I love my charcoal grills. Like, I really, really love them. I love them so much that I own 4 different kinds of charcoal grills.
While I do most of my outdoor cooking on them, my favorite thing to cook over flame would definitely be a nice thick medium rare steak.
If you’ve never had a steak prepared over charcoal, man are you missing out! There is something about the subtle smokey flavor that really makes beef stand out.
In this article, we’re going to run down what you need to know to be able to grill an awesome steak over charcoal.
What to look for in steak
Before we go over the step-by-step on how to grill your steak, let’s go over some of the basic things you need to know when it comes to choosing your steak.
1. Type of steak
2. Grade of Beef
Once you’ve narrowed down the cut of steak, you need to decide on the grade of beef you want. See, not all beef is created equal.
All beef is graded depending on the amount of intermuscular fat that runs throughout it (the traces of white fat you see in your steak). Fat = flavor, and the more fat that is running throughout the steak, the more flavorful it will be.
In the USA the beef you find in your supermarket is typically graded as choice or select, with the choice having more fat than select. You can also make a trip to your butcher and see if they have any prime grade beef, which would contain even better marbling than choice.
My recommendation: never grill a steak that is not graded at least choice.
When it comes to steak, typically, the thicker it is the better. A thin steak will cook too quickly, and you won’t be able to give it a proper sear on the outside without risking it being overdone on the inside.
A steak at least 1” thick allows you to avoid that.
For really thick steaks (1.5″+), the reverse sear method is an even better way to cook.
What you need
You don’t need much to cook a steak over charcoal. A short list of requirements would be:
- Charcoal Grill – I used my trusty Weber Kettle grill
- Charcoal Chimney & Lighters
- Charcoal (either lump or briquettes are fine)\
- Digital instant read thermometer
- GrillGrates (optional – more on those in a minute)
- Seasoning/Spice Rub
- And of course, steak!
Tips for the perfect grilled steak
Here are some simple tips to ensure you serve a steakhouse quality steak, every time.
Use a dry brine
Dry brining is the process of applying salt to meat prior to cooking it.
When you salt the exterior of your meat, the salt draws moisture out of the meat that then dissolves the salt, before finally being reabsorbed back into the meat. This gives us an ultimately juicier, more flavorful steak.
You can use just salt, or use a rub that contains salt.
Use a meat thermometer
I can’t say this enough. Use a quality digital instant-read thermometer. I have a Thermapen, and I can’t recommend it enough.
Check your steak while you are cooking it to make sure you know when it is almost done and to ensure you do not overcook it.
Use GrillGrates (optional)
GrillGrates are an aftermarket product that comes in various sizes to fit different grills that will give you the best sear marks of your life.
Made of anodized aluminum, GrillGrates increase the grill surface temp, reduce flare-ups, and eliminates hot spots on your grill.
In fact, GrillGrates are used by almost every competitor on the Steak Cookoff Association competition circuit.
They are by no means necessary, but if you are looking for
How to grill steak on a charcoal grill
1. Season your steak
The first step is to apply a little seasoning to your steak. I like to do this first and then let the steaks come up to room temperature while I get the charcoal grill ready.
You can’t go wrong with a simple SPG seasoning, but I decided to use my brisket rub recipe which kicks up the flavor with smoked paprika and a little chili powder.
2. Fire up the charcoal grill
While your steaks are coming up to room temperature you can light your charcoal and get the grill nice and hot.
Place a few fire starters underneath and get them lit.
Once you can see flames coming out the top and your charcoal has ashed over, dump it into your grill. I recommend wearing a pair of heat-resistant bbq gloves for this step.
Create two cooking zones by banking your charcoal to one side of your grill. This way, you’re able to sear over direct heat. If your steak is not finished you can lay it on the cool side, away from direct heat, and avoid burning the steak.
Place your grill grates, shut the lid and make sure all the vents are fully open.
I like to leave the grill for about five to ten minutes to allow the grates to get nice and hot.
3. Grill the steaks
Once your grill grates are nice and hot, place the steak at an angle. This will help to achieve those cross-hatch grill marks.
Getting beautiful grill marks will impress your guests (and it looks nice for photos) but it honestly doesn’t do a thing for flavor or crust. If you want to, go for it, but make sure the priority is to get a nice crust on both sides.
If your steak is extra thick you can place the lid back, but for this cook, I kept the lid off.
After 90 seconds, rotate the steak about 45 degrees and cook for a further 90 seconds. At this point, the steak is ready to flip and you can repeat that process again to get perfectly even grill marks on both sides.
Please note that your cooking time may vary. Depending on the thickness of your steak, the cooking temp at grate level, and so on, your steak may cook faster or slower than what I explained.
You may need more time, and if so, continue to flip the steak to prevent burning until it is your desired temp.
I used a Thermapop thermometer to check the temp of the steak and removed it off the grill when it hit 130°F for medium rare.
As you rest the steak it will come up at least 5 degrees.
4. Rest the steak
Resting the steak allows the juices to settle into the middle of the steak. It also helps relax the fibers in the meat so you have a more tender steak once you cut in.
I add a pat of butter right on top of the steak as it’s resting and tent the steak with foil so it doesn’t cool off too quickly during the resting phase.
5. Slice and serve
Once the steak has rested, slice across the grain for maximum tenderness. You have so many options when it comes to serving steak. We’ve compiled a list of our favorite side dishes for steak
Try these other grilled steak recipes
- Grilled Rump Cap Steak
- Grilled Steak Pinwheels
- Grilled Flat Iron Steak With Creamy Mushroom Sauce
- Best Grilled Carne Asada
- 2 steaks Aim for 1" thick steaks. I used ribeye but any steak will work
- 2 tsp brisket rub You keep it simple with just salt and pepper, or ramp up the flavor with our brisket rub recipe that goes just as well on steak.
- 1 tbsp butter
- Season steaks on both sides and allow the steak to come up to room temp for about an hour.
- Fill a charcoal chimney with charcoal and light. After about 20 minutes when the flames are coming out the top and the charcoal is fully ashed over dump into the grill.
- Place grill grates back on, make sure all vents are open and shut the lid. Allow 5-10 minutes for the grates to heat up before placing the steak on.
- Place steak on the grill at an angle and rotate after 60-90 seconds to get cross hatch grill marks.
- Flip steak and repeat the process. If necessary, continue to flip steaks until the desired temp is reached.
- Once the steak reaches an internal temperature of 130°F (for medium rare), remove from the grill and allow 5 minutes to rest.
- While steak is resting, add a pat of butter and tent loosely with foil
- Slice steak across the grain and enjoy!