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How to Barbecue a Steak – Cooking Times and Techniques

In the U.S., there are two ways to cook a steak: over high heat or low heat. To cook it over high heat, you can cook it in a broiler, in a skillet, over hot coals of charcoal or a gas griller on the hot side of the griller. When a steak is cooked in this manner, it’s called grilled. Grilling a steak is a fast process and the steak is cooked within 5 to 10 minutes.

To cook a steak over low heat, you can cook it outdoors in your barbecue or campfire by moving the coals away from the grate where the meat is placed; the smoke of the wood or the charcoal cooks that steak. This method is called indirect heating because the heat is not as hot as it would be if the steak was placed directly over the fire. The hot gases of the fire contribute to the cooking of the meat. Restaurants can cook a steak over low heat in a large brick or metal oven used specifically for this purpose; and when they do, the steak is called barbecued. The barbecuing process is slow, sometimes taking more than an hour to complete the cooking.

Like grilling, barbecuing a steak can include a marinade, spice rub or basting sauce to the meat.

Since most Americans think of barbecuing as the process of cooking the food on their barbecue grill, our instructions on how to barbecue a steak will be how to use smoke to cook your steak on your outdoor barbecue.

Many food experts recommend that for best results, a pan of water usually in an aluminum tin, is under the grate for best results in smoking or barbecuing the steak. The steak is not placed in the water, but rather directly on the grate on the indirect heat side or in an aluminum pan on the grate itself on the indirect heat side.

How Do You Want the Steak to Taste?

The final flavor of the barbecued steak depends on the type of steak chosen (tender cuts versus tougher cuts), the flavor added directly to the meat (rubs, marinades, sauces), and the type of hardwood chips you add to the barbecue.

How to Effectively Use Hardwood Chips

When learning how to barbecue a steak, you’ll spend some time learning all about hardwood chips. That’s because the smoke flavor is created partially from these chips. Hardwood chips can be fine chips, larger chips, pellets, or chunks. Whichever size you select determines how many you’ll add to your barbecue. If using fine wood chips, one to two tablespoons are enough.

When using wood chips, add about one cup at a time. These can be used dry or wet and are wrapped in aluminum to make a packet. The advantage of wet chips is that they produce more smoke. Wood chips should be added every 45 minutes.

If using wood pellets, you’ll only need about 1/3 cup. Wrap them in a foil packet just like the wood chips.

And lastly, when using wood chunks, which are usually two to three inches long, soak these in water 30 minutes before using and place them directly on hot coals. If you’re using a gas grill barbecue, stick with the pellets or chips. Wood chunks are added to the fire every 30 minutes.

By the way, the reason why you should not put unwrapped wood chips in the bottom of the barbecue or directly on top of lava rocks is that the residues in the wood chips could end up blocking the holes in the gas burners.

Flavor of the Wood Chips

When considering how to barbecue a steak, decide what type of smoky flavor you prefer. Mesquite wood produces the strongest smoke flavor and hickory comes in second place, producing a hearty flavor for beef.

For a medium smoke flavor, use pecan or oak. Apple and cherry wood produces a sweet smoky flavor, better suited with pork or poultry. And the light aromatic smoky flavor of alder is great for seafood, not steak.

All other types of wood should be avoided.

Now that you understand these basics of how to barbecue a steak, see part 2 for the very next steps.

How To Barbecue a Steak, Part 2

After you’ve assembled all the tools needed for the barbecue which includes the steak, the barbecue itself, charcoals, wood chips, long-handled tongs and a heavy duty oven mitt, the next step is to light the fire. However, the fire must be exactly correct in temperature for you to end up with the best-tasting steak of your life.

To determine whether the barbecue is ready for the steak, hold your hand 5 inches from the indirect side of the grill. If you can hold your hand there for 5 to 6 seconds, the fire is exactly right and you’re ready to add the steak to the grate.

What About the Marinade?

Some barbecue masters who teach classes on how to barbecue a steak will tell their students to marinate the meat in the refrigerator the night before barbecuing to give it a great flavor. Others will report that marinating it 30 minutes before cooking is plenty of time for the flavor to soak into the meat.

Some will marinate the meat in a non-metallic bowl that’s covered while others will marinate it in a zip-lock bag. Whether the steak is marinated in a bowl or in a bag, it’s done under refrigeration. Don’t ever leave the meat out at room temperature during marination unless the time is limited to 30 minutes; avoid the potential of food poisoning at all costs.

Are Marinades Sauces?

While you’re learning how to barbecue a steak, you’ll discover that there are marinades and also there are sauces. Some sauces can be used as marinades but marinades that are leftover from soaking the steak should not be used after the cooking process. This way you can avoid potential food poisoning since anything – food or utensils – that touches uncooked meat should not touch cooked meat.

When do you add sauces during the process of barbecuing a steak? It depends on the preferences of the barbecue chef. Some prefer to use the barbecue sauce as a marinade before cooking and then a few times during the cooking process, they will add the sauce to the meat again. Others prefer to wait until the end of the cooking process and brush the sauce on later, believing that the true taste of the meat can emerge first and then be enhanced by the sauce later. Another benefit of this method is that the sauce won’t burn during the cooking process. This is especially important for tomato-based sauces.

Close the Hood of the Barbecue During the Smoking Process

Keeping your cooking temperature even during the cooking process is your main concern after you’ve added the steak onto the grate. Closing the hood or lid of the barbecue allows the heat to stay inside the barbecue, much like closing the oven door keeps the heat inside the oven.

If the temperature drops, simply open the side vents or add more charcoal. If the temperature is too hot, use one of two strategies: either close the lid if it was open or slightly close the side vents on a charcoal grill. Don’t do both because the fire will go out.

If you have a gas grill, simple adjust the control knobs to a hotter or colder setting.

Total Cooking Time

Most barbecue masters won’t give you an iron clad number for how long it takes to barbecue a steak, simply because there are too many factors that influence cooking time. Generally speaking, allow about 15 –20 minutes for a steak cooked rare, and add at least 10 minutes for medium and 20 minutes for well done.

Learning how to barbecue a steak is a skill that is well worth perfecting. The more you experiment with it, the more you’ll find your own variations and your own secrets of barbecuing.

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