Cooking steak isn’t difficult and certainly isn’t rocket science. But for some reason, many people screw up cooking the perfect steak. As with anything; patience, attention and the right tools for the job are crucial. You wouldn’t trust a carpenter without a hammer to do a good job.
If you’re not wanting to add a smoke flavour to your steaks, you can ignore the parts that relate to smoking. The difference between barbecuing and cooking on say a frying pan in your kitchen is that smokiness you get from the coal (and from the added wood chips).
Things you’ll need
For The BBQ
- A coal barbecue (with a lid for smoking)
- A meat thermometer (for testing temperature of the meat)
- Natural lumpwood charcoal
- A charcoal chimney starter (for lighting the charcoal)
- Wood chips (I like Hickory, but Oak can be quite nice and Mesquite if you want a stronger smoke flavour)
- A stainless steel smoker box (or if you don’t have one, aluminium foil)
- A bowl of water (to soak your wood chips)
For The Steak
- Nice non-budget steak (cheaper cuts require longer cooking time and are harder for the inexperienced cook). Avoid supermarkets like Coles or Woolworths, the portions in the trays are generally non uniform and steak quality can be highly varied. Head to your local butcher and get some thick cut steaks (roughly the same size so they cook at the same time).
- A dry spice rub (this will help reduce the boundary layer and help it smoke better).
- Olive oil (for rubbing down the steaks)
- Aluminium foil (for wrapping the steaks afterward while they rest)
- Measure out a handful or so of your wood chips. If they’re quite small or you have the pellets, maybe a little more than a handful. Place them into a bowl of water and let them soak for about 30 minutes. Wood doesn’t really absorb water that much, but you’ll moisten the exterior a little to prevent them from burning too quickly. The jury is still out on whether soaking your chips does anything, I do it because it does no harm either way.
Now take your steaks our of the fridge and let them come closer to room temperature (30 minutes minimum). This brings up the middle temperature of the steak and ensures that the exterior isn’t cooked before the interior. Heat indifference can result in really dry steaks and bitter burnt seasoning.
After 30 minutes has passed, rub down your steak in a generous amount of olive oil (or any oil). Some people are a fan of nut oils (and coconut oil) because of their higher smoke point, but use whatever works for you.
Now place generous amounts of steak seasoning on your steaks. If you don’t have any seasoning, this recipe is amazing. Or you can be more traditional and just use coarse salt and peppercorns to season your steak. Be generous with the seasoning.
Now lets get our coals lit using our chimney starter, similar to this one. Do NOT use lighter fluid, lighting gel or even the flammable lighting cubes (they will taint the flavour of your meat). Roll up some newspaper and place it beneath the starter, then leave the coals to heat up for about 15 to 20 minutes. The instructions on the starter should tell you what to do (and recommend paper).
You’ll know your coals are ready when the utmost top pieces are white and the pieces beneath are glowing orange. I like to place some additional unheated coal into the bottom of the barbecue on my coal tray and then pour the hot coals on-top to prolong the cooking time (coals stay hot for a long time). But before you pour anything into the barbecue lets explain offset grilling or indirect heat as it is also known.
Indirect heat is where you have one side comprised of the heat source (a mound of hot coals) and the opposite side has no coals. You can also place coals on either side of the grill and leave the middle vacant. Eventually the hot plate will heat up and both sides will be hot, but because of the residual heat from the hot side this gives you a medium heat side and a high heat side. Place your hot coals on your coal tray beneath the hot plates to one side. I place the hot coals up on the far right side on my barbecue, evenly distributed and a slight mound.
Now let everything get nice and hot. Also make sure your damper is fully open as to not choke the coals. A closed damper means your coals won’t get any oxygen and without oxygen they will eventually extinguish. Place your wood chips into your smoker box, or if you don’t have one: wrap them in aluminium foil and seal them. Then poke holes into the pouch using a fork all over so the smoke can escape easily to flavour your meat. Depending on your barbecue you might place the box beneath the grill or on-top of it. Either way, it doesn’t matter. You just want your wood chips to start smoking. If you have the smoker box you can place it beneath the grill (right beneath your food source).
Once the wood chips start smoking (it will be a white smoke), hold your hand over the direct heat side and if you can’t hold your hand there for more than 2 seconds before feeling the burn, you’re ready to start grilling.
Place your steaks down onto the high heat side to sear them, seasoned side face down first. You’ll want to cook each side for roughly 1 minute, turning the steak at an even consistency ensures both sides cook perfectly. Also ensure you quickly turn the steak on its side and render the fat down as well (if your steak has a strip of fat). The key to a perfect steak is not overcooking, but also ensuring both sides of the steak are cooked on the same heat source for the same amount of time.
Cook side 1 for 3 minutes on the direct heat side, then flip and cook the other side for 3 minutes. Once you’ve cooked for 6 minutes on the direct heat side, we repeat the same process on the indirect heat side for the same amount of time. 3 minutes on one side and then 3 minutes on the other. This will give you a steak cooked roughly medium to medium rare. It depends on the cut of the steak and the thickness (And whether you have a steak with a bone in or no bone), so use a meat thermometer to check your steaks are cooked to your desired doneness. To have your steaks cooked a little more, increase the indirect cooking time by one or two minutes.
Once your steaks are done, let them rest for about 5 minutes in a warm area. If your barbecue has a warming rack, wrap your steaks in aluminium foil and then let them rest. This will allow for the juices in the meat to resettle.
Understanding how to cook the perfect steak is knowing the temperatures. Seasoned chefs can use the feel of various parts of the hand to test for doneness, your home barbecue chef and average cook most likely cannot test by feel. The best method is using a meat thermometer and monitoring your steaks internal temperature (the centre point).
- Rare – internal temperature should be between 52 to 55 degrees celcius
- Medium Rare – internal temperature should be between 55 to 60 degrees celcius
- Medium – internal temperature should be between 60 to 65 degrees celcius
- Medium Well – internal temperature should be between 65 to 69 degrees celcius
- Well Done – internal temperature should be between 71 to 100 degrees celcius