbling and a higher price tag.


These steaks can be found in the supermarket and at the butcher. They are high quality, and you will pay more for them. They are highly marbled and forgiving to cook with, so feel free to experiment.


Take up over 50% of the available meat for purchase in supermarkets and butchers. Quality marbling and succulent results are generally the outcome. Can use a variety of cooking methods for successful meals.


AA steaks have a lot less marbling but come at a lower price to reflect this. They are a lot less forgiving with cooking and can become tough.


Select steaks are considered good enough. Their low cost reflects the lack of marbling. Because there is little to no fat, it is best to marinate, smoke, or slow cook these steaks for best results.


These are the least expensive and have little to no marbling. Single-A steaks make up only 3% of meat sold in supermarkets. Marinate, smoke or slow cook these for the most part.




Don't lose your marbles

You may be asking “what is marbling?”. Marbling is the thin striations of fat found within the meat. The more there is, the tastier and more tender each bite will be. When cooked, the fat in the meat will melt and distribute throughout. This causes the feeling of melt-in-your-mouth tenderness when chewing.




Cuts of Steak

There are many different cuts of steak out there. But let’s focus on the few that you are most likely to see and/or purchase.


Flank Steak

Flank steaks are large and flat, great for feeding a few people at once, however, they should be cooked fast and hot, never past medium, then sliced thin against the grain. This is because they are not very well-marbled. The loose muscle fibers in this steak are great for marinating.


Strip Steak

Strip steaks are very easy to find and generally inexpensive if you wanted to do a steak dinner with a steak for each guest. They are characterized by a fat cap running down one side and they can run the gamut of well-marbled to almost nothing, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be tasty. Medium-rare is best, searing them over high heat and finishing using low, indirect heat.



Ribeyes are more expensive and extremely coveted for good reason. There is a lot of fat and marbling inside that makes these steaks very supple. They can remain tasty and tender, even when accidentally overcooked. Ribeyes can be found in many forms, the traditional boneless ribeye, also known as the Delmonico steak. They are also found in the bone-in Cowboy steak and the expensive, “investment steak” cut called a Tomahawk steak that features an extremely long bone.



Characterized by the t-shaped bone that divides the two sections of meat. These steaks are ideal for the grill featuring both the tenderloin and the strip in one cut. They are pricier and a little more challenging to cook as you have two different cuts of meat in one steak. The T-Bone has less tenderloin than the porterhouse which will be more expensive.



While there is little in the way of fat on this cut, the tenderloin runs along the spine and is used very little making it very tender indeed. These steaks are very forgiving when cooking, so even when overcooked, they remain tender, even if we don’t recommend cooking past medium at most. The steak cut from the tenderloin is often called filet mignon. Due to the lack of fat, these steaks should be seasoned very generously.

Find out more about the different cuts of beef and how to cook them on the barbecue here.


Recipe Blog - Bacon Wrapped Filet Mignon - Roast


Preparation Methods

If you are here, you’re probably looking to barbecue your steak. The way you cook a steak on your grill is largely dependent on the thickness of the meat.


Direct Sear

The easiest, most direct, cooking method is to just sear the steak over high heat until grill marks form and then move the meat to indirect heat to finish. If the steak is 1-inch thick or less, you may not have to finish it over indirect heat at all. Just sear for a minute or two on each side and then rest it for about 5 minutes.

Follow this recipe to learn how to perfectly direct sear your next steak.


Reverse Sear

A little more complicated than just throwing a steak over the heat, the Reverse Sear involves roasting a thick-cut steak – over 1-inch thick – using low, indirect heat, until it is very nearly cooked. Once it reaches just below the perfect temperature inside, you sear it over direct, high heat. The beauty of this technique is that you are nearly always guaranteed a perfectly cooked steak and it rests while you wait for the burners to heat up, so you can eat it right away.

Follow the directions on this recipe to enjoy a reverse seared steak.




Tips & Tricks

  • If you can, get your steak custom cut, if not, make sure it is at least 1-inch thick or more.

  • Really look at your steak. Check for texture and color – does it look appealing. Make sure the meat isn’t grey/dull or oily looking. Fat should be creamy white to a little off-white, but not massively so. There should also be very little to no smell unless you are buying dry-aged steak.

  • Salt your steak at least 45 minutes before you plan on cooking. There is science behind this, and it will help get a better sear. When ready to sear, pat the steak dry with a paper towel before it hits the heat.

  • Try not to cook your steak past medium (145°F/63°C) as this will result in a less tender bite, loss of flavor and it retains more vitamins and minerals. Learn more about why you shouldn’t cook a steak past medium here.

  • Meat in areas that get used more, hold the cow up will have more collagen and connective tissue in them. This means that they can get tough when cooked over high heat. Slow cooking at gentle heat suits these cuts better. The less use and closer to the spine the meat is, the more tender the meat will be, and it will stand up to high heat and fast cooking.

  • If you plan on trying dry-aged steak, start slow with a cut that has been aged between 30 and 42 days. These cuts will have the maximum beef flavor before you get into the “funky” flavors that can develop.


Steak can be considered the ultimate expression of barbecue mastery. Knowing how to select and cook it definitely shouldn’t be a barbecue mystery. Now that you have the basics on selecting and cooking steak, have you planned a steak dinner? Tell us all about your steak adventures on our social pages like Instagram and Facebook using the hashtags #NapoleonGrill and #FreestyleGrilling.

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