The Ultimate Guide to Cooking Steak on a Charcoal Grill

Cooking the perfect steak on a charcoal grill can be both intimidating and seemingly impossible. We get it, after all, trying to get that perfectly charred outside without overcooking or burning the meat inside is no easy feat. Luckily for you, our ultimate guide to cooking steak on a charcoal grill can help take your grilling skills from novice to master chef in no time!

From selecting the right cut of beef to understanding how to properly prepare and season your meats, this comprehensive guide will walk you through every step – allowing you to become an expert at cooking steaks over hot coals with confidence.

Selecting the Perfect Steak

Choosing the right cut of steak is the first step in creating a delicious meal. Whether you opt for an inexpensive flank steak or splurge on a ribeye, selecting the right kind of meat will make all the difference.

Flank and skirt steaks are cheaper cuts that have great flavor but can be tough if not cooked correctly. Prime grade ribeye steaks, on the other hand, offer a more tender texture but are usually considerably more expensive.

Regardless of your choice, try to pick steak that is at least 1” thick and has been aged for at least 21 days so you can guarantee the best flavor and texture.

Preparing the Steak

Once you’ve selected the perfect cut of steak, it’s time to get it ready for grilling. Start by patting it dry with a paper towel – getting rid of any excess moisture. This will help the meat brown and develop flavor more quickly when cooking over the hot coals. 

Properly Seasoning Your Steak

To prepare your steak for grilling, it is essential to properly season it beforehand. This includes salting the steak at least 45 minutes before grilling to help the meat retain its moisture. Additionally, you can add freshly ground pepper or other desired seasonings to create a delicious crust on the outside of the steak.

Letting the Steak Come to Room Temperature

Before placing your steak on the grill, allow it to come to room temperature, which should take around 30-45 minutes. This will help ensure even cooking and a shorter grilling time overall.

Setting Up the Charcoal Grill

To successfully cook steak on a charcoal grill, it’s important to have the right setup. Start by evenly spreading your coals over the bottom of the grill and make sure they are covering an area that is slightly larger than the size of your steak. This will help you achieve even heat distribution during cooking.

Choosing the Right Charcoal

Not all charcoal is created equal. To ensure the best results when grilling steak, choose hardwood lump charcoal or natural lump charcoal over briquettes. Lump charcoal burns hotter and more evenly – giving you that perfect char without burning the outside of your steak.

Creating Heat Zones

To properly cook a steak on a charcoal grill, it’s essential to create two heat zones: a high-heat zone for searing and a lower-heat zone for finishing the cook. To do this, spread the lit coals on one side of the grill for the high-heat zone and leave a cooler area on the other side for the lower-heat zone.

Cooking Times and Temperatures

Understanding the right cooking times and temperatures is essential for achieving a perfectly cooked steak. The following guidelines can help you nail that perfect doneness:

  1. Rare (120-130°F): Sear on the hot zone for 2-3 minutes per side, then move to the cool zone for 4-6 minutes.
  2. Medium-rare (130-135°F): Sear on the hot zone for 3-4 minutes per side, then move to the cool zone for 6-8 minutes.
  3. Medium (135-145°F): Sear on the hot zone for 4-5 minutes per side, then move to the cool zone for 8-10 minutes.
  4. Medium-well (145-155°F): Sear on the hot zone for 5-6 minutes per side, then move to the cool zone for 10-12 minutes.
  5. Well-done (155-165°F): Sear on the hot zone for 6-7 minutes per side, then move to the cool zone for 12-14 minutes.

Keep in mind that these times are approximate, and factors like steak thickness and grill temperature can affect the cooking time.

Grilling Different Steak Cuts

When cooking a steak, the thickness of the cut can greatly affect the grilling time and temperature. Thicker steaks take longer to cook and require more heat than thinner cuts.

For example, if you’re using a 1 ½-inch thick ribeye steak on your charcoal grill, you should begin by searing it on the hot zone for 5-6 minutes per side. Once the steak has developed a flavorful crust, move it to the cool zone and cook it until it reaches your desired doneness.

If you’re using a thinner cut of steak, such as a flank steak or flat iron, you should reduce the cooking time. For example, if you’re grilling a 1-inch thick flank steak, reduce the cooking time to 4-5 minutes per side on the hot zone and 6-8 minutes on the cool zone.

It’s also important to remember that cuts like filet mignon and strip steaks can be cooked directly in the center of the hot zone as they are thick enough to stand up to the intense heat.

Checking for Doneness

When your steak is done cooking, use an instant-read thermometer to take the internal temperature. Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the meat, being careful not to touch any bones as they will increase the reading. If your steak has reached the desired doneness (rare, medium, well-done), remove it from the grill and let it rest for at least 5 minutes before serving.

Enhancing Flavor with Smoke

Adding a smoky flavor to your steak is easy when cooking on a charcoal grill. Simply add wood chips or chunks directly onto the coals, close the lid, and allow the smoke to form for several minutes before adding the steak. This will give you that classic barbecue taste without compromising the juicy interior of your steak.

Tips for Grilling Success

Here is some final advice for grilling steak on a charcoal grill:

– Preheat the grill for at least 15 minutes before cooking, and brush the grates with oil to prevent sticking.

– Let your steak come to room temperature before cooking. This will help it cook more evenly.

– Turn your steaks only once during cooking. Constantly turning them can cause uneven cooking and dry out the meat.

– Allow time for resting. After you take the steak off the grill, let it rest on a plate or cutting board for at least 5-10 minutes before serving. This will allow all of the juices to settle into the steak and create a tender, juicy texture.


Grilling steak on a charcoal grill is an easy and delicious way to enjoy the classic flavors of barbecue. With the right technique, you can achieve a perfectly cooked steak with a juicy interior and delightful smoky flavor. All it takes is some practice and knowledge about grilling temperatures, cooking times, and doneness checks. Once you master the art of grilling steak on a charcoal grill, you’ll be the envy of all your friends. Happy grilling!

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