Steak Cooked Directly on the Coals

This method is primitive, technology free, counter-intuitive and yet produces an amazing hunk of beef. It is also just so elemental and fun to get a piece of meat and throw it on hot coals. I have no idea if that’s how our ancestors cooked their Aurochs beef steak but I’d like to imagine they did every time I cook like this.

Why does it work? Wouldn’t the meat just burn, char and catch on fire? Well, no. I mean I guess if you are careless, it eventually will but it is easier than you think to cook a good steak by directly putting it on coals. The science behind it I’m sure is complex but a simple explanation, courtesy of the Franklin’s Steak book, is that two things make this method work. The meat is mostly water, it sizzles and starts evaporating the moment it touches the coals. This is a cooling process and the meat sears, chars a bit but is not going to just catch on fire. Second, the direct contact of meat to embers limits air flow. Again, this helps the steak cook but not overheat too fast.

Science out of the way, we can talk process. Not a ton of complexity here but a few things to note. At least that’s how I do it and have been for years. I first heard about it in a book by Adam Perry Lang and he calls the process “clinching”; a boxing term I think. I season the steak usually with nothing more than salt. While the meat sits I start a hot fire using lump charcoal. I think this is important. I do use briquettes off and on in my grilling but never for this method. Lump hardwood natural charcoal is the way to go. Briquettes do not burn quiet as hot and they have binders that could affect the flavor. Also, glowing lumps of natural coal look freaking beautiful.

When your coals are all lit and glowing, the steak has been salted and now you are ready to cook. If the coals are too “ashy” use a piece of cardboard to fan or hairdryer to blow the ash away but I rarely do that. Now get the steak right on the coals and enjoy the look and aroma of this process. How long to cook? You have to trust your instincts here. If I had to give a ballpark, I’d say about 2 minutes on the first side and another minute or 2 on the other side. I like to use the thermometer to make sure I achieved the right doneness. It should be a beautiful piece of meat with char in spots here and there and a burnished light golden to deep brown all over.

Slice and enjoy! For this post here I went with Greek flavors. After the steaks were cooked I put it in a tray and added fresh oregano, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. I flipped them a couple of times, then sliced and added them pack to the tray. To serve, I warmed up Greek thick flat breads and filled them with the steak, veggies, feta and tzatziki sauce (yoghurt, cucumber, mint, salt, pepper).


2 thoughts on “Steak Cooked Directly on the Coals

    1. Definitely meat on a stick was used for millennia as well. That would be cooking with convection and radiant heats though as opposed to conduction with this method. Conduction transfers the energy very fast and would have a bit of a different flavor. Although I highly doubt our pre-historic ancestors cared that much 🙂

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