Man, meat and fire have a primal relationship that still holds true today, and you can’t get more primal with a steak than cooking it directly on raging red-hot coals.
In this recipe, we’ll walk you through the caveman technique for cooking steaks to any target temperature (we recommend medium-rare).
Click to jump straight to each topic
What is caveman cooking?
Caveman cooking refers to cooking food directly onto an established bed of hot coals. You can do this easily with 100% lump charcoal, or you can build your coals from wood using a burn barrel.
You don’t want to use briquettes for caveman cooking. The additives in the briquettes will transfer to the surface of your meat, and I’ve found it leaves an artificial aftertaste you don’t get with lump charcoal.
Caveman cooking doesn’t just refer to meat or steaks on the coals. You can roast whole vegetables like carrots, whole corn cobs, or potatoes. You can even cook more delicate vegetables like wedge salad for a quick char on the surface and added smoke flavoring.
Let’s be honest, we’re here for the steak!
What steak is best for caveman cooking?
You can cook any steak caveman style, but ideally, you want your cut to be between 1 ½” – 2” thick. This allows time for the outside to develop a nice crust while not overcooking the inside.
A fattier cut of beef will stay juicer than a lean cut in general, but steak thickness is more important when you’re looking to keep this steak rare to medium-rare. A ribeye is more forgiving than a filet when cooking caveman.
Quality of the beef matters too. Upper choice and above yield a very juicy steak in any circumstance, and that holds true for caveman cooking. Prime grade, quality filets result in tender, juicy goodness that you’d usually need copious amounts of butter for.
In our recipe today, we’re cooking a ribeye and a NY strip steak directly on the coals.
How to make caveman steaks over lump charcoal
This recipe is pretty easy with minimal ingredients. You will want to go for quality here and let the natural flavors of the beef shine though. Local, humanely raised beef on pasture will yield a deeper, beefy flavor than grocery store meat, which is usually Select grade. Aim for prime grade if you can. Now is the time.
What you’ll need:
- 1 ½” – 2” thick cut quality steak – we’re using ribeye and NY strip
- Coarse ground pepper
- Kosher salt
- 100% natural lump charcoal
- A charcoal grill or firebox – I’m using the Weber Original Kettle 22” Grill
Preparing the meat
Not much to do here but bring the meat to room temperature. Let it rest on a plate or cutting board on the counter until it reaches room temperature.
Prepare the coals
In the meantime, start your coals in a chimney starter.
Depending on the size of your chimney starter, you may need to do two chimneys worth of coals to ensure adequate heat for caveman style cooking.
Once the coals have ashed over and turned a glowing red/orange, empty them into the grill and spread them out into a nice even layer. If you see any loose ash on the tops of the coals, you can fan or blow them off.
Cook the steak
Once your coals have all turned white, it’s time to put on the steak. Salt and pepper both sides of the steak, and pat the seasoning into the meat with your hand.
Place the steak directly on the red/orange coals. For a 1 ½” steak, you’ll be looking at 3-4 minutes per side for medium-rare. This is a ballpark, so be sure to keep your meat thermometer handy. I used the ThermoPro TP15H.
Midway through searing the first side, turn the steak 90° to be sure all parts come in contact with the coals. I’ve found if there are parts of the steak not in direct contact with the coals it won’t sear as well. This turn helps prevent that.
After a crusty sear has formed on one side, remove the steak from the coals, and stir the coal bed up so fresh hot coals are facing up. Flip the steak to the other side and place back on the coals, repeating a half turn midway through searing.
Once an instant-read thermometer reads five degrees below your target temperature, remove the steak from the coals. I pulled the ribeye off at 130°F.
Rest the steak
Tent the steak loosely with foil and let it rest for 5 – 10 minutes. The carryover heat will increase the internal temperature by another five degrees or so.
Cut and serve
Slice the steak against the grain and serve immediately.
Caveman steaks are easy, taste great, and add a primal showcase to any meal.
If you aren’t sold on this technique but still want a great sear you should check out the “after-burner” method for cooking steak. You can use the same method but instead of tipping the lump charcoal into your grill, just place a grill grate or cooking rate over the top of your chimney starter and cook the steaks directly on that.
Caveman-Style Steaks Cooked Directly on Lump Charcoal
- one 1 ½” – 2” thick ribeye or NY strip steak
- kosher salt
- coarse ground pepper
- Set steaks out on the counter to bring them to a room temperature.
- Start coals in chimney starter and let come to full flame.
- Once coals are lit, lay out evenly in the grill.
- Season steak with salt and pepper, pressing the seasoning into the meat with your hand.
- Place steak directly on coals – roughly 4 minutes per side for a 1 ½” steak.
- Turn steak 90° halfway through cooking one side.
- Remove steak from coals, stir coal bed so fresh coals are facing up.
- Flip steak and replace onto coals, giving a half turn midway through cooking this side.
- Remove steak when 5° below the target temperature.
- Tent with foil and rest 5 – 10 minutes. Internal temperature will continue to climb.
- Slice steak against the grain and serve immediately.