BBQ Pulled Beef With a Coffee Rub

Slow cooked Flat Iron Steak seasoned with coffee-based rub turned into an incredibly tender and flavorful pulled beef.
Pulled Beef

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Pulled beef isn’t nearly as popular as pulled pork, which is a shame because I think it’s a wonderfully versatile ingredient that can make for some of the best tacos, wraps, pies and pastas you’ve ever eaten.

I’ll show you how to take hunk of beef and turn it into beautiful smoky pulled beef. Serve the pulled beef in a sandwich, or read on to the end of this post and I’ll show you how I make pulled beef tacos with creamy hot sauce.

We’ll also be making a coffee rub to season the meat with. You will not taste any coffee, it will just enhance that bold beef flavor this cut has and you will end up with such a rich complex flavor at the end of your cook from the smoke, seasoning, and the natural beefy taste.

What cut works best for pulled beef

You have a lot of choice when it comes to choosing a cut of beef to make pulled beef with.

Chuck and brisket come to mind first. They both have a lot of intramuscular fat and collagen that lends well to low and slow-style cooking. For this recipe I’ve chosen to go with what we call in Australia the Oyster Blade, in America, it is generally referred to the Flat Iron Steak and in the UK they call it the Butler’s Steak.

You would need the whole cut before it is cut into steaks.

beef flat iron steak on a plastic board
If cooked correctly, the Flat Iron Steak can be super tender

No matter what you call it, it works really well as a slow cooked pulled beef option thanks to its bold beefy flavor.

The flat iron steak doesn’t get much love and is considered to be a lower quality steak compared to a rib-eye and the strip steaks due to the thick piece of collagen running through it.

That makes it perfect for smoking low and slow then. The fact that most cuts of meat that are smoked over a low indirect heat, are usually filled with collagen and leaning on the tougher side to eat. By breaking down all of the intramuscular fat and connective tissues, we end up with a super tender end result and that huge bank of collagen turns to liquefied sticky jelly.

I say we start spreading the word about this awesome cut of beef. I love it and the fact it is still sold at a very decent price is another reason to use it. When most cuts gain popularity in cooking, the supply and demand factor kicks in and we see a gradual rise in the pricing. 

On second thoughts, let’s not spread the word about this super useful cut, we’ll just keep it our little secret, for now.

Items that will help you cook these are:

Leave on the fat cap, or trim it off? 

Hard outer fat usually doesn’t render down all too well. So I’m a big fan of completely removing it all. I know some people like to leave it all on, some a little, some cook with the fat at the bottom to supposedly protect the meat and some have the fat on top to melt down and keep the meat moist.

beef flat iron steak with a fat cap trimmed off on a plastic board
Removing all the hard outer silver skin allows the seasoning to penetrate the meat with flavor

If you are cooking indirectly, you shouldn’t need to protect your meat from the bottom. I’ll be using a Weber Smokey Mountain and if using the water pan, this acts as a barrier to stop any direct radiant heat hitting the surface of whatever I’m smoking. I am actually using a custom deflector plate that does the same thing, except I have no need to fill up with water during a cook. Bit both stopping the radiant heat, so need for the fat cap there.

The leaving it on and having it at the top of the cook to melt and keep the meat moist. It may melt a bit but the meat itself will not absorb any of the melted fat. It will roll down the outside and drip onto the charcoal. So no need there either.

I want to get the flavor of my seasoning on my meat, so that is why I trim off all of the hard outer fat. If there is any soft thin fat I may leave some on as it will render down but I generally clean it all up, removing all of the chewy silver skin at the same time.

The ultimate bbq coffee rub

I know a few people are reading this and wanted to know about the coffee part. I know when I first started using coffee in my beef rubs I was a little wary, to say the least. I didn’t want my meat to taste like this morning’s espresso.

beef flat iron steak on a smoker
Don’t worry, using a coffee rub on your pulled beef will not make it taste like a morning espresso

It will surprise you that you do not actually taste any of the coffee once the meat is smoked, it is just an enhancer of what is already there.

Adding this to any sweet or savory spices again is just going to boost their reactions with your cook and create a unique flavor profile.

Making the coffee rub

Like any BBQ rub, seasoning or sauce, I always recommend measuring out all of your ingredients beforehand. Not that mixing a rub is hard, it is just a good practice to get into.

coffee rub ingredients
Measuring ingredients beforehand is a good habit to get in to

Add all ingredients and mix them well before transferring to a rub shaker to make applying it easier. You can also put any leftover rub into an airtight container or zip lock bag and place it in the fridge to keep it longer. It should keep fine in the fridge for up to six months. Although due to the coffee, I recommend fresh is best.

coffee rub in a glass jar
The fresh rub is always best, but you can store the leftovers in a fridge for up to 6 months

Seasonings are based on personal preference usually. Mine is based on the taste pallets of six direct people in my family. Some like sweet, others savory, a couple don’t like heat and a couple don’t mind it. So I tend to do a bit of refining to get what I think is the perfect overall balance.

