How to Grill the Perfect Steak on a Charcoal Grill

Grilling steaks over hot charcoal is one of my favorite summer pastimes. The smoky, charred flavors you get from the grill are impossible to replicate any other way. While grilling steak seems simple, there are some important steps you need to know for cooking the perfect grilled steak every time.

In this comprehensive guide, I’ll walk you through my tried-and-tested method for grilling steak on a charcoal grill. I’ll cover everything from choosing the right cut of steak, setting up your charcoal grill properly, seasoning techniques, getting the perfect sear, monitoring doneness, letting your steak rest, and more. With these helpful tips, you’ll be grilling up restaurant-quality steaks all summer long. Let’s get grilling!

Choosing the Right Cut of Steak for the Charcoal Grill

The first step to grilling a great steak on a charcoal grill is choosing the right cut of beef. Here are some of my favorite steaks to throw over the hot coals:


Hands down, ribeye is my top choice for grilling. This well-marbled cut has rich beefy flavor and signature ribbons of internal fat that baste the meat as it cooks. The fat content makes ribeyes extra juicy and flavorful when charred over the flames. Go for steaks at least 1 inch thick.


This classic steakhouse cut features both the flavorful strip steak and tender filet mignon in one thick cut, separated by the T-shaped bone. Grilling over high heat gives you a perfectly cooked medium-rare steak on one side and crispy browned exterior on the other.

Strip Steak

Also known as New York strip or Kansas City strip, this premium cut has a dense, finely grained texture and robust beefy flavor. Strips steaks are nicely sized for individual portions and grill up nicely with a charred crust.

Sirloin Steak

For a more budget-friendly option, sirloin steak has great rich taste and holds up well on the grill. Go for top sirloin cuts an inch thick or larger. Marinate first to help keep it juicy.

For the very best results when bbq steak on charcoal grill, choose steaks that are 1-1 1⁄2 inches thick. This thickness allows you to develop a dark, crusty sear while keeping the interior nice and juicy. I recommend avoiding thin steaks which tend to overcook quickly.

Setting Up Your Charcoal Grill for Perfect Steak Grilling

Proper grill setup is crucial for achieving steak grilled to perfection over charcoal. Here are my tips for configuring your charcoal grill:

Clean the Grates

Before firing up the coals, take a grill brush and clean the grates thoroughly. This prevents any food residue from ruining those beautiful grill marks. I also recommend rubbing the hot grates lightly with an oiled paper towel once the grill is preheated.

Arrange Coals for Two-Zone Fire

Rather than spreading the charcoal evenly across the grill, arrange the hot coals into a crescent shape or pile them on just one side. This creates hot and cool temperature zones for searing over direct heat before finishing indirectly.

Let Coals Preheat Until They Ash Over

Use a charcoal chimney starter to get your coals going. Once lit, let them burn in the grill until they are lightly coated in gray ash. This takes 20-30 minutes usually. Ashed-over coals distribute consistent heat for optimal sear.

With your charcoal grill prepped for serious steak grilling, it’s time to season up those steaks!

Seasoning Your Steak Just Right

You don’t need to overcomplicate the seasoning when grilling a great steak. Here is my simple seasoning method:

Pat Steaks Dry

About 30 minutes before grilling, take your steaks out of the fridge and pat them completely dry with paper towels. This helps the seasoning adhere properly.

Generously Season with Salt and Pepper

Let your steaks sit out so they come to room temperature before you add the seasoning. Then, liberally sprinkle coarse sea salt and cracked pepper all over both sides of the steaks, pressing lightly so it sticks. Feel free to add other herbs and spices if you like.

Let Steaks Rest Briefly to Absorb Seasoning

After seasoning, place the steaks on a tray or plate and let them sit at room temperature for 15-20 minutes before grilling. This short rest allows the salt and pepper to really penetrate into the meat.

Now it’s finally time to throw those beautifully seasoned steaks on the hot charcoal grill!

Searing Your Steak Over the Hot Coals

Get ready for that mouthwatering sear! Follow these tips:

Place Steaks Over Direct High Heat

Lay your seasoned steaks directly over the hot coals. Resist the urge to move them around. You want an intense sear to develop.

Grill For 3-4 Minutes Per Side

Let the steaks sear for a good 3-4 minutes until you see a nice brown crust form. Use tongs to gently flip them over and repeat on the other side. Only flip once for perfect grill marks.

