There is much debate within the BBQ world about whether pellet grills/smokers can cook a good steak. The truth is that it is indeed possible to cook an excellent steak on any pellet grill/smoker. However, you need to be aware of the specific features of a pellet grill/smoker to get the best results. You may need some extra tools to get a good steak, and your choice of pellets matters as well. There is lots to discuss on cooking steaks, so let’s get into this shall we…
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- Cooking Time Searing: Typically 3 to 5 minutes
- Cooking Time Reverse Sear: Typically 30 to 60 minutes
- Pellet Grill/Smoker Temp: Reverse sear (225 F), Searing (600 F cooking surface)
- Direct/Indirect Heat?: Reverse sear indirect, then direct. Searing direct
- Steak Internal Temp When Done: 130 to 135 F (we’ll discuss this)
- Best Pellets For Steaks: Mesquite, Hickory, Oak, Pecan
I’m no BBQ expert, my expertise is how pellet grills/smokers work and the range of makes/models on the market. When it comes to how to cook on a pellet grill/smoker, I’ll be referring to the professionals.
Below we’re going to look at two methods of cooking steaks on a pellet grill/smoker. First, straight searing with direct heat, and then we’ll look at reverse searing steaks.
There are other methods to cook steaks. However, I’ll explain why reverse searing (smoking then searing) your steaks is the best approach for pellet grill/smoker owners.
Purely Searing Steaks On Any Pellet Grill/Smoker
Ok, so let’s presume you just want to sear your steaks on your pellet grill/smoker and get the best results. Well, some pellet grills are much better at searing than others.
To get the best results when searing a steak and for the Maillard reaction to create that loverly outer surface taste/texture, some pellet grills may need a little help.
Therefore, if you own a pellet grill without direct-flame access, I’m going to strongly recommend you get a set of GrillGrates to create a higher-temperature cooking surface.
In the video above, a set of GrillGrates in a Grilla Grills Silverbac can provide a cooking surface temperature of over 600 degrees, ideal for searing the perfect steak.
The steaks are seared for a total of four minutes per side, turning every two minutes for alternating grill marks from the GrillGrates. Then the steaks were checked for doneness.
The objective was to cook both steaks to medium rare (130 F). However, as the video shows and unsurprisingly, thicker steaks will take longer to cook.
While cooking by feel/tenderness is often stated by professionals, I’m going to guess you’re not that experienced in cooking steaks, hence why your reading this article.
Therefore, cook to temperature and get yourself a good quality instant-read thermometer. That way, you can be confident your steaks will be cooked to your preferred doneness.
Reverse Searing Steaks On Any Pellet Grill/Smoker
So just to clarify, reverse searing a steak means you are first going to smoke the steak at a relatively low temperature (typically 225 F) and then finish off the steak by searing the outside.
That way, you get much more smoke flavour into the steak, but you still get the lovely Maillard reaction taking place on the outside of the steak by finishing off the steak with a nice sear.
You will hear some recommend searing and then smoking. However, this will not produce the best results on a pellet smoker, as smoke finds it easier to penetrate the steak before its been seared.
So in the video above, Suzie has a Camp Chef pellet grill with a propane SideKick upon which she has a cast iron pan hot and ready to go for searing the steaks after smoking.
Now, if your pellet grill/smoker has direct flame access or its a pellet/gas combo grill, you’re also well set up for the reverse searing method of cooking steaks.
However, even if you own a pellet grill/smoker without those features, you can easily finish off the steak by searing it in a cast-iron pan on a propane camping stove or on your kitchen hob.
For instance, you may own a vertical pellet smoker. In that case, you could smoke a whole load of steaks before finishing them off with a nice sear on a cast iron pan/skillet.
Now that I’ve provided good video examples of the best two methods to cook steaks on a pellet grill/smoker, let’s now go into more detail on the whole process, starting with your choice of steak…
1: Your Choice Of Steak (Grade/Cut/Thickness) Matters
Ok, to cook the best steak possible, you obviously have to start with good steak in the first place. Therefore, ideally, you are going to get a steak with good intermuscular fat (marbling).
I’m sure you have heard ‘fat means flavour‘. Well, that statement is less to do with fat around the outside of the steak and more to do with the extent of fat between the muscle fibres.
