A Classic Recipe for Cooking Delicious Smoked Steak
Steak: It's a favorite of many men, and it's a point of pride at the grill. For many cultures, steak is so important that entire restaurants dedicate themselves to delivering the perfect dish. Of course, "perfect" means different things to different men.
Deceptively simple, steak only requires heat and some seasoning for best results, but there are still many things to know before starting. We'll discuss exactly what steak is, the top cuts, and the best way to smoke them.
What is Steak?
Like other meat, steak comes from the muscles of animals; in the Western world, "steak" generally refers to cow muscle in particular.
Slices of meat are cut across the muscle grain at varying thickness. Steaks in particular come from the hindquarters as these muscles are larger and beefier (pun intended!).
Cuts of Steak
Of course, not all steak is the same. The following are the most common cuts:
Flank steak has a very strong, tight grain with mild flavor. It's usually about one inch thick and comes as a single square, making it an increasingly popular choice lately. For the most tenderness, carve this cut into thin slices against the grain.
Flap steak is very loose and soft in texture with coarse grains. This one needs to cook to at least medium-rare. Be sure to cut it closely to mitigate toughness while eating--against the grain, of course.
Another cut with loose texture, hanger steak has distinct minerality and strong flavor. You'll want to boost its potential with a good smoked steak marinade before cooking over high heat.
Porterhouse is actually a cross section of lean tenderloin and marbled strip. Sure, you get two kinds of steak, but that makes it a little tricky to cook. The name of the game here is positioning; the tenderloin part needs to be farther from the heat source than the strip is.
Beef's distinctive flavor mostly comes from its fat, which makes ribeye one of the richest cuts you can get. The smooth eye sits in the center of the cut, and it's surrounded by the looser, finer grains of strip.
Short ribs are far beefier than strip steak and come with better marbling than ribeye. They're also meatier than hanger and skirt steaks, which makes them incredible on the grill.
Lots of fat result in a very rich and buttery flavor profile for skirt steak. This cut handles its own basting while cooking, but you'll want to use high heat to get the char without overcooking it inside.
Strip steaks are commonly found in steakhouses thanks to their tight textures and strong flavor. It's easy to cook, and it's easy to eat.
Considered an upscale steak, tenderloin has a smooth and buttery profile, as long as you cook it right. Keep in mind that it's a very lean cut, so you rarely need to do more than a quick sear.
Tri-tip steak sports a tapered shape, which makes it difficult to cook evenly using traditional grilling methods. However, it's an excellent cut for spice rubs and smoking to medium-rare.
How to Smoke a Steak
Though you can technically smoke any cut of steak, the porterhouse is one of the best and versatile choices to go with. Of course, it's a tricky one to cook, even for those who have otherwise mastered grilling steaks.
Why? The issue lies with the fact that it's made of two kinds of meat. One side of the T-bone sports a coarsely-textured, well-marbled cut of strip loin. The fat keeps the cut moist as it cooks slowly.
On the other side, there's tenderloin, which is extremely lean and has a tender texture with milder flavor. Because it lacks the fat of the strip, it cooks faster and thus needs less heat.
Smoking meat is best for long-cooking tough cuts, like a beef brisket or ribs, while enhancing its flavor and tenderizing the meat so it's not chewy. With some finesse and free time, it's easy to penetrate thick steaks with smoky flavor while keeping the insides medium-rare.
Here's how to do just that.
1. Salt the Steak Generously
You've picked a thick steak, and you can't season the interior. That means you want a good, salty crust to enhance that flavor. Apply kosher salt until your steak looks like it was caught in the snow for a while. Feel free to throw on pepper now, too.
Normally, you'd want to let the steaks sit here for about an hour so the liquid has time to come out from inside. However, the nature of smoking steak means there's already plenty of time for salt to make it to the center of the cut.
2. Stack and Skewer
As we've mentioned, smoking porterhouse gets tricky thanks to the tenderloins that are quick to overcook. You could position them in exactly the right spot of the fire and deal with flipping them frequently, but maybe you don't want to pay that much attention.
Start by putting your steaks on top of each other in a single stack. Then use long, metal skewers--not wooden--to hold them together.
Now take those steaks and stand them on their sides. Make sure the tenderloins point up and the strips are on the bottom. The assembly shouldn't struggle to stand upright on the grill.
Setting steaks up this way lets you smoke the porterhouses in such a way that the tenderloins are far from the flame, preventing them from drying out. It also eliminates the need to frequently flip the steaks.
