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How to charcoal grill steak

9 Mins read

If you’re looking to elevate your grilling game and achieve that delicious smoky flavor, mastering the art of charcoal grilling steak is a must. There’s something truly magical about cooking a juicy, perfectly seared steak over hot coals, infusing it with a distinctive charred essence that excites the taste buds. Whether you’re a seasoned grill master or a beginner just starting out, this guide will take you through the essential steps of how to charcoal grill steak, ensuring a mouthwatering result every time. From choosing the right cut of meat to achieving the perfect level of doneness, let’s dive into the world of charcoal grilling and unlock the secrets to steak perfection.

What to look for in steak

When it comes to grilling steak, selecting the right cut of meat is crucial for achieving a flavorful and tender result. Here are some key factors to consider when choosing the perfect steak:

Cut: Different cuts of steak offer varying levels of tenderness and flavor. Some popular options include ribeye, New York strip, filet mignon, and sirloin. Ribeye is known for its marbling and rich flavor, while filet mignon is incredibly tender but leaner in comparison. Consider your personal preferences and the occasion to determine the best cut for your grilled steak.

Grade: The grade of the steak indicates its quality and tenderness. The most common grades you’ll come across are prime, choice, and select. Prime grade steaks have the highest level of marbling, making them exceptionally tender and flavorful. Choice grade steaks offer good marbling and tenderness, while select grade steaks are leaner and less tender.

Marbling: Marbling refers to the intramuscular fat within the steak. A higher amount of marbling results in increased tenderness and flavor. Look for steaks with fine streaks of fat evenly distributed throughout the meat for the best grilling experience.

Color: When selecting steak, pay attention to its color. Fresh steaks should have a bright red color, indicating their freshness. Avoid steaks with a grayish or brownish hue, as it could be a sign of spoilage.

Thickness: The thickness of the steak affects the grilling time and the level of doneness you can achieve. Thicker steaks tend to be juicier and offer more flexibility in terms of cooking. Aim for steaks that are at least 1 inch thick to ensure a well-cooked exterior and a juicy interior.

Source: Consider the source of the steak. Grass-fed beef tends to have a slightly different flavor profile compared to grain-fed beef. Additionally, choosing organic or locally sourced options may be important to you for ethical or environmental reasons.

How to charcoal grill steak

How to charcoal grill steak

Grilling steak over charcoal imparts a smoky flavor and creates a delicious charred crust. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to charcoal grill steak:

1. Season your steak

Properly seasoning your steak is essential to enhancing its flavor and creating a delicious final result. Here’s how to season your steak for charcoal grilling:

Choose your seasonings: Start by selecting your preferred seasonings. The most basic and classic combination is kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. However, you can also experiment with other herbs and spices to suit your taste. Common options include garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, dried herbs like rosemary or thyme, or even a steak seasoning blend.

Pat the steak dry: Before seasoning, make sure the surface of the steak is dry. Use paper towels to pat it gently, removing any excess moisture. Dry steak will help the seasonings adhere better and promote better browning and searing.

Apply salt generously: Season the steak generously with kosher salt on both sides. The salt not only enhances the steak’s natural flavor but also helps tenderize the meat by drawing out some of its moisture. Be sure to season from a height to distribute the salt evenly over the entire surface.

Add other seasonings: Once the salt is applied, add any additional seasonings or spices you desire. Sprinkle them evenly over both sides of the steak. Remember that less is often more, so start with a modest amount and adjust according to your taste preferences.

Let it rest: After seasoning, let the steak sit at room temperature for about 20-30 minutes. This resting time allows the salt to dissolve and penetrate the meat, enhancing its flavor. It also brings the steak closer to room temperature, which promotes even cooking.

Optional marinade: If you prefer, you can marinate the steak before grilling. Prepare a marinade of your choice, such as a combination of olive oil, herbs, garlic, and citrus juice. Place the steak in a resealable bag or shallow dish, pour the marinade over it, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to a few hours. Remember to pat the steak dry before grilling to prevent excessive flare-ups.

Season your steak

2. Fire up the charcoal grill

Preparing the charcoal grill properly is crucial for achieving the right cooking temperature and creating the ideal grilling environment. Here’s a detailed guide on how to fire up your charcoal grill for grilling steak:

Clean the grill: Start by ensuring that your grill grates are clean and free from any leftover residue or debris. Use a grill brush to scrape off any buildup and ash from previous grilling sessions. This will help prevent unwanted flavors and ensure even cooking.

