How To: Cook Steak without a Grill

There are very few things in a recipe that will make me just throw it out after one glance, but usually it has to do with requiring special equipment. I've already covered my disastrous run-in with ramekins after I attempted to make Molten Cake, but there are plenty of other things that give me pause: blow torches (although how sick would it be to actually have one), bread makers, candy thermometers. This is mostly fine, since I just avoid the recipe and move on (sure it would be nice to make my own candy but there's a Rite Aid a block away). There is, however, one piece of equipment that's consistently in recipes, a piece of equipment that I don't have and can't see myself getting until I (inevitably) move to suburbia: the grill.

I live in New York, where most people can't even wave their arms in their apartments, and while my Astoria apartment is roomier than, say, a box in Hell's Kitchen, I don't have a backyard and do have a persnickety fire alarm and so I don't have a grill.

And, ok, before you apartment grillites out there start complaining, bringing up the majesty and supremacy of Former Heavyweight Champion of the World turned TV chef George Foreman, I have worked with one of those counter top grills (actually, Dave was talked out of the Foreman grill by a sweet Southern man at ACE Hardware who convinced him to buy something else. He was very nice and thought Dave and I were "setting up [our] first household together" which was awkies but really very sweet). You can't tell me that a counter top grill can match the lovely smokey flavor of a charcoal grill, and the flames--present only in counter top grills in times of danger--add a distinct char that is difficult to replicate indoors. It's just not as good. Period.

I found my lack of grill particularly distressing because I looove a good cooked steak, red meat health problems be damned. It is still my favorite meal at home and the one I request whenever I stop by. Paired with rice pilaf or rosemary Red Bliss potatoes, it is just so good--simple and delicious. One of my favorite childhood memories is waiting for my dad to come inside with a freshly-cooked steak, where he'd slice off a tiny sliver for me before dinner. Soooo good.

Ok, so. No grill, what is a girll to do? I knew exactly what I wanted: a steak that was pink and tender on the inside, cooked crispy on the outside, and nice and juicy.I went through several different methods, mostly ending up with brownish-grey, tough, and rubbery steak. I tried searing it in a pan (apartment filling up with smoke, roommates cautiously wondering what's going on), broiling (undercooked), and even baking (don't ask), but still my steaks came out sub par. I tweaked the marinating process, first pounding the meat and leaving it overnight in a pool of balsamic vinegar (my mom's method), then rubbing it with a mix of spices that promised to "bring out the subtle flavors in [my] steak." The marinating left the steak leathery and not as juicy as I would have liked, while the rub just mostly brought out the subtle flavors of garbage. I was not pleased.

So, I started researching. A lot of people, sans grilles, went with the pan-fry method, smoke alarms and neighbors be damned. They recommended top-quality beef at least an inch thick and a top-quality pan (also apparently a top-quality wallet). I get my meat from my little grocery store (because if I wanted to pay $15 a pound for good meat and spices, I would just go out to eat), and my pan is, meh. Most places recommended cooking medium-high for a minute or two and then searing steak at high heat for another few minutes before flipping it over. When I tried this, my apartment started to fill up with smoke despite the fact that my steak was barely cooking at all! What's worse, all I had to show for my efforts was a wrinkled and unappetizing chunk of meat that took all my pilates training to cut through.

Broiling intrigued me because someone described it as upside-down grilling, the flames coming from the stove top part of the oven. The broiling pan was also promising, being essentially a slotted pan on top of a dish that allowed you to collect the juices. I liked that it seemed to say "You better watch out because it is going to be like Niagara Falls in here." Lies, lies... I don't know if I'm just doing it wrong or what, but I've never gotten the whole broiling thing down yet. I would have thought that it was just something with my oven, except I tried it at Dave's too, to no avail. I stopped broiling when I pulled out a steak as tender and pink as the day it was born (lolsteak would be like "oh hai. I wuz jus tannen.").

I had about decided to call it quits and just drown my sub par steak in Worcester sauce, when I stumbled across a post in Bitten, Mark Bitman's food blog for The New York Times.* One of Bitten's contributors, Edward Schneider, had the same problem I've been experiencing: how do you cook a steak without a grill without accidentally alerting the fire department? Schneider had been in the pan-fry-get-the-hell-out-of-there camp, but, as he said, he got his decent steak "with a lot of stress, odor, and cleanup." Instead, he had a few suggestions: dry the meat, lower the heat (say it with me now). I read through his instructions and the comments--those people are crazy, p.s.--and came up with something for myself. When I tried it, the result was the perfect steak I was looking for--pink inside, crunchy crust outside, juicy and tender. I don't know how this would work with different cuts of meat (I went with the cheap and thin London broil my grocery offers), and bear in mind that each oven, pan, and stove cooks a little differently, but it's consistently worked out perfectly for me.

Steak (duh)
Salt and Pepper to taste
Oil or clarified butter for frying

Leave steak in fridge overnight loosely draped in a paper towel.
An hour before cooking, dry thoroughly, season with salt and pepper and let rest at room temperature
Put steak onto tin foil and place in oven
Turn oven temperature to the lowest possible setting (usually about 200 degrees)
Heat steak in oven at low temperature for 2-3 minutes (if your oven has a thermometer, take the steak out as soon as it hits 200--the steak should have an internal temperature of around 100)
While it's in the oven, place a large pan, coated with oil or clarified butter, on medium-high heat
Place steak on pan, untouched, for 4 minutes
Turn steak and cook for another 4 minutes
Turn again for 90 seconds on both sides

Image from Bitten, by Edward Schneider
*By the way, Bitman, who is one of the best food bloggers out there, also lives in New York and also has a kitchen roughly the size of a teakettle. It was a very comforting thing to see--this giant of the foodie world literally a giant in a kitchen so small he could barely even open the oven. And what's more: no grill.


  1. Thank you! This was very helpful. I was searching the website for a way to make steaks without a grill and your suggestions were the most clear and most reasonable. I read the Bitten essay, but still appreciated how you broke it down into recipe form. I'ver printed your suggestion and added them to my recipe book. Thanks again!

    Carolyn from CA

  2. will this also work for chicken breast?