What if you could take steaks directly from the freezer to the grill, and have perfect results on the table in only 30-40 minutes? If you do it the right way, you may even find you prefer this method. More and more chefs are recommending grilling frozen steaks, but we’ve got the key temperatures to help you understand how to do it right.
Why Grill A Frozen Steak?
➤ A Dinner-Planning Time Saver for Busy Weeknights
Grilling is a quick cooking method that is ideal for whipping up a quick meal any night of the week. But what if you forgot to pull the meat from your freezer, or still haven’t planned dinner? And if unexpected guests pop in, this is a perfect go-to meal plan in a pinch.
The thought of taking a rock-solid piece of frozen meat and placing it on a ripping-hot grill seems contradictory to traditional cooking, but it is a well-vetted method.
➤ More Perfect From Edge to Edge
Once the frozen steak hits the grill, only the very exterior is seared. Because the meat’s extremely low temperature requires such a great amount of thermal energy to begin cooking, overcooking the protein just below the surface is far less likely. Only the very top layer of a frozen steak exposed to high heat will cook. Think of the frozen steak of “thermal protection” for the interior that you want to keep at a lower temperature to retain moisture.
…at 140°F, protein fibers begin to:
- Shrink and tighten
- Squeeze out their water and become dry
- Develop a brown/grey color, or a “grey band”
After searing, the full interior of the meat reaches its pull temperature more gradually, resulting in little to no grey band and more edge-to-edge pink perfection. Less overcooked meat means a juicier steak to eat.
3 IMPORTANT FACTORS FOR GRILLED, FROZEN STEAK SUCCESS:
The tireless investigative culinary team at Cook’s Illustrated tackled this project as described in their article, Spur of the Moment Grilled Steaks. We found 3 major keys to this cook that are all entirely thermal…
- Use indirect heat with a two-zone fire setup
- The steaks need to be thick
- Temperature tracking with an instant-read thermometer like the new faster ThermoPop®.
1. Indirect Heat
Setting up a two-zone fire allows you to give the steaks a quick sear on either side over high heat, and once the maillard reaction works its magic the steaks are moved over the lower heat of the indirect side of the grill to allow the heat energy to travel to the center of the icy meat.
The direct heat side of the grill will be about 500-700°F (260-371°C) on its surface, with grease flare-ups possibly reaching temperatures as high as 2,500-3,000°F (1,371-1,649°C)! The indirect heat side of the grill will maintain a far more moderate temperature similar to roasting—about 300-350°F (149-177°C).
* For more information on the high temperatures of grilling, read our post: The Difference Between Grilling and BBQ.
2. Thick Steaks
It would seem that thinly sliced meat might be more appropriate to quickly thaw and cook over high heat. The low freezing temperature of the meat requires more thermal energy (more time over the heat source) for the maillard reaction to occur. The frozen steaks will start out at about 0°F (-18°C), and will need to reach a temperature of about 350°F (177°C) for the maillard reaction to be most effective.
Thinner steaks do indeed thaw more quickly, but the interior becomes completely overcooked and dry by the time the exterior is able to reach a high enough searing temperature. Stick to thick-cut steaks.
3. Temperature Tracking
Spot-checking the steak’s internal temperature is the only way to know what stage of cooking it’s at. Frozen steaks take longer to grill and look done well before the internal meat is ready. A fast, accurate thermometer is essential for spot checking the internal temperature while over indirect heat, and the new ThermoPop fits the bill perfectly.
Get ready to take your steaks from 0°F (-18°C) to 125°F ([52°C]for medium rare) in 40 minutes!
- 1 to 1-1/2 inch thick frozen steaks (rib eye, porterhouse, new york strip, etc.)
- Kosher salt and pepper
- (Kosher salt adheres more readily to food than granulated table salt and it can be a challenge to get the salt to adhere using this method)
☼ Tip: The way that you freeze the steaks in the first place can have an impact on your success. Be sure to place the steaks onto a flat surface like a sheet pan before putting them into the freezer. The frozen sides of the steak will have more direct contact with the grill grate for a better sear if they are flat. We lined our sheet pans with parchment paper to keep the steaks from adhering to the sheet pans and left them uncovered until they were fully frozen. Leaving the steaks uncovered allows moisture on the surface of the steaks to evaporate, keeping them drier. Dry steaks will sear better. After the steaks were fully frozen (about 5 hours) we transferred them to ziplock bags for long-term storage.
- Prepare charcoal or gas grill with a two-zone fire setup. Allow to heat for about 15 minutes for a charcoal grill, and 5 minutes for a gas grill for the heat to be high enough for searing the steaks (read more on the high temperatures involved in grilling in our post, The Difference Between Grilling and BBQ).
- Brush grill grate completely clean after heating and before proceeding with the cook.
🕒 10-14 Minutes Over Direct Heat
- Pull steaks directly from the freezer and place over direct heat side of the grill. Sear steaks for about 5-7 minutes on each side for proper development of a crisp, brown crust.
🕔 10-15 Minutes Over Indirect Heat
- At this point the internal temperature of the steak will be in the range of 70-90°F (21-32°C). Move the steaks to the indirect heat side of the grill and season with salt and pepper on each side.
- The steaks should be approximately 6 inches (15 cm) from the primary, direct burner.
- It’s important to season after searing because the salt and pepper will not adhere to the frozen meat. Since kosher salt adheres to food better, and dissolves more quickly than table salt, it’s a must for seasoning with this cooking method.
🕕 5 Minutes for Resting
- Cook until the steaks reach their internal pull temperature for desired doneness. We pulled ours at 125°F (52°C) for a final medium rare doneness temperature of 130°F (54°C). Spot-check internal temperatures with an instant-read digital thermometer like the new, faster ThermoPop (readings in 3-4 seconds!). See the table below:
Pull Temperatures and Final Doneness Temperatures for Steaks
☼ Thermal Tip: For more information on how to accurately check the internal temperature of a steak, check out our post, How to Temp a Steak: Getting it Right.
- Allow steaks to rest for 5 minutes before serving.
Grilled Frozen Steak Success:
- Two-zone fire setup with a gas or charcoal grill
- Sear over high, direct heat for 5-7 minutes each side
- Move to lower, indirect heat and season with salt and pepper
Pull and Doneness Temperatures:
- Pull Temps—Continue cooking and pull from the grill when steaks reach their pull temperature of 120-125°F (49-52°C) (as verified when spot-checking the thermal center with a ThermoPop) for medium rare, or 130-135°F (54-57°C) for medium doneness.
- Doneness Temps—Rest for 5 minutes to allow steaks to relax and reabsorb juices and allow carryover cooking to increase the final doneness temperatures to 125-130°F (52-54°C) for medium rare, or 135-140°F (57-60°C) for medium.
Grilled, frozen steaks will be a welcome and stress-free addition to your dinner menu repertoire. Once the steaks are done, serve as-is or slice thinly for tacos, on top of mixed greens, or a philly cheesesteak sandwich with your favorite sides. Stock up on steaks, and mind your temps.
Resources, and for more information:
Spur of the Moment Grilled Steaks, Cook’s Illustrated