You just dropped big bucks on some prime beef and your mouth has already started watering in anticipation. You’re going to be grilling steaks on a charcoal grill and your guests will be arriving soon.
They have to come out perfect because your friend “All Beef” Bob is on the guest list and he will never let you live it down if they don’t match up to his high expectations.
This is when the nervousness kicks in, and rightly so. The “steaks” are high (sorry, I couldn’t help myself) and your man card is on the line.
What is the Best Way to Grill Steaks on a Charcoal Grill? I’m glad you asked.
Don’t worry. I’m here to make sure you don’t screw this one up. By the time we are done, “All Beef” Bob will be asking for your advice the next time he is grilling steaks on a charcoal grill.
In our grilling steaks on a charcoal grill guide, I’m going to be laying out everything you need to know to get it right!
In This Article, We’ll Explore:
Click a topic below to be taken directly to that section.
First Things First, What Is the Perfect Steak?
The perfect steak should have a crusty, whiskey browned exterior surrounding a juicy, pink and tender middle.
The perfect steak should be melt in your mouth tender and require a bib to keep all those wonderfully grilled meat juices from running down your chin.
The perfect steak should make you close your eyes and utter a long Mmmmmmmm sound as soon as you take that first bite.
Why Use a Charcoal Grill?
As far as searing and flavor goes, a charcoal grill wins hands down. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. A gas grill just can’t reach the high heat necessary for a proper sear.
And you definitely don’t get the smokey aroma and flavors that grilling steaks on charcoal provides.
For more information on charcoal vs gas grilling, check out my guide Cooking with Charcoal vs. Gas Grills.
Now that we decided to use our charcoal grill, what’s the next step?
Have a Grilling Game Plan
When grilling steaks on a charcoal grill, you should make a check list beforehand. (Quick Tip: Keep a grill diary and keep notes of every grill. This way you can look back and see what went wrong and what worked.)
On this list would be things like:
- What kind of steaks are you cooking?
- What seasoning the steaks with?
- Do you know the tools will you need?
- Will you be using hardwood or briquettes for your fuel source?
- Will you be using the direct or indirect cooking method for your heat source?
How you will be cooking each steak (medium rare, medium, medium well etc.)?
Choosing Your Steak
A steak is typically any piece of meat that is considered a fast cooking cut. It is widely agreed upon that the most tender cuts for steaks are the Filet (also called the Filet Mignon or Tenderloin), the Rib Eye (also called the Beauty Steak or Market Steak) and the New York Strip (also called theTop Sirloin or Manhattan Strip). These are the cuts used in most top steakhouses.
The Filet is the most tender of the three and has great flavor. It is low in fat as well. It is also the most expensive.
The Rib Eye is highly marbled, has the most fat in it and is also quite tender. The fat is what causes the highly distinctive flavor of grilled meat making this one of the best tasting cuts around.
The New York Strip is a little less tender than the Rib eye but still has a lot of marbled fat for that excellent grilled flavor.
Seasoning Your Steak
Now that you have chosen the cut, it is time to add the seasoning. The general rule of thumb is the simpler the better.
When grilling good steaks on a charcoal grill, you want to be able to taste the wonderfully natural grilled flavor of the meat, not the spices. Most top steak houses use only salt and pepper for taste.
You want to start by lightly brushing your steak with cooking or olive oil. There is a reason you want to oil your steak, not just the grill grate.
It helps create a barrier between the food and the grate, helps prevent the meat from sticking and helps the spices stick to the food. (Quick Tip: I also add a splash of Worcestershire sauce to the oil for added flavor.) If you only oiled the grate, the fire will burn the oil off too quickly.
Liberally coat every surface, even the sides with your seasoning. How heavily should you season? I say quite heavily. Not completely covered but enough so that you can see the seasoning very clearly.
Pro Tip: For thin and fast cooking steaks that are not on the grill for very long, season with a little smoked paprika for that added smokey flavor the meat did not have time to soak up.
Remember to oil and season the meat and put it in the fridge for at least 40 minutes prior to cooking to let the meat absorb the spices. (Quick Tip: vertically slash the thin piece of fat around the outside of the steak to keep it from curling.)