However, you also have many different types/cuts of steak, some on the bone (T-Bone, Tomahawk), which can provide additional flavour. The number of different types of beef steak is pretty daunting.
They include Ribeye, Strip, Tenderloin, T-Bone, Porterhouse, Hanger, Skirt, Short Ribs, Flap, Flank, Tri-tip, Rump, Top-Sirloin, Tomahawk and Denver.
If you really want to get a solid understanding of the principles behind cooking a great steak. I’ve included the video below. A quick warning though, this is an in-depth deep dive for 25 minutes.
In the image caption at the start of my article, I stated that I wanted to discuss why most people actually prefer a medium rare steak (130 F), and the video above goes into why.
The reason is, at medium rare, the fat within the steak has started to render down, and you are getting the beef flavour from that rendered fat along with the additional succulence it provides.
The more you cook a steak past medium rare you start to dry out the steak, and the muscle fibres start to become tough and fluffy in texture.
The Different Grade Of Steak (Fat Marbling)
The video above and my own comments discuss the importance of fat marbling within the steak for flavour and texture/tenderness. So what are the different USDA grades?
The lowest-cost grade of steak is branded as USDA Select and offers the least fat marbling. Next up is USDA Choice and, finally, USDA Prime with even more fat marbling.
You can pick up these various grades of steak from your local butcher/store, and you also have online suppliers such as ButcherBox, which provide 100% grass-fed beef.
However, if you want to really treat yourself or its a special occasion, birthday party etc, you may want to consider some Wagyu beef steaks with some serious fat marbling going on.
Wagyu beef is a breed of cattle from Japan, specifically bread for its extensive fat marbling within its meat. There are now US farms such as Snake River Farms that have imported/bred their own Wagyu cattle.
Now, as Wagyu beef is some of the best beef you can buy, it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, it doesn’t come cheap. However, as I’ve said above, I regard it as a treat for special occasions.
The overall point is though, whatever your budget can stretch to, order the best quality beef you can, as it will make a big difference in the end result.
2: Preparing Your Steaks & Seasoning
The video above on Steaks 101 covers the subject of steak seasoning in a lot of detail and is well worth a watch when you get the time, but I’ll cover the main key points here.
There is nothing wrong with sticking to a simple sea salt and black pepper rub with your steaks. Though many people do choose to try various other beef rubs etc.
Salt is an essential part of preparing your steaks as it will amplify the natural flavour of a cooked steak, and it can also affect the texture of the steak when cooked.
However, you don’t want to over-salt/season your steaks. You are not cooking a brisket here, where its common practice to apply salt/seasoning in large amounts.
Also, remember to go lightly on the salt if you are going to butter-baste your steaks during the searing process etc, as salted butter will also add its own salt flavour.
3. The Best Pellets For Cooking Steaks
Ok, so as a safe bet, there are many different brands of custom pellet blends which are general all-rounders and can be used to cook pretty much anything, including steaks.
However, let’s get more specific. What if you are purely grilling/searing your steaks? What if you are following the reverse searing method above for some nice smokey flavour?
Ok, first let’s discuss purely grilling/searing your steaks. First off, as your steak will only typically take 3 to 5 minutes to cook when searing, don’t worry about smoke flavour from different pellet flavours.
You are not going to infuse a notable amount of smoke flavour while cooking a steak for 5 minutes, its just not going to happen. You need to focus on the heat output from the pellets.
Oak pellets provide a good heat output, but if you really want to get your cooking surface up to the highest temp possible (as well as using GrillGrates), get some charcoal pellets.
Now, if you want to reverse sear your steaks, that is where you may want to delve into the wide world of pellet flavours to produce steaks perfectly suited to your own flavour preferences.
If you like a stronger smokey flavour, Mesquite or Hickory pellets can work well with steaks. Likewise, you may want to try one of the various Whiskey blends.
However, if you are looking for a more suitable smokey flavour on the sweeter side, you can try Apple or Cherry or one of the various fruitwood blends.
If you click/tap the image above of the various pellet bags, you will go to my main article on pellets, and you’ll be able to find the best value pellets per lb for each of the different pellet flavours. 🙂
4. Reverse Searing Steaks & Smoke Settings
Let’s presume for a second you do wish to reverse sear your stakes. In other words, you will slowly cook/smoke them up to between 100 to 120 F before searing them.
