How to Grill A Steak on a Charcoal Grill – 5 easy steps

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Nothing beats a mouth-watering, perfectly-cooked steak. An overcooked steak on the other hand, tastes like a leather shoe. Grilling steak is one of those things that’s very simple, but very complicated at the same time. In this easy-to-follow guide, we’ll explain how to grill a steak on a charcoal grill, and nail it every single time.

Step 1 – Choosing the right cut of meat

When it comes to choosing the cut of steak, there are plenty of options. Some cuts are better for charcoal grilling than others though. Instead of going through every cut of steak, I’ll just focus on what I consider the main 3 cuts for charcoal grilling.

Cuts of Steak

You can find any of these 3 at pretty much any store, and they’re not too expensive compared to some of the more ‘premium’ cuts.

Ribeye

A good ribeye steak never lets you down. It’s full of flavor, it’s got a good amount of fat, and it stays quite tender. Look for a ribeye that has plenty of marbling (thin ‘streaks’ of fat) rather than big lumps of fat. The marbling melts into the steak as you grill it, giving it extra flavor, and it also makes it more forgiving when overcooked.

ribeye steak

In terms of thickness, anywhere between 1 and 2 inches is good.

Striploin

Striploin steak, also known as a Sirloin or New York Strip, is quite similar to Ribeye in that it’s very suitable for different methods of cooking, including grilling. I would say it’s slightly less flavorsome than a ribeye, and it’s a bit leaner too, which makes it a bit more chewy when overcooked. It is usually quite cheap though, and easy to find.

striploin

For thickness, again I would go for between 1 and 2 inches.

T-bone

The T-bone, often known as a Porterhouse steak, is another great cut for charcoal grilling. Cooking meat on the bone always gives an intense meaty flavor. Also, the T-bone steak is, technically, two steaks in one – striploin on one side of the bone, and tenderloin on the other.

t-bone steak

For this cut I would go 1.5 to 2.5 inches thick.

Step 2 – Preparing your steak

Before firing up the grill, here are some tips for prepping your meat.

Always bring up to room temperature

I see a lot of people taking meat out of the fridge and throwing it straight on the grill. This is a big rookie error, and it causes you to undercook the meat in the middle, and dry it out on the outside.

Steaks need to be completely at room temperature, right through to the middle. This means taking them out of the fridge, as well as out of their packaging, and laying them on a plate or chopping board for AT LEAST ninety minutes before grilling. I would flip them over half way so that the cold temperature isn’t retained underneath the meat.

Don’t season too early

Whether you’re using a fancy steak seasoning, dry rub, or you’re just going with old fashioned salt and pepper (my preference), don’t put it on way before cooking. What people don’t realize is that salt draws out moisture, which makes the outside of the steak dry. Seasoning immediately before cooking is ideal.

Some purists go as far as saying you shouldn’t season at all before grilling. Only afterwards.

Marinate sparingly…or not at all

There seems to be a near-infinite number of steak marinades on the market. This is not something I’ve been a fan of to be honest – A good quality steak really just needs salt and pepper.

There are some that even say that marinades don’t do anything because they can’t penetrate the red cells in the meat. That said, if you’re going to marinate your steak, use a modest amount of marinade, rather than letting the steaks swim in it.

Step 3 – Preparing your grill

Now that your (hopefully) un-seasoned, room-temperature steaks are ready to go on, here are some steps for preparing your grill.

How to arrange your charcoal

This really depends on what kind of grill you have. If you have just a regular, open charcoal grill, just scatter the lit coals (or wood) evenly across the whole charcoal tray.

If you have a kettle grill though, like a Weber, you can use a split-fire configuration, which comes in handy for finishing the steaks (which I’ll go into later on in this article).

Cleaning your grate

Wait until your fire is nice and hot, and then scrub the grate with a grill brush, so your steaks don’t taste like the shrimp or chicken you cooked on the grill last time you used it.

Some people also like to use half an onion face-down to clean their grate. Onion has natural antibacterial properties which is why it makes a good grill cleaner.

How to check the temperature is right

I use the hand test to check the grill temperature, and it pretty much works all the time. What you do is you hold your hand just over the grate, and time how long you can hold your hand there before it hurts (be careful, obviously).