Setting up Your Charcoal
For thin and fast cooking steaks, you will want to use the direct heat cooking method. This means you will only be setting up a hot-zone in your grill. Cover the bottom of the grill with charcoal and light.
For meat with a thickness of 1 ½ inch or more, you want to set up the grill for indirect cooking. This means creating both a hot-zone and a medium heat zone. Place charcoal on only one side of the grill and leave the other side charcoal free.
Preheating Your Grill
This is one of the most important aspects of the process that many people overlook. If your grill has not reached the optimal cooking temperature, your food will have to stay on the heat for too long.
This can cause your steak to be dry and overcooked. Also, if you put your steak on cool grates, you will ruin any chance of getting the flavorful and crusty grilled sear marks you want.
Sear the Steaks on the Hot Zone
Once your grill is hot and I mean really hot, place your meat directly over the coals (hot-zone) on the hottest part of the grate. Sear for 30 seconds to 2 minutes depending on how hot your grill is, flip and repeat. Keep flipping until both sides are seared to your liking.
When flipping, move the steak to new spot as the area you just used will now be slightly cooler.
For the perfect cross hatch grill marks, place your meat directly over the coals and after 2 minutes turn your steak one quarter turn (or 45 degrees) and let it sear for one more minute.
You only need perfect sear marks on one side, the side that will be displayed. If you try for both sides, chances are you will overcook your meat. Flip and sear the second side for up to two minutes. This side may go faster so keep an eye on it.
Finish Using Indirect Heat
Once you have the perfect sear marks, move your steak off the coals and to the medium heat zone. Finish cooking until your steak is the desired doneness. This is called indirect cooking. You don’t need to flip the steak during this time.
Finish With the Lid Shut
Shut the lid and set your vents so the inside temperature will be around 350°F to finish the cook. You don’t want to waste all that wonderfully flavorful smoke your coals are creating. Shutting the lid will add flavor to your food and keep the grill hot.
Monitor for Doneness
Using a remote meat thermometer (see my review of the ThermoWorks BlueDOT™ Bluetooth Alarm Thermometer) or an instant read digital thermometer, monitor and check the temperature of the steak while it is still on the grill.
Remove the steak from the grill at about 5° before your desired temperature. 130°F for rare, 135°F medium-rare, 145°F medium, 150°F medium well and 160°F for well done.
Keep in mind that the steak will continue to cook and will raise a few degrees higher when it’s removed from the grill. If you ask the top chefs what temperature the perfect steak should be, they will all tell you it should be cooked medium rare and no more than medium. Ultimately it is up to you.
Resting Your Steak
Rest your steak for up to 5 minutes after removing it from the grill. This will allow the steak to finish cooking and let the juices be reabsorbed back into the meat. You will have a much juicier and flavorful tasting steak this way. If you cut into it too soon after removing it from the heat, the steak can dry out.
What’s the Best Way to Top Your Steak?
I love to add a dollop of Compound Butter to finish my steak off. Compound Butter is butter smashed with herbs or spices and this takes your steak it to the next level.
Look here for some great ideas on topping your steak. 10 Ways to Dress a Steak. I promise you will not regret it.
What Drinks Pair Well With Steak?
A good red wine is the perfect pairing when Grilling Steaks on a Charcoal Grill. I suggest and a good Cabernet based wine. For me though, I prefer a bottle of my favorite beer. It is the perfect complement to a well-cooked steak. You really can’t go wrong either way.
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I hope you have enjoyed my tips one Grilling Steaks on a Charcoal Grill and it proves helpful to you. I also hope that you are one step closer to joining me in “The Grilling Life”!
A backyard warrior, certified carnivore, lover of good whiskey, grill master and I’m Living The Grilling Life!
I have a passion for cooking with live fire and smoke, no matter the weather. I’m a real person just like you, who loves outdoor cooking and BBQ. Food, fun, and time spent with family and friends are what it’s all about! It is my mission to take my passion and knowledge for outdoor cooking and all things BBQ and share this expertise in techniques and grilling equipment with you. In other words, Living The Grilling Life!
I have personally tested over 150+ Grills and Smokers and hundreds of grilling thermometers, temperature controllers, grill brushes, grilling tools, fire starters, and other BBQ products.