Although meat is one of the primitive staple foods, its more delicious recipes have only been developed in the last couple of years. For example, let’s take steaks; they are arguably one of the most universally loved red meat dishes of our times but they only caught on in the 20th century.
Today, steaks are cooked in many different ways. You can fry, broil, bake, roast, and grill them. But many would agree that the best way to prepare a fine cut of steak is to grill it on red and white-hot coals. The smoky flavor that a charcoal grill brings to a steak is irreplaceable.
We often mention here that preparing a juicy grilled meat delight is different from feasting on it. The same goes for steak grilling, especially when the grates are placed on a hotbed of coal. Still, there is no rocket science involved in grilling a juicy medium-rare steak.
In this article, we are going to discuss all the things that will collectively and aptly answer the question: how to grill steaks on a charcoal grill.
The Basic Guide of Grilling Steaks on a Charcoal Grill
If you haven’t grilled a steak before or haven’t used a charcoal grill at all, then this section is for you. We will cover all the basics in this section.
Prepare Your Charcoal Grill
How good you are with a charcoal grill essentially determines if you succeed in cooking a good steak. Before anything else, make sure you use the best grilling assembly on the block. We have reviewed some of the best budget charcoal available in the market right now. If you need to buy one, check out that piece.
Assuming that you are working with a cleaned charcoal grill, you will just need to fire up the briquettes. For steaks, we would suggest a double bed of briquettes. When fired up, they will emanate the right amount of heat to grill the steak the way you want.
For patties and sausages, we usually recommend red hot coals. However, steaks get better heat when coals are heated to an extent where they turn ash white. In order to get a double layer of briquettes red and white-hot, you will need to fire them up 30-40 minutes in advance.
Readying the Steak for the Grill
With these couple of steps, you will have a raw steak that is all set to go on charcoal grill grates.
Get the Steak on Room Temperature
Many people bury their red meat deep down in refrigerators. Whenever you plan steak grilling, get the steak out of the refrigerator the night before to defrost it naturally to room temperature. Allow its temperature to rise naturally. Don’t use a stove or microwave to thaw it for best results.
Season the Steak
The classic steak recipe doesn’t need a lot of seasoning. Just dry its surface with a paper towel, lightly season it with cooking oil so that it doesn’t stick to the grill grates and can take hold of the spices you sprinkle on it. You can also use any good quality grill spray to oil the raw steak. Lastly, add salt and pepper as per your taste and preference.
Seasoning a classic steak is as simple as that. However, you can also marinate the steak according to different recipes. The grilling procedure that we are going to discuss remains the same for all such steak recipes. Leave the marinated steak for some time to let the spices settle in. For salt and pepper, you don’t need any waiting time.
Grill the Steak
With charcoal grill brimming with red and white-hot briquettes, you are now all set to put the steak on the grill. Don’t keep the steak on the grill for more than 10 minutes from either side. Why? We will discuss the reason in the later section. Depending on the internal doneness you want, take the steak off the grill and let it rest for 5-10 minutes before serving with your favorite sauces and side.
The Doneness of the Steak
While we are discussing grilling steaks, it is necessary to discuss the most important part of the process i.e. its doneness. If you love to devour steaks, then you would definitely know what rare, medium-rare and other doneness parameter means. From the cooking standpoint, you have to take very precise care of meat temperature in order to get the desired doneness.
Doneness temperature varies in the different steak preparation process (baking, roasting, grilling, etc.). Here, we are discussing how to gauge the doneness of a grilled steak only.
A rare steak is just one level up from raw meat with hot and brown crust and red and cool center. A rare steak is ready when the internal layers of meat cross 125 Fahrenheit. On the grill, it takes somewhere 1-2 minutes of grilling each side to get a rare one.
A large number of people prefer this internal doneness level. With firm brown outside and warm pink to red tender and juicy inside, a medium rare get to the internal temperature of 135 Fahrenheit. A charcoal grilling of 2-3 minutes from each side is enough to get medium-rare doneness.
You get medium steak when it is grilled for 3-4 minutes from each side with an internal temperature of 145 Fahrenheit. In a medium steak, brown meat layers dominate the pink ones. However, one of the main indications of a medium steak is that it has a pretty noticeable thick pink band in the middle.
Medium Well steak is just a slight upgrade on medium with inside pink getting paler and replaced by gray-brown shade. A medium well gets to the internal temperature of 150 Fahrenheit.
It is the most cooked steak doneness. Well-done steaks acquire the internal temperature of 150 Fahrenheit. On a charcoal grill, you need to heat the steak 5-6 minutes from each side to get it well-done. The doneness is also indicated from the charred crust and all grayish brown inside layers.
Using Meat Thermometer to Gauge the Doneness
While color and grilling time can help one in cooking the steak to the desired doneness, it is better if you determine it with a meat thermometer. With precise temperature readings, even a first timer can grill steaks to the required doneness.
- Insert the thermometer from the side of the steak where it doesn’t come into contact with fat or bone
- Wait till the temperature continues to rise on the meter
- When the temperature reaches 5 Fahrenheit below the desired doneness value (e.g. 130 Fahrenheit for medium rare), take the steak off the grill and let it rest. The temperature of the internal meat layers will continue to rise for the next 5-10 minutes.
Tips to Ace Steak Grilling on Charcoal Grills
That was all you need to know to grill steaks on a charcoal grill as per your preferred doneness. Nonetheless, here are a couple of tips that can help you in getting the chef-like results with your steak grilling.
Always Over-Spice the Steak
A lot of salt and pepper falls off when you put the steak on the grill and flip it. So, freely sprinkle and season them on to the raw steak. When you think it’s enough, add a little bit more. This trick will help you in getting the desired flavor right at the grill.
Don’t Season Way Ahead of Grilling
Contrary to popular belief, it is better to season your steak right before you are supposed to grill it. Leaving a seasoned steak for hours can deprive of its natural moisture and you might not get the traditional grill and crust mark on its surface either.
Many amateurs keep anxiously flipping the steak to avoid overcooking. In doing so, they actually thwart the reaction that caramelizes the steak crust— a trademark of a well-grilled steak. If you are working with well-lit charcoal pit, then there is no need to flip the steak more than once.
Sear it a Bit
Another restaurant-grade touch that you can give to your steak grilling is to sear it a bit. All expert chefs love to sear steaks to get that quintessential mouthwatering dark brown crust.
Underdone Is Better than Overdone
No matter what internal doneness you are eyeing, it is always better to take the steak off when it’s underdone. While underdone steak can be seared or grilled again, there is no correction for an overcooked one.
Lump Over Briquettes
When possible, always use lumps in place of briquettes in your charcoal grill pit. Briquettes usually have chemical additives that also permeate into the grilled steak to affect its flavor. On the other hand, natural wood lumps only release the charcoal smoke you want in your steak.
As you can see, grilling a steak is not that difficult. With all the information we have shared in this piece, you should now be able to grill steaks just like a master chef.