How To Grill Steak On A Charcoal Grill

Grilling a prime cut of tenderloin or a juicy ribeye steak on your Weber charcoal grill isn’t for the novice. Temperature control, air flow and fuel consumption all impact the temperature of your charcoal grill, but how do manage them to achieve the perfect sear?

Follow the recommendations in our guide for grilling steak on your charcoal grill and start on your way to becoming a master grill chef!

How To Prepare Your Charcoal Grill

Always start with a clean grilling surface. Your cooking grates should be free of food debris to avoid the risk of contamination. Excess ash and coal remains should also be removed from the fire chamber to avoid consuming ash.

Check for wire bristle remains on your cooking grates. Tiny steel bristles left behind by an aging wire brush can get caught on your steak. The best BBQ grill brushes use coiled, high nickel, rust proof stainless steel bristles. They can be used to clean ceramic, iron or porcelain grates without leaving bristles behind.

Pumice stones are another safe alternative to a grill brush. You can use pumice stones to clean grill grates as well as the exterior and interior. They work best on a flat surface.

Once the cooking pot is clear of debris, you can add your coals or charcoal briquettes. Load as many as you’ll need to complete your cooking on the highest temperature.

How To Prepare Your Steak

  1. Remove your choice of steak cut from your refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for a minimum of 20mn before putting them on your hot grill. 
  2. Don’t season your steak until about 15 minutes before you’re ready to transfer them to the grill. 
  3. Sprinkle some salt and pepper evenly over your steak. Costly cuts of steak such as ribeye and filet mignon can be seasoned without a rub or marinating sauce. Sirloin and shank, for example, can be enhanced with a rub or marinating sauce applied minutes before you add them to the grill.
  4. Brush on a light coating of high heat oil on your steak to help prevent it from sticking to the cooking grate. 
  5. Most cuts of steak for grilling can easily be seasoned with salt and pepper. Other spices and herbs that can really add flavoring to your steak include:

    • Basil
    • Bay leaves
    • Cayenne Pepper (use sparingly)
    • Cumin
    • Curry powder
    • Dry mustard powder,
    • Garlic
    • Onion
    • Oregano
    • Rosemary
    • Sage
    • Thyme

Grilling Techniques For Cooking Steak Over Charcoal

There are really only 2 common methods or techniques for cooking steak on a charcoal grill. Depending on the thickness, you’ll either use the reverse searing method or quick searing method.

1) Reverse Searing Method: Best used for grilling thick cuts of beef, reverse searing is a tried and true method used by professional grilling chefs. It really seals in the flavor and caramelizes the juices on the surface of your steak. You’ll need to prep your charcoal grill for two-zone indirect fire.

There are 3 basic steps to reverse searing:

  1. Partition your grill into a two-zone heating area (see below). By partitioning your charcoal grill into two zones, you have the option of searing over direct heat, or convection heat on the indirect side.
  2. Slow cook over indirect heat
  3. Flip your steak to direct heating zone and sear briefly on each side (1 - 2mn each side)

2) Quick Searing Method: This is a quick way to cook any thick cut of steak. You simply cook your steak directly over flames, or directly onto the charcoal as your surface. Once seared on both sides, you can cook it further on indirect heat to achieve the desired level of doneness.

Two Zone Grilling Method

The number one reason most grilling enthusiasts struggle to get their steak right on a charcoal grill is preparation. You can’t grill a thick cut of well-marbled steak the way you cook a beef patty. Your charcoal grill should be partitioned into cooking zones for the best results.

Two-zone grilling is easy to do once you know how. No special kind of coal is required, but the method works just as well with charcoal briquettes. 

To build a Two Zone Fire on any charcoal grill:

  1. Remove the cooking grate or grates.
  2. Use a rake fork to place all the coals to one side of the coal grate.
  3. Spread the coals out across evenly, covering half to two thirds of the grilling area.
  4. Grease and replace the cooking grate.
  5. Put the grate in and close the lid, and allow the grate to preheat for 5-10 minutes.
  6. Use the area directly above the coals for grilling, or for direct cooking. The other side is your indirect cooking zone. 

Searing your steak seals the outside surface with a caramelized glaze because of the high temperatures. Fat, oils and juice spill from the meat onto the flames, releasing flavors and aromas that get absorbed into your meat.

Convection heating ensures your steak is cooked right through, tenderizing thick cuts, while retaining moisture in tender cuts like striploin and filet mignon. Flipping between direct and indirect heating will give you more control over the tenderness, moisture and flavoring of your steak. 

Temperature Control On A Charcoal Grill
Unlike a gas grill or even some wood pellet grills, you can’t set the temperature on a charcoal grill. Instead, you have to manage 2 things:

Air Flow: Managing the air flow adjusts the temperature of your charcoal grill. Oxygen feeds fire. Closing the lid and vents on your charcoal grill cuts off the supply of air. If you close the lid, keep the exhaust open on the lid’s top. This allows air to fuel the flames.

Fuel: Charcoal or charcoal briskets are the most suitable type of fuel for a charcoal grill. Opt for grilling with any brand of all natural charcoal that includes no additives. Hardwood lump charcoal or hardwood briquettes burn longer than.

For every 5 lumps of charcoal, you can achieve a temperature of 225 degrees fahrenheit. For searing steak, you’ll need to achieve temperatures of 500 degrees fahrenheit or higher. Use lump charcoal for direct flame grilling anything for an hour or less. For a longer, more even burn, or convection-style grilling, charcoal briquettes are a better option.

