Everyone has an opinion on how to cook a steak. This is how we do it.

There are always wildly differing opinions on how to cook a steak at every BBQ. It’s so much fun, particularly when they are telling you over your shoulder while your arm hairs are disappearing like stinky magic. Opinions are cute, but if you try out some of the more reasonable ones, you’ll find a technique the tastes good to you.

Cooking with fire is one of the most challenging ways to cook. The fire is a cruel mistress. She’ll make fun of you in front of your friends and look good doing it. You can’t just suddenly turn up the temperature, so you have to be thinking ahead all the time. It’s a juggling act. While you are trying not to cremate your food, you also need to be three steps ahead of the fire while keeping up with the idiotic story your mates are trying to tell you.

It’s all about TIME

Before we start on any formal tips, there’s one key ingredient you’ll need for any fire cooking – time. Cooking over a fire takes bloody ages. So don’t start drinking like a teenager the moment you light the fire because it will take 2 hours to get some decent coals from your already split iron bark (should have split it yesterday). Then if you are cooking a chook or anything big, it’s going to take another hour or two. So, allow about 5 hours, plus a few to sit around the fire afterwards – celebrating or commiserating your culinary skills.

Just the Tips

1. Choose the Right Cut

Choose a cut with high marbling. The fattier the steak the less chance of screwing it up. Lean steaks require an amount of precision most backyard cooks don’t have. Plus, they don’t taste as good. Fat is the stuff that tastes good. Just ask butter.

Go for rib-eye, T-bone, porterhouse, or if you really want to be a Netflix wanker, fork out for some Tomahawk steaks. At least you’ll look like you know what you are doing.

2. Prepare the Steak

Room Temperature. Let the steak come to room temperature. This sounds like one of those things that people say because they saw it on a BBQ show, but try cooking a cold steak. You’ll lose friends.

Seasoning. Salt and pepper is fine. A good steak doesn’t need to be suffocated in expensive rubs with names like Smokey Joe’s Hickory Bourbon Buffalo Fart Dust. However, adding garlic powder, onion powder, chilli, or herbs like rosemary or thyme can bump it up a notch. Do some experimenting.

Salads. Now is also when you should put your salads and sides together. You’ll look like a pro if you magically produce beautiful salads when the meat is ready.

3. Prepare the Fire

Again, start early. Light the fire about 3 – 4 hours before you want to eat.

I use Iron bark because that’s what I’ve got, but any hardwood will work. Iron bark burns clean and hot compared to a lot of other Australian woods. Fruit woods like apple, cherry, and pecan are expensive so just use a small piece for flavour when you are cooking. Chips from Bunnings are fine too.

Two-Zone Fire. Set up a two-zone fire. One area should be hot with direct heat, and another area should be cooler with indirect heat. This give you a place to sear the steak and somewhere to let it cook more slowly without burning.

Make sure you have plenty of wood to keep your fire producing coals and heat. Small pieces enable you to turn up the heat quickly. Larger ones make good coals but you need to be prepared ahead of time.

Hot Tip

Place bigger logs near the fire for 15-20mins before you put them on. It gets them up to temperature so they ignite immediately and you don’t smoke out your party.

4. Cooking the Steak

This is where the opinions come in. Like most opinionated topics (e.g. food, politics, religion), there’s usually some valid points. Except vegans. What the fuck are they thinking?

Two Ways. You can sear the steak first and finish it slowly. Or you can ‘reverse sear’, which is the same, except, wait for it, in reverse. What-ever. Doesn’t matter.

This is assuming a thick cut of steak. If you are going to burn an afternoon and half a ute-load of wood, there’s no point cooking puny steaks. Make ’em count.

Which ever cooking method you prefer, searing needs high heat, but never direct flame. That makes it taste bitter. The searing process is pretty quick. 2-3mins each side, but don’t time it. That’s dumb. Every cut is different and every fire is different. Look for a nice ‘crust’. The salt you added will caramelise the surface. Don’t be afraid to flip it and keep it moving on the grill. There will be hot spots and cool spots.

The other stage of the cooking needs to happen away from the direct heat of the coals. And, don’t time this either. Use a meat thermometer. Make sure it’s one you can leave in the meat, otherwise they melt. (Ask me how I know.) Keep moving and flipping your steak . Don’t vague-out and get another beer. This is make-or-break now!

Cooking Temperatures

  • Rare: 49°C to 52°C
  • Medium Rare: 54°C to 57°C
  • Medium: 60°C to 63°C
  • Well done – This is exactly what this whole article is designed to avoid.

Use the lower end of the range. Steaks will continue to cook once they’re off the fire due to residual heat.

5. Rest the Steak

Once the steak is done to your liking, place it on a cutting board and loosely tent it with foil. Let it rest for 5-10 minutes. This allows the juices to redistribute throughout the steak.

A knowledgeable meat person I know said it lets the muscle relax and the juices are drawn back into the meat rather than out onto the plate. If that happens, get a straw.

6. Slice and Serve

If it’s a large steak, like your show-off Tomahawk, slice it against the grain for maximum tenderness. Leave the bone on the plate. They’ll fight over it.

Bonus Secret Tip
If you want to turn it up to ‘Full Wanker’, melt truffle butter on the resting steak. This may even get you laid.