Steaks: Grilling vs. Marinating vs. Simmering

The folks at Canadian Beef asked me to talk about the difference between the three main categories of steak – grilling, marinating and simmering – and who am I to turn down an excuse to grill a good steak for dinner? Besides, most of us seem to have questions about cuts of meat, especially beef. Chicken is easy: breast, leg and thigh are pretty self-explanatory. But what’s a tri-tip and what do I do with it? It’s a shame to wind up with a tough steak because it’s been grilled rather than simmered.

Fortunately, most butchers know what they’re doing, so if there’s someone behind the counter, you can ask. Once you get into the kitchen to prep that meat, here’s some mood music.

In short:

A grilling steak (T-bone/porterhouse/top or bottom sirloin/strip loin/tenderloin/tri-tip/rib eye) can be grilled without any extra prep or effort, except perhaps a sprinkling of salt and pepper.

A marinating steak (sirloin tip/inside round/eye of round/outside round/flank) is best marinated before you cook it, whether you do it on the grill or stovetop.

A simmering steak (blade/top blade/bottom blade/brisket/cross rib) is like a thin pot roast; it needs a nice long bath – a slow simmer in liquid to break down connective tissues, making it ultra-tender.

These babies – a prime rib steak and a striploin – are destined for the grill. That means they need no more than a quick pat with a paper towel (to ensure a sizzling exterior) and a brief shower of salt and pepper, and they’ll be done in under ten minutes – that’s real fast food. I don’t know of any frozen pizza nor fish sticks that can cook in such a short time. When you get a nice piece of meat, there’s no need to adorn it with much else, but there’s nothing wrong with rubbing it with a cut clove of garlic – especially those fat, sticky cloves that seem to be all over the markets right now.

Over medium-high heat, whether it’s a grill or nice hot cast iron skillet, a 1-inch steak will take 6-7 minutes to cook. (You can find a full grilling time chart at – I find it helpful when pressured to perfectly cook a $17 steak on a temperamental grill.)

Don’t poke at it on the grill – let it develop a nice bottom crust before you flip it. Some say flip only once, others say as often as you like – do what works for you. But if you find it sticking, letting it cook for a few minutes without touching it will help. And it will need a few minutes to rest before you cut into it, if you can wait.

So that just about covers the simplest cut, doesn’t it? I’m going to leave the marinating and simmering steaks for other days, since there’s only so much steak one can eat for one dinner. (Not that I wouldn’t be forever considered a dinner superhero for serving all three at once.) I have my eye on an Asian marinated flank steak salad, and Mike’s favourite childhood meal was Swiss steak – I’ve been meaning to recreate it for him for approximately a decade and a half. What’s another day?

Do you have any steak secrets to share? With the weather still believing it’s August, it’s nice to still be able to cook dinner on the grill and eat outside.

Thanks to Canadian Beef for sponsoring this post!


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7 comments on “Steaks: Grilling vs. Marinating vs. Simmering

  1. Kathy
    September 20, 2012 at 9:49 am

    That’s some yummy looking steak! Thanks for the good tips :)

  2. Chelsey
    September 20, 2012 at 10:14 am

    I just POACHED A STEAK!! I know, seems a bit dangerous to say out loud…especially being Calgarians…however I am an Ex-pat (from Calgary anyway – living in Toronto)
    Whole foods had the recipe i believe and damn it was yummy!
    Flank steak 1-2 cups of Cabernet (if you can spare it) and a couple sprigs of oregano & thyme, a mashed garlic clove and a few slices of onion, a bit of beef boulion and Holy Bejezzus it was yummy. Also steamed some green beens in the liquid after romoving the steak and adding some dijon) and then reduced the liquid to a nice lil sauce! YUM

  3. Sue
    September 20, 2012 at 11:25 am

    This summer whenever we’ve had steak (a few times), we grill it, fry up some mushrooms in garlic butter then while steak is resting, sprinkle blue cheese on them and just before serving, pour hot, garlicy mushrooms over top which furthers melts the cheese…. holy crap my mouth is watering! So good. Thanks for this info Julie. Good to know.

  4. GF Patisserie
    September 20, 2012 at 10:07 pm

    Canadian beef, whoever they are, should get into the french market.
    After one year in France we still have not found anything even remotely close to what we had back in Calgary.

  5. Elaine
    September 21, 2012 at 1:09 pm

    I’m all for pan-searing a nice, fatty cut (or a bone-in cut) on cast iron, but my mom just drove up to visit with some grass-fed, lived-like-a-king-and-was-probably-tickled-to-death filet mignon that I’ll probably simmer in a pan of red wine. Beef!

  6. Gemma
    September 23, 2012 at 10:57 am

    I have been looking for a good recipe for Swiss Steak for ages. I would be so grateful if you could share this with us, Julie!

  7. Laura
    September 23, 2012 at 8:25 pm

    I have a ton of round steaks in my fridge–long story, involving extra meat from a whole cow in my parents’ freezer. And I have not had any idea what to do with them others than slice thinly for stir fry. So I will be waiting for the marinating post!

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