How to Cook on Coals

Cook delicious steak directly on the coals.
Cook delicious steak directly on the coals. (Image: Goodshoot/Goodshoot/Getty Images)

Cooking meat on coals is commonly referred to as dirty grilling, or as clinching, due to the way the meat clinches to the coals. Rather than grilling over coals, you grill directly on the charcoal. This gives the food a charred and smoky taste. Primarily used by cowboys cooking on cattle drives without grills, many cooks enjoy dirty grilling for the grittier taste it gives the meat. A New York strip steak is one of the most popular cuts of meat for cooking on coals, but you can also cook chops, chicken or tenderloin with delicious results. Get creative with seasoning rubs and meat brines before cooking and you’ll have diners raving about the meal.

Things You'll Need

  • Coals
  • Meat
  • Seasoning
  • Butter baste
  • Small sheet of cardboard
  • Tongs
  • Foil

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Prepare the grill by creating a level bed of coals. Choose lump charcoal, not briquettes, as briquettes have additives and will negatively affect the final taste of the meat.

Heat coals to a high heat. You want the coals to be white-hot, with no flames. Lighter fluid will also add a chemical taste to your food, so give yourself plenty of time to heat up the coals.

Season meat and use moistened hands to work the seasoning into the meat for several minutes. This will cause a paste to build up. Brush on a butter baste next. The meat will stick to the coals but the baste will allow you to turn the meat and minimize the amount of ash residue that sticks to the meat.

Fan away excess ash with the sheet of cardboard. Fan gently, just enough to brush away the ash, not to cause flames to flare up.

Cook steak, chicken or chops for 12 minutes, flipping the meat over every two minutes. This will make steak rare to medium rare. If you prefer a more well-done steak, it’s best to use a different cooking method, as clinching will leave you with a very ashy steak. Baste the meat every time you turn it over.

Set meat on the fatty side (the pieces can lean against each other) and cook two to four more minutes, then remove from heat.

Rest meat for five to ten minutes before serving. A foil tent will keep the meat hot while it rests without rubbing off any seasoning. Resting gives the juices in the meat a chance to distribute.

Tips & Warnings

  • If you absolutely can’t get past the taste of ash on your meat, but still like the smokiness of the meat, put a thin grate directly on the coals and the meat on top of the grate when cooking.
  • Some cooks suggest using a hair dryer on a very low setting to blow away excess ash before adding the meat to the grill.
  • Clinching has a strong ashy taste, due to direct contact with the coals, so it’s a cooking method for acquired tastes or adventurous diners.


  • Charred & Scruffed; Adam Perry Lang with Peter Kaminsky (pages 84-105)
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