How to Cook Steak – Grilling vs Marinating vs Simmering

Canadian BeefEveryone knows what a steak is. Or do we?What is a steak and how do we cook them?

This month’s Canadian Beef Ambassador task to write about grilling, marinating and simmering steaks got me thinking:

“What is a steak?”

If it were simply a single cut of meat like a brisket, for example, then every piece would come from the same part of the cow. It would all be predictably tender or not. Every one would have the a similar behaviour when cooking, similar response to marinades and a similar level of flavour. (Though that is another discussion for another day!)

But steaks don’t roll like that. (In fact, it’s uncommon to roll a steak at all unless you are making a roulade, but I digress.)

So what is a steak and why are they so diverse?

I turned to Joyce Parslow the Consumer Culinary Marketing Manager, and @CDNBeefRecipes, at Canada Beef Inc. to help me get some clarity.


Beef Steak: beef·steak/ˈbēfˌstāk/   

The icon of beef, a Beef Steak refers to a cut of beef that is a thin cut with a hand-like shape, ranging from ¼ to 2 inches thick. They can be cut from almost any area, so can have a range of tenderness and flavours that will require varying cooking methods to bring out the best from the cut. They can also be carved and tied into thick round shapes or Medallions for a single-serve steak option.  We divide steaks into 4 basic categories (grilling, marinating, simmering, fast-fry) depending on how you cook them (which is based on their tenderness).

AHA!  So it’s the way the meat is cut – flat slices – not the specific region of the animal from which it is cut which makes a steak. (Okay, if you already knew this… feel free to give your head a patronizing shake in my direction.)

This explains to me more clearly why steaks are categorized by cooking method.  Even if they are all “steaks” the meat comes from different areas of the cow, and the muscles are worked differently which directly effects flavour, tenderness and how the muscle/meat will respond to cooking methods.

So what steaks fall into which category and what do you do with them?

Grilling Steaks

Steak from Luma Restaurant in Toronto


Grilling Steak Cuts

  • T-Bone Steak
  • Porterhouse Steak
  • Top Sirloin
  • Bottom Sirloin
  • Tenderloin
  • Strip Loin
  • Wing Steak
  • Tri-tip
  • Rib Eye
  • Rib Steak

Preparing and cooking grilling steaks

Grilling steaks are the steaks you season lightly and throw on your medium-high grill or into your hot cast iron pan, turn once, cook to desired doneness, let rest for 5 minutes and then serve.

Grilling Steaks at our house

We do a lot of grilled steaks here for dinner. We love grilling asparagus (tossed in sesame oil), onions and peppers along side our grilling steaks.  We also do a great dish called Steak CC which is a pan-seared steak with a rye-whisky cream sauce… maybe I’ll share that recipe soon.

Tips for grilling Steaks:

  • Thick cut steaks make it easier to control the cooking and get the doneness you like.  It’s really hard to get a perfect rare from a thinly cut steak.
  • A quick marinade or grilling sauce can add a pop of flavour to grilling steaks. But make sure you don’t leave it in the marinade too long, only for 15 to 60 minutes.

Simmering Steaks

Pepper Steak

Simmering Steak Cuts

  • Blade
  • Top Blade
  • Bottom Blade Boneless
  • Brisket Country Style
  • Brisket Simmering Strips
  • Cross Rib

Preparing and cooking simmering steaks

As the name says, you want to simmer or braise these steaks.  First, season and sear the steak, to develop some flavour. Add vegetables and aromatics, then cover everything with liquid (wine, beer and tomato all work very very well). Simmer in the oven, or on the stove-top for 1.25hours or longer until tender.

Simmering steaks at our house

We serve this over rice but sometimes mix it up with noodles or boiled potatoes. My dad always recommends doing some of your vegetables on the side and adding them as you serve. That way your vegetables become part of the cooking liquid, but also you get nice big chunks to enjoy too.

Tips for simmering steaks:

Simmering steaks are perfect for slow-cooker meals, which makes a great aroma to come home to after a long hard day at work. Cook low and slow for 8-10 hours.

Marinating Steaks

Blade Steak marinating in Chimichurri

Marinating Steak Cuts

  • Sirloin Tip
  • Flank Steak
  • Inside Round
  • Eye of Round
  • Outside Round
  • Full Round

Preparing and cooking a marinating steak

A quick and tidy way to prepare a marinating steak is to put the steak in a zip-lock with your marinade for 4-12 hours. Then pat it dry. This is an important step because in order to get a good sear and crust on your steak it needs to be dry when it hits the heat.

Then grill, broil, or pan-fry the steak; turn once; cook to desired doneness. Once you remove the steak from the heat, let it rest for 5 minutes and then serve.

Marinating steaks at our house

We use these cuts for Bulgogi, one of our house standards. They are also our go-to meal for after a drive to the cottage.  We’ll pick up a marinating steak, shove it in a zip lock with a good quality oil & vinegar style salad dressing and then put it into the cooler. We drive, it marinates. Once we arrive the steak is perfectly marinated and ready to hit the grill.

Tips for marinating steaks

  • once you are done marinating the meat, discard the rest of the marinade.
    the verb is marinate, the noun is marinade.
  • you can marinate in something other than a zip-lock, but a zip-lock makes it much easier to have your steak completely covered in the marinade by just squeezing out all the extra air.

Fast-fry Steaks

Steak & Egg Tapas

Fast-fry Steaks Cuts

These steaks are also called Minute Steaks because they cook so quickly, and are generally very thin cuts of the:

  • Inside Round
  • Outside Round
  • Eye of Round
  • Strip Loin
  • Rib Eye
  • Sirloin Tip
  • T-Bone
  • Rib
  • Wing
  • Porterhouse
  • Tenderloin

Preparing and cooking fast-fry steaks

These are the steaks you season lightly and pan fry.

Fast fry steaks at our house

We use these  in steak sandwiches with a great baguette rubbed with garlic (or garlic and tomato for a little Catalan Pa amb tomàque version of a steak sandwich).

So “what is a steak?” – tasty, beefy, flat and versatile.

Steak with Chimichurri

Some extra Steaky links:

photo credit: Joyce’s photo is taken from the site. The rest, including the hungry chicken are mine.

Canadian BeefNote: this post is part of my Canadian Beef Brand Ambassador series. For more information on my relationship with Canada Beef Inc read about my Foodie Adventure: I’m a Canadian Beef Brand Ambassador. #LoveCdnBeef and my disclosure statement

Alexa Clark

Alexa is a digital marketer and author with over 20 years in digital & interactive communications in the food and tech industries. Alexa's CheapEats Restaurant Guides, for both Toronto & Ottawa, were Canadian best sellers. She is a recognized authority on social media and has been named one of Canada's 20 Leading Women in Social Media.

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