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I've made some very tasty steaks on the grill. I use an entire chimney's worth of charcoal, probably 3-4lbs, let the grill get extremely hot, thrown on the steak and still not gotten nice pronounced sear marks.

To prep the steaks:
1. Coat in kosher salt.
2. Let sit at room temperature approx 1 hr
3. Rinse excess salt
4. Lightly season
5. Throw on grill

I generally only let it sit for at most, 3 minutes, I like my steaks blue rare. But, I recently cooked for family and they like theirs medium. So I let the steaks sit for 6 minutes on each side, still, no pronounced grill marks. I have the same problem when I cook burgers, no matter how long I leave them, never seen any pronounced grill marks.

  • Just for clarification: a) By hot gril, do you mean the grate or the coals? b) Do you dry your meat after rinsing it? c) Do you oil your steak or the grate? – Stephie Nov 11 '15 at 18:29
  • I mean the grate is hot, I let the white hot coals sit for a few minutes(probably around 2 minutes, never timed). I've tried with and without olive oil on the steak. Never tried oil on burgers. I have not tried drying the meat. – Patrick J Abare II Nov 11 '15 at 18:30
  • Heat up a metal rod with a handle (for example a steel) and use it to sear the meat. – user23614 Nov 11 '15 at 19:23
  • Ahhh, don't rinse your meat, especially after salting it. Salt it liberally(don't go to wild) as a lot of it will cook off. Coat in oil that can take a decent amount of heat(I like peanut oil for grilling and searing). The whole salt it then rinse it trick is to make a cheap/tough steak tender. Do not tenderize a good cut of meat! – tsturzl Nov 12 '15 at 22:41
  • See here for a deeper explanation. – tsturzl Nov 12 '15 at 22:41
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Grill marks are a sign of a really hot grate. As in really, really hot and well pre-heated.

You want your grate to sit over the hot coals for at least five, some sources say fifteen minutes. If your gril has a lid, close it!

Next, you need to ensure a proper heat transfer from the grate to your steak / burger / other food. You have two factors here:

a) Water will in fact insulate by forming a "protective" steam layer, so dry your meat. Use paper towels or whatever you prefer, just remove any surface liquid. This includes wet marinades, too.

b) Oil aids in the heat transfer, this is the reason we use some oil in a frying pan, too. You should always oil your food, not the grates, because you avoid flare-ups and the oil helps any seasoning - if used - stick to the meat. A light coating is sufficient.

Once you set the stage, you need to let physics and chemistry do their job:

Place your meat on the grill and wait. A proper grill mark needs some time to develop. Your meat will release itself from the grate once the "lines" are seared well. Do not rush this or your grill marks will remain on the grates as sticky residue, not on your steak. Optional: Turn your meat 30° or 45° to create a diamond- or cross-hatch pattern.
Flip, repeat on the other side.

Some practical hints:

  • For those who love rare meat and thin steaks, there is simply not enough time to create a proper cross-hatch on both sides of the meat, possibly not even for a 45° turn. So rather aim to create one nicely defined set of marks than going for a mediocre pattern or a dry steak.

  • On the other hand, there are those who prefer a well-done brick of meat, which will not be at the desired doneness after searing both sides. Use indirect heat on the side of the grill to finish your meat until it reaches the proper temperature.

  • For everything inbetween: Note that every steak has two sides and one will be towards the plate. So serve your meat with the better looking side up ;-)

  • I really appreciate the "every steak has two sides." Definitely going to use that to hide my failed experiments! – Patrick J Abare II Nov 11 '15 at 19:53
  • @Patrick probably the reason why undersides are checked often in competitions like MasterChef USA :) – rackandboneman Nov 11 '15 at 20:10
  • 1
    A well heated "grill pan" (not a teflon-coated one! whoever invented that combination must have been drunk ... the non-contacting areas will get even hotter than the contacting ones, certainly unsafe with PTFE) might be just the right combination of thermal mass and right shape to put the marks on after the fact. Disclaimer: I don't cook or eat meat, but about everything I put on these things stays raw while the areas that contact the metal get carbonized - that might be to ones advantage here! – rackandboneman Nov 11 '15 at 20:16
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It isn't how hot the grill is, it is how hot the grate is. If your coals are too far from the grate you are introducing some baking aspects to you cooking.

When I grill a steak, my grill is on high and gets to around 550F. My grate is an inch from the flames and literally is dancing with flames. The meat hits the grate and depending on thickness probably only spends 2-5 minutes on that side.

When I flip it I have grill marks on the down side and my uncooked side has NOT developed a skin. If your uncooked side has developed a skin then you either let it cook too much on that side or your grate is not hot enough.

So issues you could be having:

  • Overall temp not hot enough
  • The grate is not hot enough
  • The shape of the grate bars are too round/thin and steak isn't sitting flat on them.
  • Heat source is too far from grate.

What to do:

  • Buy grates that have bigger bars.
  • Buy a grate made of a stronger/more conductive material
  • Let your grill warm up more. I always clean my grill prior to cooking - so cleaning from my previous cooking. I figure when cleaning I need the grill super hot and that's how I like to start cooking.
  • Turn up the temperature.
  • Try to throw some olive oil on grate a minute before meat - this will help it heat up and help with sticking.
  • Don't cover the grill. This allows you to cook longer on the grate side and not bake your meat.

Tips for Grates:

  • The more area they cover, generally the better they are at absorbing the heat from below and becoming the heat source for your meat vs. the ambient temperature.
  • The picture below is an example of a standard grate you get with a cheap grill. Not that it is round rods, that they are small, and there are big gaps in between each one. This is the worst of all world as far as getting a char mark.
  • There are a variety of materials. I use stainless steel because it is durable, cheaper, easy to clean and holds heat well. You can make a case for cast iron but there is more maintenance there. I don't like porcelain coated because they tend to chip and they don't hold the heat as well.

enter image description here

  • I'll try hitting the grate with an infrared thermometer before slapping on the steak. Do you know if there is significant enough heat loss to the grate where the meat is searing to affect the searing when the steak is flipped? As in, do I need to move it to another section of the grate due to temperature loss on the area I had grilled on. – Patrick J Abare II Nov 11 '15 at 19:46
  • It wouldn't hurt to put it on another section but I never have to. I think your issues may have more to do with cooking via the vessel temperature or cooking via direct flame. You will get a sear cooking via direct flame but not the grill marks. That is my point with your grate choice - if you have the cheap generic grates then you will not be carrying as much heat via the grates vs via a flame. You can still get the sear but harder. The grate needs to be warmer - so either crank up the temp, move it closer to coals, get a different material or a grate that is more enclosed.... cont – blankip Nov 11 '15 at 23:05
  • A restaurant grade grate will cover more than half of the area - you have to think the grate in the picture covers maybe 10%. Also my advice differs from the accepted answer in that I would never oil the meat. First that affects taste too much. Second I am trying to literally set my grate on fire - I only need the oil there. If my grate is on fire I will set my meat on it - just need to watch it closer. – blankip Nov 11 '15 at 23:07
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Brown is flavour, black marks are just that, black marks. They don't add to the flavour, and many medical reports suggest they are not good for you?

Meat is best cooked on a flat hot plate, not a grill, and should be turned frequently to ensure even cooking

To get grill marks without killing your meat, and still while cooking it properly, try this:

  1. Dry meat using paper towels or similar
  2. Use corn syrup (like Karo) to paint on marks (use a stencil for mass production)
  3. BBQ as normal on a hot plate, not grill. Use a lid for smoke

For other views on this, see amazingribs - mythbusting grill marks

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