Fire Pit Grilling: How To Cook Great Steaks Over An Open Fire

a fire pit grill getting ready to cook

If you have ever thought about fire pit grilling but were unsure what kind of wood to use, which cut of steak to choose, or how to set up a fire pit, this guide is for you! We will cover all the basics and leave you with all the information you need to start cooking perfectly seared, delicious steaks!

With summer in full swing, many people are having backyard fires, BBQ’ing, and spending time in the sun with family and friends. So why not combine them into one great afternoon or evening–who wouldn’t want to sit around a fire having beers with friends, waiting for those coals to heat up, then watch and smell a juicy steak sizzle and crack on a crisp summer eve?

If this is you, read on!


tomahawk steak being grilled on an open fire

Everything you need for Fire Pit Grilling

First of all, the steak! Find one that is well marbled and thick, to better absorb the smokey flavour and prevent from over-cooking. A cut with the bone in is highly recommended. Bones act as a heat sink, absorbing heat from the coals and helping cook the steak from within. They also act as insurance against over-cooking for the same reasons.

Well-marbled, bone-in ribeyes should be at the top of your list! Well-marbled means the fat is evenly distributed throughout the meat. For a selection of great steaks, check out The Chicago Steak Company.

Then, you need to decide what kind of wood to use for the fire pit. This is your chance to experiment, but you are going to want a hardwood like Oak, Hickory, or Mesquite. If you use softwoods like pine they burn differently and can give off a sticky resin. It is essential the wood is dry, as any moisture will cause excess smoke production and the coals will not burn hot enough.

Next, the fire pit. Make sure it is big enough to fit all the steaks you plan on cooking, and also has enough room to allow for different temperature coals. We will get to this point later, but you do need to have an appropriate BBQ grill plate.

The last items are tongs, a fire stoker, salt, pepper, olive oil, and any other seasoning you like on your steak. One of these steak thermometers is also recommended, as cutting the steak gives the juices a chance to escape. No one wants that!

flames on a grill in a fire pit

Making those Hot Coals

The next step is making the fire.

Everyone has their own way of building a fire, so pick one that suits you and get that fire burning! As it burns, keep in mind the importance of having different temperature ranges available for your grill and shift the coals accordingly. As your steak cooks, you need to have hotter sections and cooler sections available for different stages of the process.

So, keeping that in mind, you should have three distinct areas in your fire under the grill plate: a live fire burning for the production of coals, a collection of hot coals to use for initially searing the steak, and a section with cooler coals for slow cooking the steak.

Use a fire stoker to control those coals, and prevent any chance of searing yourself!

fire pit grilling two steaks

Cooking the Steak

Now for the best part of fire pit grilling–perfectly searing that steak and slow cooking it so it absorbs that perfect smokey flavour from your chosen hardwood!

Take your seasoning and rub it into one side of the beef. Make sure to work it in, so the seasoning doesn’t fall off when you place it on the grill. Some experts recommend using Worchester sauce, and even rosemary. The rosemary can be thrown in the fire itself for a nice aroma! Whenever fire pit grilling, try different options and figure out what works best for you.

Then, lightly oil the grill, to prevent the steak from sticking to it.

Next, place the steak on the hottest part of the grill (but not over direct flame) with the seasoned side down. Wait until it is nice and evenly seared. Watch for flames created by the dripping oil and fat, and move the steak if necessary.

As that side finishes searing, season the top facing side the same as before. When it is ready, flip the steak to sear the opposite side. Be sure to use tongs; if you use forks or something large that pierces the steak, juices will escape. Check out these high quality tongs for some great options. 

Now, move the steak to a cooler side of the grill and give it time to slow cook to perfection, absorbing flavour from the hardwood. Try to flip and move the steaks as little as possible; just watch them cook and enjoy the process!

To figure out when the steaks are done, it is recommended you use a meat thermometer. If you normally determine “done-ness” by touch, be aware that steak will feel firmer when fire pit grilling, so adjust your decision making accordingly.

sliced beef served with onion and sea salt

Finishing Up

After the steaks are cooked to your liking, take them off the grill, wrap with foil, and let them sit for at least 5 minutes. This will drop them to an edible temperature, while also ensuring the juices settle in the steak itself, allowing the flavours to absorb.

Then unwrap, add all your extra fixings and enjoy the steaks, knowing you were responsible for fire pit grilling them to perfection, from start to finish!

Fire Pit Grilling FAQ’s

  1. Can you grill in a fire pit?

    Absolutely you can! All you really need is an appropriately sized grill, the right cut of steak, and hardwood for the fire. From there, add the seasonings you like and adjust the steak as it cooks, allowing it to absorb the smokey flavour in the process. Your patience will be rewarded!

  2. What is the best wood to grill steaks?

    The only rules here are that you choose a dry hardwood. You have options about which kind, but the most popular ones are Oak, Hickory, or Mesquite. 

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