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What is a Charcoal Steak? A Guide to This Delicious, Affordable Cut of Beef

Food Guide

Steak lovers rejoice! You can enjoy tasty, high-quality steaks without breaking the bank by choosing more affordable cuts like the charcoal steak. But what exactly is a charcoal steak? Where does it come from on the cow? And how do you cook it to perfection?

This complete guide to the charcoal steak cut will teach you everything you need to know. You’ll learn how to identify, choose, prep, and cook charcoal steak so you can enjoy steakhouse flavor at home on a budget.

What Part of the Cow Does Charcoal Steak Come From?

Charcoal steak is cut from the shoulder of the cow, also known as the chuck primal. More specifically, it comes from the top blade muscle in the chuck.

The chuck area contains plenty of connective tissue, which makes the meat fairly tough. However, this part of the cow also contains good marbling or intramuscular fat, which helps keep the charcoal steak tender and adds great beefy flavor.

Charcoal Steak Characteristics

Here’s what to expect when you purchase a charcoal steak:

  • Affordable price – As a chuck steak, charcoal steak is budget-friendly compared to premium cuts like ribeye or tenderloin. Expect to pay about half as much per pound.

  • Tender texture – While cut from a well-worked area, charcoal steak is one of the most tender cuts from the chuck. It’s more tender than other chuck steaks.

  • Rich flavor – With ample marbling, charcoal steak has a robust, beefy flavor when cooked properly. Well-seasoned and flavorful.

  • Moderate juiciness – Contains less moisture than high-end cuts but more than extremely lean cuts. Achieve ideal juiciness by not overcooking.

  • Versatile uses – Works well grilled, pan seared, broiled, or braised. Makes great steaks, kabobs, stir fry meat, etc.

While it contains a few gristly bits, charcoal steak delivers great taste and tenderness at a wallet-friendly price point.

How Does Charcoal Steak Compare to Other Cuts?

Charcoal steak has some similarities and differences compared to other common steak cuts:

  • More tender than other chuck steaks like chuck eye or chuck tender

  • Very similar texture to flat iron steak from the chuck primal

  • More robust beefy flavor than flap meat or tri-tip steaks

  • Not as tender or buttery as ribeye, strip, or tenderloin steaks

  • Much more affordable than premium cuts like filet mignon

For steak lovers on a budget, charcoal steak hits the sweet spot between price and quality.

How to Choose High-Quality Charcoal Steaks

Follow these tips when selecting charcoal steaks:

  • Check marbling – Look for ample thin streaks of white fat throughout the meat for flavor and juiciness.

  • Seek bright red color – Vivid red color indicates freshness. Avoid steaks with brown or gray hues.

  • Examine texture – Meat should be firm but with some give. Pass on steaks that look extra tough or mushy.

  • Scan for uniform shape – Pick steaks with consistent thickness and shape to ensure even cooking.

  • Read labels – Opt for “USDA Choice” or “USDA Select” graded meat for optimal quality.

  • Confirm freshness – Make sure packaging isn’t torn. Meat should have no odors.

Choosing the right charcoal steaks will ensure you get the best flavor and texture once cooked.

How Thick Should Charcoal Steak Be?

Charcoal steak is available in a range of thicknesses from 3⁄4 inch up to 2 inches. Ideal thickness depends on your cooking method:

  • For pan searing or grilling, choose 1 to 1 1⁄2 inch steaks. Thinner cuts will overcook too quickly.

  • Broiling works well for thinner 3⁄4 to 1 inch steaks. Monitor closely to prevent drying out.

  • Extra thick 2-inch charcoal steaks are great for braising low and slow until melt-in-your-mouth tender.

No matter what thickness you select, always check for uniformity so the entire steak cooks at the same rate.

How to Prepare Charcoal Steaks Before Cooking

Proper prep ensures charcoal steaks cook up juicy and flavorful:

  • Pat dry – Blot steaks with paper towels to remove excess moisture that can hinder browning.

  • Trim off fat – For better presentation, neatly trim away any large chunks of visible fat. Leave thin marbling intact.

  • Apply rub or marinade – For added flavor, coat steaks with dry spice rub or marinate for 1-2 hours (no longer to avoid mushiness).

  • Let meat rest – After trimming and seasoning, allow steaks to air dry for 15-30 minutes before cooking. This helps them sear better.

  • Bring to room temp – For more even cooking, take chilled steaks out of the fridge 30 minutes before cooking.

Proper prep sets you up for the best results when cooking your charcoal steaks.

How to Cook a Charcoal Steak Perfectly

Cooking charcoal steak correctly results in a tender, juicy interior with nice crusty sear on the outside:

  • Preheat cooking surface – Get your pan, grill, or broiler very hot before adding steaks. Use high heat.

  • Sear both sides – Lay steaks down and don’t move them. Allow 2-4 minutes per side to get a nice sear.

  • Check temperature – Test doneness by using a meat thermometer. 125°F for rare, 135°F for medium rare.

  • Rest before slicing – Let steaks rest for 5-10 minutes so juices reabsorb back into the meat.

  • Slice across the grain – Cutting across the meat grain shortens tough muscle fibers for more tenderness.

Cooking charcoal steaks quickly over high heat prevents them from getting tough and dry.

Charcoal Steak Doneness Guide

Target these internal temperatures for your desired doneness:

  • Rare: 125°F (cool, red center)

  • Medium rare: 130-135°F (warm, reddish pink center)

  • Medium: 140-145°F (hot, pink center)

  • Medium well: 150-155°F (slightly pink center)

  • Well done: 160°F+ (gray throughout)

Charcoal steak tastes best and stays most tender at rare to medium doneness. Well done will be chewy.

Best Cooking Methods for Charcoal Steaks

Charcoal steak responds well to these fast, high-heat cooking techniques:


Get your grill as hot as possible. Grill over direct high heat for 2-4 minutes per side. Move to indirect heat if flare-ups occur.

Pan Searing

Use a very hot cast iron or stainless steel pan with a little oil. Cook 2-3 minutes per side until browned. Baste with butter for added flavor.


Position steaks on a foil-lined sheet pan. Broil 3-4 inches from heat for 6-8 minutes total, flipping once. Watch closely to avoid burning.

Stir Frying

Cut charcoal steak across the grain into thin strips. Stir fry in batches over high heat just until meat is no longer pink.


Brown thick steaks first, then braise covered in flavorful liquid at 300°F for 1-2 hours until extremely tender.

Cooking charcoal steak over high heat preserves its juiciness, flavor, and tenderness.

What to Serve with Charcoal Steak

Serve charcoal steaks with these tasty accompaniments:

  • Roasted potatoes or mashed potatoes

  • Sauteed mushrooms

  • Steamed vegetables like broccoli and carrots

  • Leafy salad with vinaigrette dressing

  • Rice pilaf or couscous

  • Fresh bread rolls

Pairing charcoal steaks with sides creates a satisfying meal the whole family will love.

Tips for Leftover Charcoal Steaks

Make the most of leftover cooked charcoal steaks with these ideas:

  • Slice into thin strips for quick steak sandwiches

  • Dice or shred into beef tacos or burritos

  • Add to pasta, rice bowls, or salad for a protein boost

  • Use in a breakfast steak and egg hash or omelet

  • Create a pan sauce from drippings to serve over steak slices

With a little creativity, you can transform leftover charcoal steak into all sorts of delicious dishes.

Can You Freeze Charcoal Steaks?

Freezing is an excellent way to preserve fresh charcoal steaks to enjoy later:

  • Freeze in original vacuum sealed packaging


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