Attention grilling gurus. You can make incredible, perfectly cooked, beautifully charred steaks with nothing more than a campfire and a pair of long-handled tongs. It’s about as low-tech as cooking gets. The burning secret: embers. You need plenty of ‘em, and they’ve got to be red hot—as in hot and red. Once they are, you lay your steaks directly on top, flip them once, and remarkably, the sides develop just the right crust. Meanwhile, the interior cooks up succulent and tender with a rich, slightly wood-smoked flavor. And without flames, there are no flare-ups to tame, leaving you free to sit for a sec and enjoy the fire. In addition to long-handled grilling tongs, a headlamp and an insulated mitt are helpful, too. What follows here is as much technique as recipe, so feel free to increase or decrease the quantity of meat according to the size and appetite of your group. Once your steaks are ready, don’t forget to throw a little more wood on the fire, so you can make s’mores for dessert.
Serves 4 to 8
3 or 4 strip or ribeye steaks, at least 1 inch thick, 8 to 12 ounces each
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 tbsp whole black peppercorns
- Rinse the steaks and pat them dry with paper towels. Pack them in a sealable plastic bag.
- Build a wood fire in a fire pit or campfire circle. You’ll need to start the fire about an hour before dinner so the wood has time to burn and create a deep bed of embers. Move any large pieces of wood that are still burning to one side, and make an even bed of embers. They should be covered with white ash, and glow red-hot when you blow on them.
- Meanwhile, pull the steaks out of the cooler. long enough before cooking so they lose their chill; but if it’s hot outside, they shouldn’t sit out for more than 30 minutes. Put the peppercorns in a small plastic bag and whack them with an iron skillet, the side of a knife, or a hammer—just a few times—until they’re cracked into large and small pieces. Pack the salt and pepper in a small jar or wax paper wrapper for later. Sprinkle the steaks on both sides with the salt and pepper, and press the seasonings into the meat.
- Fan or blow the embers to remove as much ash from their surface as you can. Use long tongs, to put the steaks directly on the embers with a bit of space between them. Let them cook, undisturbed for 2 to 5 minutes, depending on how thick they are and how well-done you want them to be. They’ll release from the embers relatively easily when they’re ready to turn.
- Use the tongs to flip the steaks, picking up one end and peeling the steak away from the embers in a single motion. Shake the steak and use a knife to knock off any embers that are sticking to its surface. Put the steak back on the embers with the uncooked side down.
- About 2 minutes later (or 3 if the steaks are very thick), start checking the steaks by pressing on them gently with the tongs. If they’re spongy, they’re rare; if their springy and firm, they’re well done. (And remember they’ll continue to cook after you pull them from the fire.) Remove the steaks from the embers, gently lifting them from one end, knocking off any embers with the knife, and transfer them to a platter. Cover the steaks loosely with foil or with another platter, and let them rest for about 5 minutes while you get the rest of the meal together.
- Transfer the steaks to a cutting board and slice them crosswise into 1/4-inch slices. Fan the slices out on the platter, so people can choose the doneness they prefer. Sprinkle with a little more salt and pepper if you like and pour any pan juices over all.
TRY IT WITH
The next day, slice leftover steak as thin as possible and use the slices to make a great steak sandwich, or as a topping for a salad.
GO TUSCAN: Slice the hot steaks across the grain, fan the meat out on a platter and sprinkle on some arugula, halved cherry tomatoes, shaved Parmesan and a generous drizzle of olive oil. (This is a great way to make a few steaks serve a lot of people, and it’s easy to eat if you’re balancing a plate in your lap).