Toasting marshmallows or wrapping some spuds in foil and pushing them into the coals is about as creative and daring as a lot of us get when it comes to open fire cooking. The fear of turning a premium steak into ash is too great.
But there is something amazing about cooking on an open fire. The smells and flavours are different, the experience is more ‘back to nature’ and the end result more satisfying when you build your own fire, work at keeping it alive and finish with a beautifully cooked meal among good company.
Whether you’re camping in the great outdoors or building a fire pit in the backyard, we’ll take you back to basics and give you the best advice on cooking your steak on an open fire.
Why humans love cooking over an open flame
The history of barbecue is founded in the flames of the open fire. Spanish explorers in the Caribbean discovered natives using an early-style grill consisting of criss-crossed green saplings to cook their meat over fire. The native word for this technique ‘barbacoa’ was adopted by the Spanish and over time (and many mis-pronunciations and spelling errors) evolved into our modern day barbecue.
In fact, humankind has been cooking on open flames since the Stone Age when early hunter-gatherers discovered techniques of cooking and smoking, the earliest of which involved simply suspending an animal over an open fire or burying it in the coals.
Of course we have come a long way since then and the convenience, popularity and ease of our modern day barbecue means that most of us have the opportunity to cook at home or outdoors with relative ease.
Make sure you are equipped with the right tools for the job
The essentials, are:
- A fire pit grate or basic barbecue grill plate
- Long-handled, heat proof tongs
- A fire stoker for your coals
- An instant-read meat thermometer
Read Next: The Best Meat Thermometers For Beef In 2021
Build the right campfire
Understanding how fire works, and how different woods burn, is extremely important. There is plenty of information around on how to create your own campfire, and if you have never done it before then it is best to learn from someone who knows or to do your research first.
Keep in mind that the wood you use will affect the flavour of your food. Hardwood is the best option to create red, hot coals that burn for longer, while also lending good flavour. Make sure that the wood is dry, as wood holding any moisture will smoke and the coals will not burn hot enough.
When cooking over an open flame, the fire must be large enough to have a good layer of hot coals directly under the grill, but there must also be space for a small active fire just alongside so coals can be added if and when needed.
One of the biggest challenges when cooking over an open fire is maintaining the right temperature (and an even temperature) and flare ups. Some parts of your grill may be hotter than others so if needed, move the steak around the grill plate to ensure an even cook. If flare ups do occur (caused by fat dripping on to hot coals), move the steak to another part of the grill until the flames subside as they can char the surface of the steak.
The more you cook with an open flame, the more techniques you will pick up over time.
Which cut of beef is best for cooking on an open fire?
When campfire or fire pit cooking, choose a thick cut of beef with a generous amount of fat, such as a marbled rib eye – on or off the bone is up to you. A well marbled steak will also provide some insurance against overcooking.
Just like you would at home, let the steak come to room temperature first. This results in less cooking time and a juicier steak once cooked. Your seasonings of choice (salt, pepper and any rub mix) should be placed in a small container or ziplock bag to make for easy use outdoors.
Rub a little oil directly onto the steaks, followed by your desired seasonings, before placing them directly onto the grill plate. Keep a close eye on the doneness of your steak and turn when necessary. Make sure you don’t burn one side of your steak to a char over the open flames.
Some may prefer simply to cut into their meat to check its progress, but to eliminate any guesswork, always use a meat thermometer.
You can refer to our Steak Temperature Chart to get your steak’s temperature and doneness spot on.
Recipe: Grilled Steak Over An Open Fire
- A fire pit grate or basic barbecue grill plate (available from most local camping stores)
- Long-handle, heat proof tongs
- A fire stocker for your coals
- An instant-read meat thermometer
- A thick cut steak, such as a bone-in rib eye, at room temperature
- Salt and pepper, plus any other desired seasonings
- A neutral oil
Prep your seasonings in advance by placing them in a ziplock bag or small container. Likewise, put a neutral oil in a small container before you venture outdoors.
Get your fire going! Rub oil directly onto the steaks and then rub your desired seasonings on top.
Cook the steak on the barbecue grill plate over the coals, turning when needed.
Use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature of the steak and remove it from the heat just before your desired doneness.
Let the steak rest for at least half the amount of cooking time. Serve with spuds in foil, if you must!
Read Next: How To Get The Perfect Crust On Steak