When it comes to producing the most amount of smoke on a pellet smoker, its achieved at the lower temperature settings. But why is that!?
Well, at the lower temperature settings, a pellet fire burns less consistently/efficiently due to the smaller fire. Therefore, more smoke is produced as a result due to smouldering pellets.
You will also typically find at standard temperature settings, older generation pellet grills will produce more smoke due to their less accurate temperature control technology.
More modern PID pellet grills/smokers can produce the same amount of smoke as previous generation models. However, they need the assistance of a dedicated Smoke Setting.
Traeger has their ‘Super Smoke’ setting, but many other brands, including Pit Boss, Camp Chef, Grilla Grills and Weber etc also have smoke settings for their modern PID pellet grills/smokers.
My point is, if your pellet grill/smoker has a smoke setting consider using it when reverse searing your steaks. You will get the most smoke flavour possible from your chosen pellets.
5. Searing Steaks On A Pellet Grill/Smoker
When it comes to searing, as stated in the Steaks 101 video above, you want a high enough grate surface temperature to brown (Maillard reaction) the outside of the steak.
The problem is with some pellet grills when they have a maximum temperature setting of 450 to 500 degrees, thin wire racks and no direct flame access.
With a grate surface temperature at under 600 degrees, you may be tempted to leave the steak on the grate longer to try and achieve a good sear/browning.
The problem with that is twofold. First, at those lower temperatures, you may not actually get the surface browning/grill marks that you’re after. Second, you’ll likely overcook/dry out the steak, trying to get them.
So what’s the solution? Well, its also twofold, you need a grate which can better hold onto and build heat (GrillGrates), and you can use pellets that produce more heat (Charcoal pellets).
Now, if you own a pellet grill with direct-flame access and cast-iron cooking grates for instance, you likely don’t need a set of GrillGrates to get good searing on your steaks.
I have seen some videos out there of owners removing the grease tray/flame deflector on their pellet grills and putting grates directly over the pellet fire with no control of the flames at all.
I would strongly recommend against this because if your pellet grill has not been recently cleaned, you could end up with a pretty bad grease fire, and your steak will be ruined as well.
6. Steak Internal Temperature Monitoring
As I’ve stated above, cooking a steak to ‘how it feels’ when you touch it is just not advice you can reliably act on. We need to keep things simple/accurate and cook to temperature.
As shown in the video above, when it comes to checking grate/cast iron pan surface temperature, an infrared heat gun is a very useful tool to own.
When it comes to the steak itself, you have a couple of options. Your pellet grill/smoker may have its own meat probe monitoring, or you may choose a wireless meat probe like MEATER.
Personally though, my favourite method for monitoring the internal temperature of meats, such as steaks, is an instant-read thermometer, such as a Thermopen.
For medium-rare, when grilling, you want to take the steaks off the pellet grill when the internal temperature reaches around 130 F. When reverse searing, you want to end the smoke session and start grilling around 125 F.
When you take your steaks off the grill, ideally, you will want to leave them to rest for at least a couple of minutes. This will ensure more of the juices stay in the steak when its cut up.
There are lots of different ways to present/sear your steaks with butter dressing etc. The main focus of this article is to give you the core skills to get the best cooked steak from your pellet grill/smoker.
Final Thoughts About Cooking Steaks On A Pellet Grill/Smoker…
If you have the time, I would strongly encourage you to reverse sear steaks on your pellet grill/smoker as opposed to just grilling/searing them.
Afterall, you have gone to the additional expense of purchasing a pellet BBQ. You want to be able to taste the difference compared to a gas/propane grill.
When it comes to the searing of steaks, depending on the capabilities/features of your particular pellet grill, it may need some help to get the best results.
That could be using charcoal pellets as stated above for higher heat output or using a cast iron pan/griddle or some GrillGrates to provide a higher temperature cooking surface.
The overall point is, yes, any pellet grill/smoker can produce excellent steaks with some work arounds, and some pellet grills are perfectly capable of great steaks on their own.
That’s it! Thanks for reading. I hope the above information/videos have guided you on your path to cooking excellent steaks.
As always, please check out my Pellet Grill/Smoker Guide to learn more about all the different makes/models of Pellet BBQs now on the market. 🙂