How to grill a steak on a charcoal grill or bbq food smoker perfectly

You’re looking for that perfect bbq steak? Aren’t we all?? 😀 Seriously though, with a few careful steps and a keen eye you can grill a steak on the charcoal bbq or even your bbq food smoker to perfection like the pros and it really finally is that time to pull off the bbq cover for the first time this year! 🙂 . Most of the battle is confidence and understanding your temperatures as well as knowing how you want to eat your steak – for me the rarer the better 🙂 The old saying cut off it’s horns and wipe it’s behind isn’t far from the truth. 😀 So let’s take a look at the checklist you need to make a mouth-watering yet perfectly grilled steak like the one below (please note this is well done – I know people like to cook their steaks far more than I do in general):

Steak well done and cooked superbly – absolutely perfect texture and flavour

This is a well done steak and I can tell you that it was six/seven minutes a side, this is what you can expect from that kind of timing. Notice the lovely seasoning just keep it simple with salt and pepper and you will make a stunning tasting steak. You don’t want to overpower it with too much flavour, beef tastes superb already!

First things first is your preparation of the charcoal bbq. Then you need your steak in order which isn’t difficult – some salt and pepper, then a keen eye. Let’s break this down into simple steps so we get it right easily:

How to grill a steak on a charcoal grill

1. Get your charcoal embers hot and white
2. Bring your steak to room temperature
3. Drop your steak on the bbq – feel free to make cool griddle marks or not as you prefer
4. Knowing when a steak is medium or rare

1. Get your charcoal embers hot and white

The first part to a successful steak is charcoal that’s been alight for a white and burned down nicely to hot white embers. There is still tons of heat, in fact the bbq is practically at it’s hottest and just coming off that peak. The reason we want white embers is two fold. Firstly, these days the manufacturers are slapping all sorts of firelighting qualities inside charcoal like paraffin. This needs to be burned away entirely. Also, if you started the bbq with firelighters (you can see my how to start a bbq with firelighters if you need help on that) then this needs to be completely burnt away as well. Generally a bbq starter is a cleaner approach and becoming more popular these days. You’ll know if it’s not, breathe too closely to the bbq and it’ll have a nasty smell, not a beautiful smoker wood chip, smokey charcoal smell that is what attracted us to the bbq in the first place kind of smell 🙂

So with your charcoal just right it’s time to move onto step two.

2. Bring your steak to room temperature

About half an hour before I am out to grill I pull my steak out of the packaging. I have a bbq shelter which keeps my meat perfectly outside out of sunlight, an a bbq side table inside makes it very easy. You can just set aside under a tea towel in the kitchen to achieve the same rise in temperature without spoiling your steak.

I allow the temperature to come up to temperature gradually. This is generally because I like to eat my steak blue and you have a far harder task warming the middle of a thick juicy steak whilst not overcooking the outside. If you like your steak well cooked then it’s still good practise to follow this plan as well.

3. Drop your steak on the bbq – feel free to make cool griddle marks or not as you prefer

Depending on my mood and the griddle I am using at the time, I might go to the lengths of making griddle marks on my steak. If I am cooking a steak medium then I easily have enough time on the grill to get that done. Here’s a picture of a nicely griddled looking steak that’s still medium.

Don’t be tight with the salt, a good steak has a healthy covering of rock salt and a really good bit of pepper for me too. I normally leave my steak and turn it the four times to get the griddled look. This is normally about 2-3 minutes per adjustment which really all comes down to how well you want your steak cooked. If you’re using a portable charcoal bbq then the timing may be longer as you’re less likely to build up such a high temperature. You want to make sure you get the most out of your portable bbq charcoal though to rapid seal in the flavour on your steak 🙂 The best bbq will be hot enough to seal in a steak in seconds 🙂

4. Knowing when a steak is medium or rare

If you look at this steak here, it is rare to medium. This was about one and a half minutes per turn with the lid up so temperature didn’t build around the steak entirely:

Pic of a rare steak with lovely cross griddle marks

Much of knowing when a steak is ready comes down to the visual which is why I have dropped a couple of examples for timing in here. With the variance in temperature and distance from charcoal you need to keep a keen eye. If you’re looking for a medium rare steak though then a good rule of thumb is about 2-3 minutes a side. If you’re into 5 minutes a side then something is wrong. The grill isn’t hot enough or you’ve overcooked your steak. As with all skills practise makes perfect but these pointers here will give you a good chance of grilling a steak on the charcoal bbq perfectly!

About Terry Smith

I’m Terry Smith from, a professional landscape designer, hobbyist gardener, and barbecue fanatic with 20 years experience building and restoring. So as you go through my site you'll watch me document some of the professional garden installs I make as well as the major projects I take on at home. While sharing those experiences and guiding you, I'll be recommending some great tools I use to enable this along the way so you can really buy in confidence. Always feel free to pop me a message:

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