Ventilation On A Charcoal grill
The ventilation or intake on the top of your charcoal grill is referred to as the exhaust damper. They’re designed to suck smoke and other impurities out of the cooking chamber. They also encourage air flow.

There are also ventilation intakes located on the bottom of your charcoal grill. These intake dampers directly impact the temperature of your flame. Make sure these aren’t obstructed by ash build-up or food debris.

By adjusting either the exhaust or the intake vents, you can effectively adjust the temperature of your charcoal grill. You can’t set a specific temperature, but you can achieve a low, medium and high temperature based on the level of flame produced.

Grill Shield
Another way to adjust the temperature on your Weber or Char-Broil grill is a grill shield. A grill shield deflects some of the radiant heat (convection heat) that would typically cook your food. It can prevent your meat or vegetables from burning and can also be removed.

The grill shield can be inserted directly under the grill grate and your food. Most charcoal grills don’t come with a grill shield, but you can easily use a piece of foil paper. When your grill is not in use, be sure to remove the grill shield along with the cooking grate and charcoal grate. This will help to reduce the risk of contamination. 

5 Best Cuts of Steak For Charcoal Grilling

The best grilled steak starts with the best cut of steak.

1. Sirloin

  • Thick and flavorful, top Sirloin is one of the most affordable cuts of beef.
  • Not as tender as other cuts but can be very filling.
  • Serve with an array of sides such as potatoes, greens, roasted vegetables, etc.

Grilling Method: Grill hot and fast over direct heat for the best results. Check the internal temperature often to avoid drying out your sirloin too quickly over high heat. cook to medium-rare doneness.

2. Striploin

  • Beefy, thick, yet tender. Includes many varieties such as Shell Steak, Kansas City Steak, New York Strip, and Club Steak.
  • Thickness similar to a ribeye, between 0.5” inches to 2” + inches.

Grilling Method: For best results sear over direct flame and then flip to the cool side of your grill

3. Ribeye

  • Tender, juicy, well-marbled for the best flavor of all the cuts.
  • Available with bone in or bone off choices.
  • Thickness ranges from 0.5” inches to 2” + inches. (Avoid cuts with globs of fat in the middle)

Grilling Method: Searing ribeye over direct flame steak works best on a charcoal grill.

4. T-Bone

  • Large cut of steak that includes the tenderloin and striploin attached to the bone.
  • Go to a butcher for a prime cut, and make sure it’s at least 2” inches thick

Grilling Method: Reverse sear method will work best

5. Flat Iron

  • Well-marbled, extremely tender like the filet mignon, Cut from the shoulder clod near the shoulder of the steer
  • Can be cooked on the grill easily with some salt and pepper for seasoning. average cut is between.
  • 0.75”inches to 1.25” inches in thickness.

Grilling Method: Grill hot and fast on med-high to medium-rare doneness. It should be slightly pink at the very center. If the pink, raw portion is dark it’s not ready. Use an internal meat thermometer.

USDA Grades of Steak
There are 3 levels of USDA grading, identifiable by the USDA shielding that appears on the packaging [X]. Even if the description reads, prime, or choice for example, it isn’t an officially USDA designation unless it has the shield.

Prime: The most expensive cut of beef available and the highest grade. Derived from younger steer than other cuts of beef. Is more tender, juicy and flavorful. Served at high-end restaurants or you can request from a butcher.

Choice: Contains less fat marbling than prime cuts of steak. Typically derives from the loin and rib areas of the steer (tenderloin, rib, or filet).

Select: Least expensive cut of beef. Has very little fat marbling and a more course texture than prime or choice cuts.

Charcoal Grilled Steaks By Weber

Charcoal Grilling Mistakes To Avoid

Heat is too high (too much fuel)
Don’t overload your charcoal grill. 5 charcoal briquettes is enough to burn at med - high temperatures for about 1 hour.

Frequently opening and closing the lid of your charcoal grill
Recipes that call for low and slow cooking such as a smoked brisket or whole smoked chicken need to be sealed in the cooking chamber over several hours. Frequently opening the lid releases smoke, moisture, and heat that is needed to cook your meat thoroughly.

You should always load your charcoal grill with enough fuel for the length of time you plan on cooking.

Food sticks to the cooking surface
Even on a ceramic, non-stick surface, chicken with the skin still on can stick to your cooking surface. Grills made of copper iron or stainless steel need to be lightly coated in grease or oil to prevent sticking.

A light coat of grease on your meat can also reduce sticking on your grill surface.

Adding sauce too soon to your meat
Instead of grilling your steak slathered in marinade sauce, wait till approximately 5 minutes before your meat is ready to add your sauce or marinade.

Not having the right BBQ tools and accessories (gloves, long handles, foil, sanitizer)
Leaving your grill unattended because you forgot gloves, a meat fork, or foil paper to wrap your food, risks burning your food, or worse. Be sure you have the supplies and utensils you need before you start grilling.

Flimsy cooking utensils
Tongs that don’t lock, flimsy spatulas that bend under the weight of a large 8 oz burger - poor quality grilling utensils make your job harder than it needs to be. Look for quality stainless steel, cast iron, and FDA-approved silicone in premium grilling utensils.

For serious grill masters or competition grilling, a BBQ tool kit provides a complete array of grilling tools.

Not using an internal meat thermometer
Determining the readiness of your food can’t always be done by just looking. An instant read thermometer or meat probe can read the internal temperature of your meat in seconds. Just insert the long prong end into the meat and wait for the read out on the LCD screen.

About the Author William Clay

William Clay is a BBQ enthusiast dedicated to sharing his grilling (and overall cooking) expertise with FireFoodChef's readers.