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World-Class Steak: Fire, Fuel and Cooking Surface

This post is part of our 50 Campfires series, 9 Rules for Flame-Cooking a World-Class Steak, giving you a complete guide to one of the best camping meals imaginable. Let’s take a closer look at how fire, fuel, and cooking surface can have a huge impact on how your steak turns out!

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Browse the list below to skip to a particular step:

Selecting a Steak
Preparing Steak
Fire, Fuel and Cooking Surface
Cooking Process
Cooking to Temp
Cutting and Slicing
Saucing and Sides

Fire, Fuel and Steak Cooking Surface

Two-zone Fire

If you’re going to grill, it’s important to build a two-zone fire for your steak cooking surface. To sear the steak you need a zone that’s really hot—you almost can’t get it hot enough. Once the outside of the steak is seared, you need a zone at a lower temp to bring the internal temp up to desired doneness (actually 10 degrees below final temp, but we’ll get to that later).

Charcoal Briquettes vs. Lump

You spent the money on the good steak, don’t cheap out on the charcoal. Lump charcoal will cost you more, but it’s completely natural with no additives. It provides the ultimate in grilling flavor; that’s why it’s the choice of competitive grillers.

What Kind of Wood?

If you’re going truly old school and grilling over a wood fire, choose your fuel carefully. Select well-seasoned hardwood like oak. Or consider a blend of hardwoods. Texas is famous for mesquite-grilled steaks, but 100% mesquite can impart overpowering flavor to the meat. Light the wood fire well ahead of when you’ll need it so you’ll be doing your cooking over a very hot bed of coals with no flames.

Gas/L.P. Grills

Grab a foil wrapped package of hardwood chips or pellets smoking inside as you heat up the grill. Or try the A-maze-N Tube Smoker. This will add essential smoky flavor. The one advantage of a gas grill is you have supreme and nearly instant temperature control.

Searing Surface

To cook a steak with the traditional sear first method, you need a high-heat cooking surface. The best is traditional cast iron that’s well-seasoned. The combination of the seasoned surface and oiling the steak will prevent sticking. Heat the skillet, Dutch Oven, or searing plate in the grill until it just starts to smoke. Then slap down the steak.


A clean and seasoned grate is essential to prevent sticking on your steak grilling surface. Heat the grill to high and use a steel or brass brush on a long handle to scrub the grate. Then use tongs to dip folded paper towel in cooking oil and wipe the grate surface thoroughly. Close the grill lid to allow everything come back up to temperature, then start cooking.

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