3. Set a Small Fire and Wood Stack
Start a very small fire or set a single gas burner to low. The primary goal at this stage is to smoke the meat slowly until it reaches 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
Also, for flavor, throw in some hardwood chunks on top of the white coals. For best results, use applewood, mesquite, or hickory.
4. Place the Steaks
Put the skewered steaks on the other side of the grill. Again, make sure the tenderloins point upwards. By now, there should be lots of smoke coming from the wood chunks, which is a good thing.
5. Align Vents and Cover
Again, your goal when smoking steak is slow, gentle cooking. Aim to maintain a grill temperature of about 175, which should be doable by keeping the vents a quarter open. Ensure the vents are over the steak so help draw the smoke to the right position.
6. Check Your Steaks and Replenish Heat
Check the temperature every 20 minutes or so, adding coals as needed. It should take about two hours for your steaks to reach 115, at which points they've taken in all the smoke they can get.
7. Let Them Rest
Take the steaks off the grill and put them on a board to rest. If you've done your job well so far, they should look rich and mahogany at this point. Because you've cooked these steaks slowly, you don't need to let them rest for long, but do take a moment to admire them before continuing.
8. Make a Big Fire
As the steaks rest on the board, make a huge fire. They're cooked inside by now, so all your steaks need is flavor and texture to the exterior. That means high heat.
9. Sear the Steaks
Check the steaks' temperature; when they're 10 degrees cooler, throw them on the hot side of the grill and close the lid. Wait about 45 seconds before opening the lid, flipping the steaks, and clamping it down again.
After another 45 seconds, bring the steaks back to the cutting board. Carve them up, reassemble, and serve!
Side Dishes and Drinks
Remember that your smoked steak is the star of the show. Side dishes should enhance the steak, not steal the show with a complex profile.
A go-to favorite for many, a Caesar salad is a simple dish that provides simple flavors.
Loaded Baked Potato
Few things are more American than steak and potatoes. Everyone gets his own split baked potato stuffed with sour cream, cheese, and bacon. Perfect.
Macaroni and Cheese
Speaking of classics, homemade macaroni and cheese baked as a casserole makes another great choice of side for a steak.
While the best side dishes to go with steak are plenty, drinks are more straightforward. Classic red wines include Bordeaux, Chianti, Rioja, and Barolo. Good beers include porters, brown ales, and amber ales.
Look at that: a gorgeous steak! Because it cooked slowly, what would normally already be a tender steak comes out smelling wonderfully of smoke and cutting as smoothly as butter. Not only that, but it tastes so good that you don't even need a sauce--but we wouldn't say no to some.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does it take to cook steak at low temperatures like 225 degrees F?
Cooking steak at low and slow temperatures can take two or three hours, depending on how thick the steak is. That is significantly longer than a five minute a side steak on the grill, but the result is a very tender, smoke-infused, flavorful steak. Give it a try using the instructions above!
What temperature do you cook steak on a pellet grill?
Most pellet grills cannot reach temperatures as low as charcoal or propane smokers. It’s difficult to reach temperatures less than 250 degrees F, and you might find it challenging to reach our suggested temperature of 175 degrees F. You can smoke steak on a pellet grill at the lowest temperature you can reach, which is usually between 250 to 300 degrees F. Make sure to use a meat thermometer so you don’t over cook the steak, as it will not take the full two hours to reach medium rare steak temperatures on a pellet grill.
What kind of beef can you smoke?
Our favorite steaks for smoking are the fattier cuts, like ribeye, New York striploin, T-Bone, or porterhouse. Don’t be afraid to smoke leaner cuts, either, like the tenderloin (also called Filet Mignon). You can also smoke tougher cuts of meat, like flank, skirt, or hanger steak. Low and slow cooking temperatures are great for breaking down the tough muscle fibers of these types of steak, resulting in tender, juicy smoked steak.
Do you have to marinate steak before smoking it?
When it comes to lean meats like pork chops or chicken breasts, we always recommend brining or marinating meat before cooking it. Beef has more fat content and is a little more forgiving to cook, so you don’t necessarily need to brine or marinate it. We do suggest salting it in advance (at least an hour, or as long as overnight) to pull out the juices and concentrate the flavors of the beef.
What wood is best for smoking steak?
When it comes to smoked beef, our favorite woods to use are strong-flavored woods, like oak, hickory, or mesquite. You can also use fruit woods, like apple or maple, to add flavor to the smoked meat.