How To Cook A Steak Over A Campfire

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If there's any better feeling than that brought by throwing a steak on a campfire, we don't want to know what it is. Here's how to get your meat right every time.

What You'll Need:

  • Steaks (the best quality you can buy).
  • Salt and Pepper.
  • A grill rack (optional).
  • Long, sturdy tongs.
  • Heavy leather gloves, think Ropers or even welder's gloves to keep from burning your hands.
  • A fire that's breaking down into a 2" deep bed of coals, preferably hardwoods, but softwoods are fine so long as you're cooking on just the charcoals.

The Meat: I grew up in a butcher shop in Alberta, Canada and, as far as I'm concerned, there is no better place in the world to get beef. Argue with me all you want, but come taste it someday, and you'll understand. My local butcher sells hormone-free, antibiotic-free, grass-raised, grain-finished beef. All those factors contribute to a rich flavor, and excellent marbling (due to the grain finish). It costs a touch more than grocery store meat, but supporting a local, more sustainable, higher-quality product makes me feel better about eating beef.

I get full bone-in rib steaks cut to 1.5", and they're the right serving size for 2 regular (hungry) human beings. Your beef should be aged to at least 28 days, and should be out of refrigeration for at least a half hour before cooking starts. Beef is not chicken, and you are putting it over a god-knows-how-hot fire, it'll be fine.

Season heavily with salt and pepper (beef likes this, and in turn you'll like your beef better) and let it hang out while you build some fire.


The Fire: Wes already showed us how to build a fire. Build it up until you can have about a two-inch deep coal bed large enough to cook your food on (about the size of that grill rack). I say two inches because you need to be able to throw heat hard and fast enough to create a good crust on the steak, instead of just turning it grey.


Make sure that if you're using softwood you're in full-on coal-mode before grilling, softwoods can be pitchy, and throw lots of un-tasty smoke at your food. Hardwoods like maple, oak, cherry, apple, peach, etc are lovely. Even alder is quite good. If you use willow, remove the bark, burning willow bark tastes awful.

If your grill rack has legs, set it up, if it doesn't, set it up on some rocks or larger pieces of charcoal so it's level and won't dump your steak in soot.


The Cooking: Fire's hot? Meat's seasoned? Veggies are oiled and seasoned, too? Rock and roll time.


Set your steak on the grill and let the magic happen. There are two schools on steak-handling. The first is that you let one side do all of its cooking before flipping. The other (good for this hot-hot fire) is to let your steak sear on one side, once it's acquired that good maillard reaction color (golden brown can be achieved if you don't have a big nasty grease fire), flip it, let it do the same on the other side.


For this thick steak, I'd suggest about 3-4 minutes total per side for medium rare. If you like your steak above medium, I'm sorry that you've chosen to waste money on overcooking perfectly good meat. So, 3-4 minutes per side (an internal temperature of 140F (60C)) and then remove from the heat and let rest for at least 2 minutes. This will allow your steak to relax, and for the myoglobin (delicious steak juice) to redistribute throughout your stressed out steak. This will give you time to finish your veg, set plates, or drink beer and look smug about how well you can cook.


Eat It: For something as big as this roast, I prefer to butcher the steak before serving. Remove the eye of your rib steak and slice into quarter-inch slices, I prefer to cut the cap into half-inch to one-inch chunks, as it has more connective tissue and is a more unctuous piece of meat Enjoy any extra pieces while slicing, or give people sample slices as appetizers. Serve and enjoy the hell out of your fire-grilled steak!

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