If you can hold your hand there for more than 3 seconds, it’s too cold. If you can only hold your hand there for 1 or 2 seconds, it’s too hot. 3 seconds is your magic number.

Step 4 – Grilling the steak

Now for the fun part. The grilling. Follow these 6 points, and you’ll get it right every time.

Let it stick

Most people I see grilling steak, have this obsession with constantly moving it around as soon as it’s on the grill, out of fear of it sticking to the grate. What’s wrong with that? Let it stick!

Since when have you seen one of those beautiful steak photos in a menu or on a billboard and thought to yourself “why did they let it stick”?…… Never. Why? Because the charred black lines look good, and they taste good.

When you put the steak on the grill, the only time you should touch it is when it’s ready to be flipped.

Only flip once

Another pet hate of mine is seeing a steak being flipped over constantly. I’m not sure if people do it out of boredom, or fear of burning the outside of the meat, or just to look like they know what they’re doing. All I know is that the more you flip a steak, the more it’s fatty oils and blood leak out of the meat, which results in a tougher steak.

You only need to flip it once. Trust me on this. You’ll end up with a more tender, juicier steak.

Cooking times

Here is a table showing some approximate times for grilling. Just be clear though, these timings are just a guide. What you need to remember is that with a Charcoal or Wood grill, every fire is different (and different temperatures). To be honest, that’s one thing that makes grilling on charcoal or wood so enjoyable. Every grilling experience is different.

Steak thickness Rare Medium-rare Medium Well done
1 inch 5-6 mins 7 mins 7-8 mins 10+ mins
1.5 inches 6-7 mins 8-9 mins 10 mins 12-15 mins
2 inches 8-10 mins 10-15 mins 15-18 mins 20+ mins

I usually try and do 2-thirds of the total cooking time on the first side, followed by one-third of the cooking time on the second side.

So, for example, if you know (based on thickness, and how you like your meat done) that the steak you’re cooking tonight needs 9 minutes, then I would recommend 6 minutes on the first side, and 3 minutes on the next side.

Wait for the blood to rise

A good sign that steak is ready to be flipped is when you see blood seeping out of the side facing up. The same goes for the other side after you’ve flipped it, for knowing once it’s cooked through, and ready to come off the grill.

How to check if it’s done

The finger test is a good one for that.

Open your left hand, palm facing up. With your right hand’s index finger, poke the “squishy” area between your thumb and your wrist (on the palm side). The firmness should roughly match the firmness of a raw steak.

Now do the same thing, but with the thumb and index finger on your left hand just touching (but not gripping). That is how firm a rare steak is.

Thumb and middle finger touching, is medium-rare

Thumb and ring finger touching, is medium.

Thumb and pinky touching, is well done.

You might get some strange looks from people while you’re doing this at a BBQ, but it really does work.

Finish it off

If you happen to be using a grill that has a lid, whether that’s kettle-style grill (like a weber) or a barrel grill, then you can finish off the steak for the last couple of minutes with the lid closed.

Earlier in the article I mentioned the split-fire configuration. Once your steak is almost done to your liking, move the steaks to indirect heat, close the lid, and let it cook for the last 2 minutes like that. Simple.

Step 5 – Resting

Putting the steak straight from grill to plate is, in my opinion, as bad as going straight from fridge to grill. When you cook steak on a fire, the fibers in the meat tense up. After the steak rests, the fibers relax again, and then all the blood leaks out.

If you go straight to the plate from the grill, not only will you be serving it before it’s most tender state, but you’ll also see a lot of blood on the plate after a couple of minutes. This can be off-putting for some people. Nobody wants to color their potato salad red.

Take the steaks of the grill, place them into a tray, and cover them with foil to keep them warm. I never let them rest on the plate that i’ll serve it in, because ot the blood leaking out.

I always let the steak rest for as long as it was cooked for. So if I grilled the steak for 10 mins, I rest it for 10 mins.

Once you’ve rested them, season them more, and then serve.

There you have it… How to Grill a Steak on a charcoal grill in 5 easy steps

Thanks for reading my simple guide to cooking the perfect steak on a charcoal grill. Grilling good steak is about keeping things simple to be honest. A good cut of meat. A bit of salt and pepper. Fire burning at the right heat. And just throwing the meat on and moving it as little as possible. Enjoy!