Choose the charcoal: Select high-quality charcoal for your grill. Lump charcoal or briquettes are common options. Lump charcoal lights quickly and burns hotter, while briquettes tend to have a more consistent burn and longer cooking times. Choose the type that suits your preferences and availability.

Arrange the charcoal: For indirect grilling, where the coals are placed on one side of the grill, stack the charcoal into a pyramid shape. This allows for optimal airflow and helps the coals light more evenly. For direct grilling, where the coals are spread out across the entire grill, arrange them in a single layer.

Light the charcoal: There are several methods to light the charcoal. One popular technique is using a chimney starter. Fill the chimney starter with charcoal and place crumpled newspaper or fire starter cubes at the bottom. Light the newspaper or cubes, and the flames will gradually ignite the charcoal. Let the charcoal burn until the coals are covered with a thin layer of ash, which usually takes about 15-20 minutes.

Spread the charcoal: Once the charcoal is ready, carefully pour the hot coals onto the grill grate. If you’re using the indirect grilling method, position the coals on one side of the grill, leaving the other side empty. This creates a hot zone and a cooler zone for different cooking techniques.

Adjust the vents: Adjust the vents on the bottom and top of the grill to control the airflow and regulate the temperature. Opening the vents allows for more oxygen and increases the heat, while closing them restricts airflow and lowers the temperature. Adjust the vents based on the desired grilling temperature and your grill’s specific instructions.

Preheat the grill: Allow the grill to preheat for a few minutes with the lid on. This ensures that the grates become hot and helps prevent sticking when you place the steak on the grill.

Oil the grates: Before placing the steak on the grill, lightly oil the grates to prevent sticking. Use tongs and a folded paper towel soaked in vegetable oil or a high-smoke point oil. Hold the oiled paper towel with tongs and rub it across the grates.

Fire up the charcoal grill

3. Grill the steaks

Grilling the steaks to perfection requires proper technique and attention to detail. Here’s a detailed guide on how to grill your steaks over charcoal:

Preheat the grill: Ensure that the grill grates are preheated and hot before placing the steaks on them. This helps create a sear and prevents the meat from sticking to the grates. Close the lid and let the grill reach the desired temperature, typically around 400-450°F (200-230°C).

Place the steaks on the grill: Using long-handled tongs, carefully place the seasoned steaks on the preheated grill grates. Position them diagonally across the grates for those coveted grill marks. Be mindful not to overcrowd the grill, as this can hinder proper heat circulation.

Sear the steaks: Close the grill lid and allow the steaks to sear for a few minutes. For a medium-rare doneness, aim for about 3-4 minutes per side. Avoid frequently flipping the steaks, as this can prevent the development of a good crust. Instead, give them a single flip to sear the other side.

Manage flare-ups: Flare-ups may occur as the fat from the steaks drips onto the hot coals, causing sudden bursts of flames. If flare-ups occur, use the tongs to move the steaks to a cooler part of the grill temporarily or adjust the grill height. However, be cautious not to smother the fire, as charcoal grills rely on oxygen for heat.

Monitor the internal temperature: Use an instant-read meat thermometer to gauge the internal temperature of the steaks. Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the meat, away from the bone. Aim for the desired level of doneness: around 135°F (57°C) for medium-rare, 145°F (63°C) for medium, and 160°F (71°C) for well-done.

Test for doneness: If you prefer not to rely solely on the thermometer, you can perform a touch test to assess the doneness of the steaks. Gently press the center of the steak with your finger or the back of the tongs. A rare steak will feel very soft, medium-rare will be slightly firm with a little give, medium will have a firmer feel, and well-done will be quite firm.

Rest the steaks: Once the steaks reach the desired doneness, carefully remove them from the grill using tongs and transfer them to a clean plate or cutting board. Allow the steaks to rest for about 5-10 minutes before slicing or serving. This rest time allows the juices to redistribute within the meat, resulting in a more flavorful and tender steak.

Serve and enjoy: After resting, slice the steaks against the grain for maximum tenderness. This means cutting perpendicular to the muscle fibers. Serve the grilled steaks immediately and savor the delicious flavors and charred crust that charcoal grilling imparts.

