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.
When it comes to smoking, things are a little more involved. You’re not just grilling a steak, you’re smoking it and temperature control, as well as the right amount of coals and positioning, is crucial.
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).
You will need just a few things to smoke a nice steak.
- A coal barbecue (with a lid for smoking) like a Weber or even a metal drum
- A meat thermometer (for testing temperature of the meat)
- Natural lump wood charcoal (or your own homemade charcoal)
- A charcoal chimney starter (for lighting the charcoal)
- Wood chunks (I like Hickory, but Oak can be quite nice and Mesquite if you want a stronger smoke flavour)
- A large bowl of water (to soak your woo)
- Your desired cut of meat, whatever your preference is. Sometimes it can be nice to get a couple of different cuts. Avoid supermarkets cuts, 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). You can even just use salt and pepper to season as well if you like.
- Olive oil (for rubbing down the steaks)
- Aluminium foil (for wrapping the steaks afterwards while they rest)
- Take a few of your wood chunks and place them into a large bowl or bucket 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 out 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 let’s get our coals lit using our chimney starter. 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. Take your wood chunks and you can throw them straight into the coals beneath the grill plate (if you don’t have a speciality offset smoker to put in your wood). Another technique I’ve also tried is wrapping your wood chunks in aluminium foil and then poking holes in them with a fork and throwing them into the coals.
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. Now, here is the key for the wood. You don’t want the wood to go beyond 650 Fahrenheit (343 Celsius) or you will produce horrid bitter smoke. There is a reason that when smoking, you go low and slow. Seriously, stick around the 107 degrees Celsius (225 Fahrenheit) when you’re smoking, this low heat will mean the meat takes longer, but won’t dry out.
- Place your steaks on the opposite side of the coals, not directly over the top. If you put them on top of the coals, your steaks will cook like you’re grilling them and we are not grilling, we are smoking. Keep your steak away from the heat source.
- Keep an eye on your steaks as well as the temperature of the BBQ. Always monitor your temperatures
- For medium, your steaks should be in the BBQ/smoker for about 2 hours
- Now, the final step is finishing your steaks. Place them directly over the hot coals and cook each side for about 1 minute, to sear the outside and give it that nice char people expect from a nice steak.
- Cut and serve.
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