I have heard about grilling frozen steaks, but I never tried it. I have grilled frozen hamburger patties, but never steaks. I tried it recently, and the results completely surprised me. But, more about that later.
The background of grilling frozen steaks
For years, my friend Ron Maxwell preached about the importance of buying locally grown beef on family farms. He would buy a quarter of beef, and he and his wife, Jan, would fill their freezer with beef. As Ron talked about how I needed to buy local beef, I kept telling him I don’t like grilling frozen steaks. I like to grill fresh steaks purchased from a local grocery store.
Well, I had the opportunity to grill some steaks from Honeytown Meats, a meat subscription service that ships locally grown meats from their farm to your door. The meat is shipped frozen, packed in an insulated bag and box that includes dry ice.
So, I decided I would conduct my own test. I would take a couple frozen steaks, let them thaw and then grill them. Then, on a later date, I would take two steaks out of the freezer, put them straight on the grill and cook them.
Here is what happened:
Decided to thaw a ribeye and New York strip
For my first “test,” I decided to grill a ribeye steak and sirloin strip steak, known as a New York strip. Ribeye is my favorite steak, and I am not a big fan of the strip sirloin — not because it isn’t a good steak, but I prefer a top sirloin to a strip sirloin every day of the week.
What many people call a ribeye, I used to call a Delmonico steak. The ribeye is cut from a piece of meat many people know as “prime rib.” Many people will go into a restaurant and order “prime rib” (also known as a standing rib roast), but if you were to take that piece of meat and cut it into steaks instead of roasting it, you will have a ribeye. It is a very tender piece of meat with a cap (the spinalis) and the ribeye.
After the steaks thawed, I patted them dry with a paper towel. My wife, Wendi, insists I do this … and for good reason. If the exterior of the meat is wet, then the moisture will steam the meat instead of giving it a good sear.
Next, I liberally sprinkled the steaks with salt and pepper before tossing them on them on my gas grill. I let the grates of the grill get nice and hot so they would sear nice grill marks into the steaks. Wendi likes her steaks rare, and I prefer medium rare.
So, I grilled the steaks. We decided to split both steaks so we each had some ribeye and New York strip. Let me say, the Honeytown Meats steaks were incredibly tasty and tender. At high-end steak houses, they will sometimes put a buttery mix on top and let it melt before it is served. After eating them, Wendi said, “They were like butter. They were tender, easy to cut.” While the Honeytown Meats steaks had a buttery taste, we did not use any gourmet butter.
While I prefer top sirloin to a strip steak, everytime I have a New York strip, I always enjoy it.
If you never had a ribeye, then you need to try one. There is something different about it because you get a number of different tastes and textures. You get the texture of the cap/spinalis, the ribeye portion, and the tail, not to mention the fat.
The mouth-watering Honeytown Meats steaks were among the best steaks I ever had.
Frozen steak choices: Ribeye and top sirloin
So, you know the thawed steaks proved to be some of the best I have eaten. So, how would grilling frozen steaks compare?
Let me say, I didn’t want to be grilling frozen steaks. To say I was skeptical about how they would turn out would be an understatement. However, in the name of science and food testing, I obliged. This time up, I chose a ribeye and a top sirloin (Honeytown Meats calls this cut the beef loin sirloin).
When you cook a frozen steak, you don’t get the opportunity to pat the steak dry. I wondered how this would affect the searing on the steak. I did dust them with salt and pepper before I grilled them.
I was concerned about how the steaks would turn out because, as I mentioned, Wendi likes her steaks rare. Would I be able to properly judge the doneness from a frozen state? I should add, I do not cook with a thermometer. It would be better if I did, but when I was a broiler cook at Valle’s Steak House and Girves Brown Derby decades ago, we didn’t use thermometers.
‘The waiting is the hardest part’
Tom Petty once sang, “You take it on faith, you take it on heart; the waiting is the hardest part.” With the frozen steaks on the grill, I closed the cover and wondered whether I would end up with two perfectly cooked steaks. And, I waited … it’s the hardest part.
When I grill frozen hamburgers, I wait until I see the top of the patties begin to “thaw” and the edges crisp a little. I figured it would work with the steaks, too. So, that was the path I followed.
Though the ribeye and top sirloin both weighed around 10 ounces, the ribeye had a greater surface area, so it was just a tad thinner than the top sirloin. I ended up taking off the ribeye first, but I feared I had cooked it closer to well done than rare.
After letting the top sirloin cook a little more, I took it off. When you grill, cook or roast cuts of beef, it is a good idea to let them rest at least 5 minutes before serving. This gives time for the juices to redistribute so you end up with a nice, juicy, tasty cut of beef.
Grilling frozen steaks: The verdict
By now you must be wondering, how did grilling frozen steaks compare to grilling the thawed ones. Well, I must say, there is nothing wrong with buying frozen steaks or grilling frozen steaks.
Wendi and I both thought the finished product from the frozen steaks was every bit as good as when we thawed them first. They had the same buttery taste.
After the fact, I read up on how to grill a frozen steak, and it said to grill them for 10 to 14 minutes over direct heat, then another 10 to 15 minutes over indirect heat (an area of the grill where there is no heat).
The one issue I ran into was control over the ribeye. I should have taken it off the grill a few minutes sooner. I ended up with a steak that was between medium rare and medium. However, because of Honeytown Meats’ superior quality, it was still tasty and tender.
While I prefer my steaks to be thawed before grilling, I discovered that my friend Ron was right: There is nothing wrong with locally grown beef, even if it is frozen. Also, it saves a lot of time. If you are in a rush, then you can go straight from the freezer to the grill with your Honeytown Meats steaks.
If you are interested in grilling some frozen steaks, might I suggest you try the boneless ribeye, filet mignon (the most tender cut of beef), a New York strip sirloin, or a personal favorite, the top sirloin.
The science behind cooking frozen steaks
Cook’s Illustrated, the entity behind America’s Test Kitchen, does a lot of research when it comes to all things cooking. It conducted a test that involved cooking frozen steaks and comparing them to steaks that were thawed first.
Even though conventional wisdom suggests steaks should be thawed before grilling, the Cook’s Illustrated test concluded the opposite. While it took longer to cook the frozen steaks, the cooks discovered the frozen ones browned better when seared and they were not as overcooked under the crust of the steak. And, they retained more moisture than the thawed ones, making for a juicier dining experience.
One final thing …
In the photo above, the ribeye steak on the left is the frozen steak.