Grill the steaks

4. Rest the steak

Resting the steak after grilling is a crucial step that allows the meat to retain its juices and become more tender and flavorful. Here’s a detailed guide on how to properly rest your steak:

Remove from the grill: Once the steak reaches the desired level of doneness, carefully remove it from the grill using long-handled tongs. Transfer it to a clean plate or cutting board.

Tent with foil: To retain heat and prevent the steak from cooling too quickly, loosely tent it with aluminum foil. This helps to keep the steak warm while it rests.

Let it rest: Allow the steak to rest undisturbed for about 5-10 minutes. During this resting period, the meat’s internal temperature will continue to rise slightly, and the juices will redistribute throughout the steak. Resting also allows the muscle fibers to relax, resulting in a more tender and juicy final product.

Avoid cutting or piercing: Resist the temptation to cut into the steak immediately after grilling. Cutting into it too soon can cause the juices to escape, leading to a drier steak. Give it the necessary resting time for the best results.

Time adjustments: The length of the resting period can vary depending on the thickness of the steak. Thicker cuts generally require a longer rest, while thinner cuts may need a shorter rest. As a general guideline, aim for about 5 minutes of resting time for thinner steaks and up to 10 minutes for thicker cuts.

Test for doneness: If you’re unsure about the steak’s doneness level, you can use the resting time to perform a final temperature check. Insert an instant-read meat thermometer into the thickest part of the steak to confirm that it has reached your desired internal temperature.

Serve and enjoy: After the resting period, it’s time to slice and serve your perfectly rested steak. Slice the steak against the grain, which means cutting across the muscle fibers. This technique ensures maximum tenderness. Serve the steak while it’s still warm, and savor the succulent flavors and enhanced texture.

5. Slice and serve

After resting your steak, it’s time to slice it and present it in all its delicious glory. Here’s a detailed guide on how to slice and serve your grilled steak:

Gather the necessary tools: Before slicing the steak, gather a sharp knife, a cutting board, and serving plates. Using a sharp knife will make the slicing process easier and help maintain the steak’s texture.

Determine the slicing direction: Identify the direction of the muscle fibers in the steak. You’ll want to slice the steak against the grain, which means cutting perpendicular to the fibers. This technique shortens the muscle fibers, resulting in more tender and easier-to-chew meat.

Begin slicing: Place the rested steak on a cutting board and hold it firmly with one hand. With the other hand, position the knife perpendicular to the grain of the meat and make smooth, even slices. Aim for slices that are about ¼ to ½ inch thick, depending on your preference.

Adjust thickness for different cuts: Different cuts of steak may require slight adjustments in the thickness of the slices. For example, a tenderloin or filet mignon can be sliced into thicker medallions, while a flank or skirt steak may benefit from thinner slices to enhance tenderness.

Plate the steak: Once sliced, transfer the steak slices onto individual serving plates or a platter. Arrange them neatly, making sure to showcase the succulent texture and beautifully charred exterior. You can also drizzle any accumulated juices or a flavorful sauce over the steak slices for added moisture and flavor.

Garnish and accompany: Consider adding some final touches to your presentation by garnishing the steak with fresh herbs like parsley or cilantro. You can also serve the steak with complementary side dishes such as roasted vegetables, mashed potatoes, or a crisp salad. These accompaniments enhance the overall meal and provide a balanced dining experience.

Serve and enjoy: Bring the plated steak to the table and serve it while it’s still warm. Allow your guests to savor the aroma and dig into the juicy, perfectly grilled slices. Encourage them to appreciate the flavors, textures, and hard work that went into creating a deliciously grilled steak.

Remember, the presentation of the steak plays a part in the dining experience, so take your time to slice it neatly and arrange it attractively on the plates. Enjoy your well-prepared and beautifully served grilled steak with family and friends!

Slice and serve

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About author
As the founder and chief editor of Scills Grill, I'm a self-proclaimed BBQ nut. I love cooking outdoors over live fire and smoke, no matter the weather. I use various grills, smokers, and wood-fired ovens to produce epic food. Peter Cobbetts is the president and founder of Scills Grill, with over 15 years' experience in barbecue. He's an exceptional pitmaster and grill expert who specializes in smoking briskets, pork shoulders - using charcoal, wood or propane grills/smokers - as well as reviewing kitchen appliances such as grills, smokers etc., having tried out almost every model available on the market.
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