In saying this, if you feel my recipe is not hot enough, add more heat, same as if you feel it is a tad too spicy, lower the heat.

I have found that this rub is great on most meats like beef, pork and chicken as it has a nice savoury tang to it.

Using ground coffee, dark brown sugar, cayenne pepper, garlic, paprika, onion, cumin and some salt to round out what I call a very evenly balanced rub.

Might be worth making a bit extra and keeping some on the shelf.

Prepping the beef & setting up your smoker

First things first, we need to season the beef. I tend to get any larger cuts I’m smoking out of the fridge around an hour before I smoke them.

I tend to apply my rub from roughly 12 inches above the meat, this just ensures a nice even coverage and less clumping of the spices. We can leave that sit out of the fridge while we get our smoker ready.

beef flat iron steak covered with coffee rub
To ensure even coverage, season your beef from roughly 12 inches above the meat

Now to set up the smoker, I’m using a 22” Weber Smokey Mountain for my cook. I’ll be utilizing the minion method with lump charcoal.

I’ll start by lighting up a half full chimney starter with lump charcoal, once it is fully alight, I’ll place this into a well created in the charcoal ring with unlit charcoal.

charcoal chimney starter on a weber smokey mountain
Set up your smoker using a charcoal chimney starter and a minion method

I’ll place a few chunks of cherry and pecan wood around the lit charcoal, not touching the lit fuel as this will allow it to warm up and burn cleanly without giving us any thick white smoke that will add a bitter taste to our lamb.

I have removed the water pan for this cook and I’m using a deflector plate to stop the direct radiant heat from hitting the bottom of the beef. By removing the water pan, I won’t have to worry about topping it up with water during the cook. I will put a drip tray on the deflector plate to save on clean up after the cook.

If you don’t have a deflector plate you can just wrap the pan with foil.

Smoking your beef

Once the smoker is stable at 250°F, I’ll place the beef into the middle of the cooking grate and insert an internal meat probe, I’m using the Thermoworks Smoke X4 today.

beef flat iron steak with an internal meat probe
Insert an internal meat probe into your beef cut and place in a smoker once it’s stable at 250°F

I’ll let this smoke away for around 4 hours in total until it reaches an internal temperature of 160°F, I’ll then wrap it in some foil with half a cup of warm beef stock until it is probing like a hot knife through butter, this will take another couple of hours and the internal temp will be between 200°F to 210°F.

flat iron steak wrapped in foil
Once the beef reaches an internal temperature of 160°F, cover it with some foil with half a cup of warm stock

I’ll then open the foil and let this steam off for about 10 minutes, then wrap up the beef in old towels and into a cooler to hold for two hours.

Once the two hours is up, I’ll transfer all of the juice and the beef to a tray and pull apart. Discarding any larger pieces of fat that didn’t render down in the cooking process.

pulled beef in a tray
Place the meat into a tray along with all of the juice and pull apart

Serving suggestions 

The ideas are endless, you could sandwiches, pies or even pasta with the leftovers. My favorite is tacos. I like to freeze the beef and then reheat when I need a quick and easy dinner.

I’ll share my method for tacos at the bottom of this post.

Even using it as a pasta dish is a great idea.

Pulled Beef

Pulled Beef With a Coffee Rub

Slow cooked Flat Iron Steak seasoned with coffee-based rub turned into an incredibly tender and flavorful pulled beef.
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Course: Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine: Australian
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 5 hours
Resting Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 7 hours 15 minutes
Author: Dean “Schuey” Schumann

Ingredients

Pulled Beef:

  • 1 whole Flat Iron Steak, Butler’s Steak or Oyster Blade

Coffee Rub:

  • ¼ cup ground coffee
  • 1 tbsp dark brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 tbsp garlic powder
  • 2 tbsp paprika
  • 2 tbsp onion powder
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp kosher salt

Instructions

Coffee Rub:

  • Combine all rub ingredients, mix thoroughly and transfer to a rub shaker to make applying it easier

Pulled Beef:

  • Take the beef out of the fridge around an hour before smoking and trim off the hard outer silver skin.
  • Apply coffee rub from roughly 12 inches above the meat.
  • Set up the smoker by lighting up a half full chimney starter with lump charcoal. Once it is fully alight, place it into a well created in the charcoal ring with unlit charcoal.
  • Place a few chunks of cherry and pecan wood around the lit charcoal, not touching the lit fuel.
  • Put a drip tray on the deflector plate to save on clean up after the cook.
  • Once the smoker is stable at 250°F, place the beef into the middle of the cooking grate and insert an internal meat probe.
  • Let the beef smoke for around 4 hours in total, until it reaches an internal temperature of 160°F.
  • Wrap the beef in some foil with half a cup of warm beef stock until it is probing like a hot knife through butter, this will take another couple of hours and the internal temp will be between 200°F to 210°F.
  • Open the foil and let the steam off for about 10 minutes, then wrap up the beef in old towels and place into a cooler to hold for two hours.
  • Transfer all of the juice and the beef to a tray and pull apart.

To serve:

  • My favorite way is in tacos.

Video

Storing leftover beef

I’ve shared my favorite method for storing leftover pork so we can take the same approach with beef. I cannot recommend any higher the use of a vacuum sealer for food. Not only does it keep food fresher for longer, once the food is vacuum sealed it takes up a lot less space in your fridge and freezer. 

I jumped on using vacuum sealers as I was sick of seeing waste in my household. I’m cooking pretty much everyday and therefore leftovers were not getting eaten and it became a running habit of who was going to empty out the fridge at the end of the week.

So rather than waste that food, vacuum seal it and it became our lazy night food. The nights we knew we would be too busy to come home and prepare a meal.

So we not only saw a decrease in food wastage, our food bill went down and we also weren’t filling our bins up at the end every week. So it was great to see how much using a vacuum sealer had seriously changed our lives.

Just remember before vacuum sealing any cooked food, allow it to cool completely before doing so.

Tips for vacuum sealing:

  • Use some kitchen scales and weighing out equal portion sizes to accommodate your family.
  • By freezing individual servings for only one person or even two people, this will stop any more wastage. You can always grab an extra bag of frozen leftovers if needed.
  • Weigh out your leftovers and then place them into individually sealed vacuum bags
  • Write down the date, weight, and food type in each bag. There’s nothing worse than months later playing Russian roulette with a frozen bag of something, just because it wasn’t labeled.

Reheating leftover beef

There’s nothing worse than reheating what was a good feed, then the second time around it is either dry or mushy.

By sealing the pulled beef in a vacuum sealed bag, you have also sealed in all of the juices. Until you open the bag, those juices cannot escape, here lies our problem, how to reheat it and to the perfect eating temperature. 

There is nothing worse than eating leftovers that leave you wishing you didn’t eat them. Especially when it’s something like pulled beef that has taken you hours to prepare and smoke previously, only to be let down the day after.

You need one secret ingredient when it comes to reheating your leftover pulled beef, and that is boiling water. That is correct, plain old boiling water. Place a bag of vacuum sealed pulled beef into boiling water and in 5 minutes you will have perfectly heated, succulent pulled beef.

It may sound way too easy and that’s because there are no tricks or gimmicks, just pop the unopened bag into boiling water and in 5 minutes you’ll be eating pulled beef like it was just pulled apart off the smoker.

You may need to adjust this time for larger portions, if say you had double or triple the amount in the bag, you may need to reheat upwards of 10 minutes per bag.

Pulled beef tacos

So after we have heated up our leftover pulled beef, it’s time to start making some tacos.

I like to use my own hot sauce. It’s sweet, spicy and slightly thicker than most, with a nice creamy texture.

This recipe came about when I was making fish tacos, of all things. After a bit of tweaking, I found it worked on a lot more than just fish tacos and hence how my creamy hot sauce was born. Although I should have called it, Schuey’s Taco Sauce. Because it is my go-to sauce now when making tacos.

So we need two tablespoons of Kewpie mayonnaise, one tablespoon each of maple syrup and your favorite hot sauce. Mix these up thoroughly and transfer to a squeezable sauce bottle for easier use.

You’ll find this has a bit more kick than most of my sauces and rubs, I normally aim for a happy medium but I definitely wanted some extra kick in this. By all means lower the heat if you need. No one will judge you if you do.

Next it’s time to start heating up some tortillas in a pan, we aren’t cooking them, just warming them up.

Now we need to top these with some finely sliced lettuce, any lettuce will do, it is more for some crunchy texture.

Now top with some of that beautifully heated pulled beef.

Next up, a good squirt of the creamy hot sauce.

If you do not have a cold drink next to you yet, go get one and enjoy the feast you are about to have.

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