Flip Carefully to Avoid Piercing Meat

Flipping haphazardly with a fork will puncture the meat, losing those flavorful juices. Use tongs and turn the steaks gently.

Let the Flames Flare Up

Some flare ups from the fatty drippings are A-OK. This high heat adds charred flavor. Just move your steaks temporarily to a cooler spot if it gets too smoky.

Once you’ve achieved a beautiful sear on both sides, it’s time to finish cooking your steaks indirectly.

Finish Cooking Your Steaks Over Low Heat

After searing over direct heat, transfer your steaks to the cool side of the grill to finish cooking gently:

Move Steaks to Cool Side

Slide your steaks over to the side with no coals underneath. This prevents over-charring while allowing them to cook through.

Close Lid and Cook For 5-10 Minutes

Put the grill lid on to trap heat and smoke. This indirect heat tenderizes the steak interior without further charring the outside. Cook until it reaches your desired doneness.

Add Extra Cooking Time for Thicker Steaks

The cooking time will vary based on thickness and doneness preference. 1-inch steaks take about 5 minutes longer after searing, while 1 1⁄2 inches need up to 10 extra minutes.

Prevent Overcooking with a Tent Foil Tent

If thinner parts of the steak seem to be overcooking but the middle isn’t done yet, loosely tent a piece of foil over those areas to slow cooking.

The only way to be sure your steak is cooked perfectly is to use a meat thermometer. Check the temperature in the thickest part of the steak, without touching any bones.

Use a Meat Thermometer to Test for Doneness

Here are the target temperatures to look for:

  • Rare – 120-125°F
  • Medium Rare – 130-135°F
  • Medium – 140-145°F
  • Medium Well – 150-155°F
  • Well Done – 160°F+

For medium rare, take the steaks off the grill when the thermometer hits 130-135°F. The temperature will continue rising as the meat rests.

Once your steaks are cooked, always let them rest before slicing and serving.

Let Your Steak Rest for Optimal Juiciness

Never skip this step after grilling steak over charcoal! Resting has multiple benefits:

Allows Juices to Redistribute

As the meat sits, the protein fibers relax and reabsorb the cooking juices. This makes your steak extra moist and tender.

Prevents Dryness and Toughness

Cutting into steak immediately causes the juices to leak out. Waiting 5-10 minutes lets them reabsorb for better texture.

Intensifies the Flavors

As the steak rests, the Smokey grill flavors have a chance to permeate throughout the interior.

Retains More Natural Juices

With the fibers relaxed and juices intact, less liquid runs off when you eventually slice into it.

Keeps Meat Hot for Serving

Tenting foil over your rested steaks keeps them piping hot and ready to serve.

For rare to medium rare doneness, let your steaks rest for 5-7 minutes. Well done steaks need closer to 10 minutes to fully relax the meat fibers.

The final step is slicing into your masterpiece!

Slicing Your Steak Correctly

After all that perfect grilling and resting, you want to slice your steak properly to serve it:

Slice Against the Grain

Cutting against the grain shortens the muscle fibers for a more tender bite. Look closely to see which direction the grain runs.

Make Clean Cuts with a Sharp Knife

A sharp, smooth-edged knife ensures neat, even slices without tearing or mangling the meat. Aim for bite-sized pieces.

Avoid Losing Juices

Let those cooking juices distribute into the rested meat before slicing. Cutting too early causes them to spill out.

Fan Out the Slices Nicely

For beautiful presentation, neatly fan or shingle the steak slices in a line on the plate. This shows off your handy grilling work!

Now it’s finally time to enjoy your perfectly grilled steak! I like to keep the sides simple with just a baked potato, grilled veggies or simple salad.

Grilled Steak Serving Suggestions

While grilled steak is delicious all on its own, here are some tasty ways to serve it:

  • Salad greens topped with sliced steak and blue cheese crumbles
  • Baked potatoes loaded with butter, sour cream, cheese and bacon bits
  • Grilled corn on the cob and zucchini spears
  • Garlic bread or grilled ciabatta to soak up the juices
  • Compound butters like chimichurri, herb or bleu cheese spread
  • Allow your grilled steak to shine as the star of the plate!

Treat yourself to a restaurant-quality steak dinner at home. Just remember- the keys are high heat, a short cook time, and letting the meat rest properly.

Follow these foolproof steps for grilling incredibly flavorful, juicy steaks on your charcoal grill all summer long. What are you waiting for? Fire up those coals and get grilling!

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