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Jana McMahon’s Steaks On A Hardwood Fire

President Eisenhower is noted for loving to cook his porterhouse steaks directly on hardwood coals and Julia Child dedicated an episode of her PBS show to cooking “dirty steak.” Adam Perry Lang coined this method “clinching,” after a boxing term for closing the gap between one and an opponent. Placing meat in direct contact with hot coals leaves no room for the fat to ignite into flame, eliminating that greasy black slick that can compromise the best of steaks. The results are astounding, an umami-rich crust and moist meat with a slight smoky flavor revealing just where that steak has been. I chose macadamia nut for my fire, a hardwood that burns down easily and evenly, imparting a neutral smoke flavor. Kiawe would work, or any hardwood local to your area.

Serves 4

  • hardwood or lump charcoal (no briquettes)
  • 4 New York strip steaks
  • sea salt, coarse crystals
  • lemon garlic dressing (see recipe)

Get your fire started. Make sure there is enough wood to create a 4 to 6-inch bed of red-hot coals. I use a funnel-shaped fire starter (no lighter fluid please).
While fire cooks down, bring steaks to room temperature. Slightly wet hands and rub both sides of the steak with generous amounts of salt. Don’t hold back, really get the salt rubbed into the muscle fiber, it helps form the crust.

When wood has cooked down and the coals are glowing red with a cover of white ash, the fire is ready. It should be so hot that you are not able to hold your hand over the coals for more than a second or two. Flatten the surface of the coals to a uniform height of about 5 inches (I use a cast iron pan.) Fan away the grey ash from the top of the coals using a sheet pan or similar.

Place steaks directly on the coals. A 1¼ lb. steak will take about 9 minutes to cook. Time the steak for 4 minutes. Turn and baste cooked side with lemon garlic olive oil mixture. Time second side of steak for another 4-5 minutes. Turn and baste again with olive oil mixture.

Rest and serve with homemade Coconut Porter mustard (recipe below).

Photo by Jana Morgan
Photo by Jana Morgan

Homemade Maui Mustard

I love making homemade mustards. This recipe is simply a template; feel free to mix up the soaking liquid, vinegar and sweetener. I’ve used sparkling cider, apple cider vinegar, agave with mango and jalapeño to great success. Go ahead, play with your food!


  • ½ C. black mustard seed
  • ½ C. yellow mustard seed
  • 1 can Maui Brewing Co. Coconut Porter (12 oz.)
  • ¼ C. maple syrup
  • ¼ C. balsamic vinegar
  • sea salt to taste

Soak mustard seeds in the beer overnight. The longer the seeds soak, the milder the mustard. Blend all the ingredients in a food processor, blender, or VitaMix. Blend less for a coarse mustard, more for a smoother mustard.

Lemon Olive Oil

I prefer a Meyer lemon due to its thin skin for this recipe, but any lemon will work. Use this flavorful, citrusy wonder as a base for all kinds of concoctions, marinades or bastes.

  • 1 whole lemon, diced
  • 1 C. EVOO


In a VitaMix or high-powered blender, purée one whole lemon, diced — yes, skin, seeds, pulp and all — with oil. That’s it!


Lemon Garlic Dressing

I always make a double batch of this dressing. Trust me, you’ll want extra.

  • 1 C. lemon olive oil mixture (see recipe)
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • juice of one lemon
  • ½ tsp. sea salt


Shake all ingredients together in a jar.