I’ve been grilling steaks for forty years. Like a toddler taking his or her first steps, my first efforts were clumsy. When I was in my 20’s, I started out with a charcoal grill. The biggest problem I had was getting the charcoal lit. The newspapers that I had shredded and twisted into long tails and covered with kindling would sometimes burn too quickly and fail to ignite the coal. An errant gust of wind could also blow out the newborn fire.
In time I learned to use a chimney. A chimney is basically a perforated metal container with a handle. There’s a wire rack on the bottom. The kindling goes over the rack and the charcoal is poured onto the kindling. After lighting the kindling from the bottom, the chimney is placed over the grill. To make things easier for when it’s time to empty the charcoal into the grill, the grates have already been removed.
It takes about 20-30 minutes to get the charcoal really burning. Once the charcoal is burning like in the picture (top right), the contents are emptied into the grill. The hot chimney is placed on the ground (but not on the wooden deck which could be scorched) to cool. After using a long handled heavy metal cooking spoon to mound the charcoal (instead of leaving it spread out), the grates are then added and you’re ready to cook.
Two years ago I switched from a charcoal grill to a wooden pellet grill. A wooden pellet grill uses compressed wooden pellets that are fed to the fire burn pot. This burn chamber is directly under the center of the grill where it provides direct heat. The grates to the left and right of this area provide indirect heat.
Grilling a steak is pretty simple. You start by taking the meat out of the refrigerator 30 minutes before you need it. This gives the internal temperature of the meat to rise to room temperature. Having the meat at room temperature provides for more even cooking. Cold meat would have a chilled center and while the outside of the steak could be cooked to perfection, because the center was cold it would still be undercooked. This could force you to overcook the exterior while cooking the center to the desired temperature.
While the steak is sitting at room temperature, turn the grill on to high. My pellet grill heats to 500 degrees F. Season the steak with salt, pepper, and any other spices that you’d care to use. I typically like adding a touch of granulated garlic.
After seasoning the steak, brush it on both sides with extra virgin olive oil. The term “extra virgin” refers to the processing of the olive oil and means that this is the first oil that came out of the olives after they were pressed. This oil is filled with antioxidants and vitamins that a second pressing (regular olive oil) wouldn’t necessarily have. While regular olive oil is more affordable, extra virgin olive oil is more healthy. I personally think that it also tastes better.
To help keep the food from sticking to the grate, the grate should also be greased. I do this by folding a paper towel into a square. The paper towel is drenched with vegetable oil and a grating tong is used to brush the towel against the grate.
Regardless of whether you’re using a charcoal, gas, or pellet grill; the basic procedure for grilling a steak will always be the same.
- Sear the steak for 30 seconds per side by placing it over direct heat. Direct heat means that the steak will be directly over a flame. Don’t be afraid if melting fat causes the flame to soar. The meat won’t be over the heat that long. The purpose of a sear is to “lock in” the flavor by cooking the outside of the steak to prevent the internal juices from escaping.
- After the steak has been seared, move it from direct heat to indirect heat. This is easy to do on a pellet grill or a gas grill. It’s a bit more challenging with a charcoal grill. This is why charcoal needs to be mounded. If the charcoal is allowed to spread out, a cook won’t have any indirect areas to cook because dripping fat will ignite the glowing charcoal and cause flaming which could then burn your meat.
- I typically sear my steaks over high heat and then grill the meat over indirect heat for 4-5 minutes prior to flipping them over and cooking them for another 2-3 minutes. As the steak cooks, I keep the lid closed. This traps the heat and helps with the cooking process. How long it takes to actually cook a steak to the desired internal temperature depends upon the heat of the grill and the thickness of the steaks. Although an experienced cook can tell the doneness of a steak by touching it, everyone else should use a meat thermometer.
- Rare: 130-135 degrees F
- Medium rare: 140-145 degrees F
- Medium: 155-160 degrees F
- Well done 165-170 degrees F
Residual heat from the cooking process (known as “carry over cooking”) will continue heating the steak and will ultimately raise the internal temperature by 5 degrees. When grilling a steak, cook it to the bottom range of your target temperature. Plate it and let residual heat bring the steak to the perfect internal temperature. In other words, to cook a rare steak, take it off the grill when it reaches 130 degrees Fahrenheit. Let it rest for five minutes so that it’s perfectly cooked at 135 degrees F.
Allowing a steak to rest will also allow the internal juices to settle. Slicing a steak open just after it’s been cooked will cause the juices to leak out. This will result in a less tasty meat.
To learn how to grill a steak, I created this production demonstration film on YouTube for my culinary students.
Since I have previously made steak themed candles and have topped them with mixed vegetables with garlic butter, bacon and fried mushrooms, or grilled shrimp, today I opted to make a meat lover’s candle. I topped this steak with a roasted chicken drumstick and a piece of crispy bacon.
The chicken was made using roasted chicken colored soy wax that were poured into a plastic mold. Since each mold only made half of a chicken, I had to “glue” these parts together using semi-cooled wax. I then painted the drum stick to contrast the color of the exposed meat to the cooked skin. Although I could have done this using different colors of hot wax, using wax would have obscured the surprisingly fine details that were imparted by the plastic mold.
I had a lot of fun with making this steak. This particular candle includes a bone as well as a strip of fat. The fat was painted over with candle gel to simulate the texture and appearance of actual fat.
The bacon was actually hand sculpted. I used a bread knife to spread bacon colored wax onto the chicken drumstick and the steak. After the wax had cooled, I used acrylic paint to add brown and black to simulate the scorched fat color that’s associated with crispy bacon.
I deliberately centered the bacon over a wick as a way of thickening the candle. The other wick was centered on the thickest part of the drumstick.
The candle smells of beef, hickory smoke, crispy bacon, and chicken. Although I could have combined these aromas to use throughout the entire candle, each component part actually smells as it should. After assembling the candle, gloss spray was used to give this product the shine that real meat and poultry would actually have.