Overcooking kills a steak faster than anything else. No matter how tender that fillet felt in your hands, or how well-marbled that ribeye looked at the meat counter, if you barbecue it just a minute or two over, it won't taste much different than a shoulder or chuck steak. Barbecuing tends to be a little rough on tender steaks, and getting one to a perfect medium-rare tests your mettle as a grill cook. But if you finesse the heat and use a meat thermometer, you can tame the fiercest of barbecues into gently heating any cut to a tender medium-rare.
Setting Up the Barbecue
Take the steaks out of the refrigerator just before you set up the barbecue. Let the steaks sit at room temperature on a plate lined with paper towels.
Light a charcoal chimney filled halfway with natural lump charcoal, or about 3 pounds worth, if you're barbecuing four steaks or less. Light a full charcoal chimney if you're barbecuing four or more steaks.
Empty the charcoal on half of the barbecue's charcoal tray when it glows orange in the center and the top coals start to ash over, after about 20 minutes.
Place the grate on the barbecue and close the lid. Adjust the lower vent on the barbecue so it's about 1/4 open. Close the lid's vent if it's open.
Let the barbecue heat up for about 20 minutes and clean the grill grate with a grill brush. Bring out the steaks.
Barbecuing the Steaks
Pat the top of the steaks dry with paper towels. Season the steaks on both sides to taste and brush them lightly with oil.
Place the steaks on the side of the grill without the charcoal. Space each steak about 1/2 inch apart if you're grilling several of them.
Cook the steaks for 4 to 5 minutes on each side for 1- to 2-inch-thick steaks. Cook steaks less than 1 inch thick for about 3 to 4 minutes.
Rotate the steaks 180 degrees every couple of minutes using tongs. You have to rotate the steaks because the heat is coming from one direction.
Move the steaks over the coals after 8 to 10 minutes of total cooking time on the indirect side of the grill. You can also check the steaks' internal temperature with a meat thermometer and move them to the direct side of the grill when they reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
Grill the steaks on the direct side of the grill until golden brown and seared, about 1 to 2 minutes on each side. Check the internal temperature with a meat thermometer, if desired, and take the steaks off the grill when they reach 130 F.
Cover the steaks loosely with aluminum foil after you take them off the grill. Let the steaks rest while the temperature increases to about 135 F, about 5 minutes per pound.
- You can use briquettes and an accelerant if you have to, but natural lump charcoal is clean and imparts no chemical taste to the steaks.
A.J. Andrews' work has appeared in Food and Wine, Fricote and "BBC Good Food." He lives in Europe where he bakes with wild yeast, milks goats for cheese and prepares for the Court of Master Sommeliers level II exam. Andrews received formal training at Le Cordon Bleu.
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