One of the great joys in life is to cook over open fire. Well, at least in my life that is. It’s Nick here, and in this post I’m going to walk through how you can make a Weber Smokey Joe grill (or a similar small, portable charcoal grill) into a wood fired grill. I’ll then provide directions on how to cook a huge hunk of sirloin over the hot, natural wood coals. Read the step by step instructions, or watch the video below to see how to do it!
Have you ever been to a wood fired steakhouse, tasted the steaks that come from their grill, seared over hot coals and fallen in love with the smoky, rich flavor? Did you watch the cooks working to build and tend a fire just right and marvel at their skill and want to try yourself? Well, I did, and I wanted to bring wood fired grilling to my house ASAP!
The problem is that if I was to buy a “real” restaurant-style wood fired grill, I’d have to fork over a lot of money. Having a grill that can contain the heat and weight of cooking wood logs into coals takes considerable manufacturing expertise and something like this Grillworks Woodfire Grill starts at $3,575! This Nuke Delta Argentinian-style wood fired grill is a slightly more affordable $1,449.
As much as I want to spend the money for one of these super awesome grills, it wasn’t a realistic option for me. However, I looked around, saw my trusty, under-$50 Weber Smokey Joe portable charcoal grill and said, “I can make a wood fired grill out of that!” It’s super simple, and a lot of fun. It’s not a “practical” cooking process, and probably voids Weber’s warranty, but I’d say it’s worth it.
Here’s the step by step on how I made my Weber Smokey Joe a wood fired grill, complete with instructions on how to cook a GIANT hunk of sirloin steak on it.
Step 1 – Build a Fire in Your New Wood Fired Grill
This is an easy but important step. First, take the grilling grate out of the grill, but leave the bottom grate on so there is room for airflow around the wood. Put a small pile of charcoal and a fire starter in the middle of the bottom of the grill. This will be the base to get your fire started. Around that base, make a “log cabin” wood pile by stacking logs in a 2×2 square formation until you reach the top of your makeshift wood fired grill.
Light the fire starters (for the love of God, please don’t use lighter fluid!) and let the fire go! Make sure the air vent in the bottom of your grill is wide open and leave the lid and top cooking grate off the grill at this time. Congratulations, you’re well on your way to making some incredible wood fired steaks!
Step 2a – Let the Fire Cook Down to Coals
Now is the time for patience. With your fire roaring, you’ll need to just let the wood cook down to coals. I like to poke it occasionally because, well it’s fun, and to start breaking the logs into coals. The goal is coals, you want to cook over hot coals, not roaring flames. As the wood cooks down, and your log cabin breaks down, you can add another log or two for more coals, but don’t overfill the grill.
Once the fire is cooked down to hot coals (not cold coals), you’re ready to get cooking.
Step 2b – Prepare Your Meat
While the fire is cooking down, you’ll want to prepare your meat. You can cook any type of meat over a wood fired grill, really, but I wanted to recreate that wood fired steakhouse flavor. I could have cooked normal steaks, but that seemed silly. I went through a lot of effort to make this wood fire, so I wanted to cook something equally special. I opted for a huge hunk of sirloin.
I ordered a 3″ thick Top But steak (really a roast) with the fat cap left on. It’s a very beefy cut of beef, rich in flavor, with a moderate amount of marbling and tenderness, but also it’s not so expensive that if you ruin it you’ll be out a small fortune. It’s also great to slice and feed a crowd, which is what I wanted to do with my wood fired beef!
To get maximum flavor, I dry brined this steak, which simply means I sprinkled an even coating of kosher salt over all sides of the steak and let it sit at room temperature while the coals cooked down. I highly recommend this technique for all steaks. I then seasoned the steak with this mixture when I was ready to cook:
- 2 tbsp. cracked black pepper
- 1 tbsp. garlic powder
- 1 tbsp. onion powder
- 1 tbsp. dry Italian seasoning mix
- 1 tsp. cumin
- 1 tsp. brown sugar
- 1 tsp. ground red pepper flakes
Also, maybe crack open a beer or two while you’re waiting. You’ve probably worked up a sweat, so you deserve some refreshment!
Step 3 – Sear Your Meat
When the coals have cooked down, move all of them to one side of the grill to make as much of a “two zone” set up as possible where one side has direct high heat and the other has no direct heat. Put the cooking grate back on the grill, and let it get hot. This won’t take long because those coals will be north of 1,000ºF when you put the meat on! It will create a fantastic sear!
Put the meat directly over the coals and cook for about 5 minutes on each of the long sides, flipping only once to get maximum color on each side. Keep the grill closed while you’re doing this cooking, you don’t want the heat to escape.
As a safety note, I recommend using heat gloves like these while putting the meat on the grill and flipping to protect yourself from the heat. Once you’ve seared each of the long sides, sear the fat cap for about 1 minute (be careful of the heat!) and remove the meat from the grill.
Step 4 – Continue Cooking The Meat
Now that sirloin is seared, we need to cook this huge hunk of meat all the way through. Wrap it up in aluminum foil and then put it back on the grill as far from the heat as possible. If your flames are very hot, you may want to double wrap the meat, but that isn’t necessary.
Cover the grill with the lid, and continue cooking for about 30 minutes, until the meat reaches a temperature of about 130-135ºF internal temperature. If you have a remote temperature probe, I recommend inserting that into the meat so you can monitor it without having to open the grill. If you have to pull it off and check it manually that’s fine too!
Step 5 – Enjoy!
You now have an incredible wood fired grill cooked sirloin steak to enjoy. Pull it off the grill and let it rest for 10 minutes before you slice it up for serving. This will allow the juices in the meat to redistribute for maximum flavor when you eat the steak.
After the meat has rested, cook it into thin strips against the grain of the meat. You may want to cut the steak into a few smaller chunks to make sure you are consistently cutting against the grain, as the direction changes in this steak. Cutting against the grain helps keep the meat tender and less chewy. I thought the flavor of this sirloin was incredible – a little smoky and a little crunchy on the outside from the wood sear.
Well, that’s how you turn a Weber Smokey Joe into a wood fired grill and then cook a ridiculously huge hunk of sirloin steak. But the question is why do this? This isn’t the fastest or most convenient way of cooking, nor is it necessarily the best cut of meat to cook in this fashion.
For me, cooking over fire reminds me of great restaurant experiences and memories of trying to cook over campfires when I was a kid. The flavor of wood cooked steak is unmatchable. You get a smokiness and sear you can’t get even from charcoal. But most of all, this was fun. A lot of fun. it’s definitely stupid, but I had so much fun taking my time making a fire then cooking a huge chunk of meat to share!
If you want to use the flavor and sear of the wood fire, but don’t want to cook a huge hunk of meat, you can use this method to sear any steak. I’d just use a reverse sear method where you cook the meat in a sous vide cooker or oven first, then finish it with a hard sear. Ribeye steaks work great with this method, or check out this reverse seared pork chop recipe to mix it up a bit!
There are definite disadvantages to using a Smokey Joe as our wood fired grill instead of a real one or even a charcoal grill. They include not being able to precisely temperature (it’s just kinda hot!), and not being able to add logs to the fire to generate more coals. You’ll get some burnout and can’t cook super long, but for the cost savings, I think we can deal with these challenges.
That’s all I have for this post. I hope you enjoyed this little story and method of cooking. If you have other ideas on how to do wood fired grilling (a metal grate suspended over a campfire also works) or tips to make this technique even better, leave us a comment below. We’d love to hear from you.