Pellet grills are great for smoking, but how do you get a good sear on a steak with a pellet grill?
You may even be asking yourself "What temperature do you cook a steak on a pellet grill?"
Whether you've got a Traeger, Pit Boss, Camp Chef, or Yoder, we've got you covered with exactly how to cook a steak on a pellet grill!
Steaks. The king of the backyard grilling menu.
And if you've ever cooked on pellet grill, you know how great it can be to combine the convenience and temperature control of a gas grill with the smoky flavor of a charcoal smoker.
Have you purchased a pellet grill for the first time and are now asking yourself "What temperature do you cook steak on a pellet grill?"
You may have heard that you can't make a great steak on a pellet grill. We are here to debunk that myth and show you the best way.
New to using pellet grills? Check out our Ultimate Guide to Pellet Grills and How They Work.
Find out why they are one of the BEST ways to easily grill and smoke food at home, all in one easy to use appliance!
How to Cook a Steak on a Pellet Grill
Cooking steaks on a pellet grill is fairly easy, although you do need to take some time out beforehand to prepare your grill and meat.
Your grill for cooking steaks should ideally reach a temperature between 550°F-800°F.
Steaks are usually best enjoyed when they are cooking quickly on the outside, with a high heat sear or Maillard reaction, which is what gives the flavor and aroma to browned food.
Cooking steak at lower temperatures such as 350°F will not give you that fast, crispy browning and sizzle, but rather leave your steak with a soft, mild gray color and the texture of a roast beef.
Pellet grills work great for smoking large cuts of meat like brisket, pork butt, and ribs, and maintaining a near perfect consistent air temperature, much like the best competition smokers promise to do.
The downside is their ability to sear at high heat like you would over direct coals or a propane gas burner.
Even high end pellet grills like Traegers, only reach up to 450 or 500°F.
Furthermore, in our testing we discovered that even setting your pellet grill to the highest setting only raises the grates of the grill up to just above 200°F, which is NOT hot enough to get a sear on a steak.
So what can you do?
We tested 5 different methods for cooking steaks on a pellet grill.
Would you believe that all of the steaks in the photo below were cooked on a pellet grill to the same final internal temperature of 130°F?!
So stick around to find out the best way to get a sear on your steaks in a pellet grill!
Rather WATCH than Read?
Check out our Video on How to Sear Steaks on a Pellet Grill on our Youtube Channel!
What are Grill Grates?
Grill Grates are specialty...well...grates that sit right over the existing grates on your pellet grill that help capture and direct all that ambient heat and give you a nice searing station in the corner of your pellet grill.
They claim to get temperatures up to 200°F HIGHER than the temperature you set your pellet grill, meaning even if your nice Traeger only goes up to 400°F on the control panel, you can still sear some steaks, pork chops, or hamburgers at 600°F at the beginning or end of the cook to give them a nice sear.
We actually got our Grill Grates to OVER 750°F on our Pit Boss 1150 with the flame broiler open!
Grill Grates have a flat surface on one side and griddle texture on the other so you can choose if you want your steak to have a full sear or to have seared grill marks.
While you absolutely CAN cover your entire pellet grill with Grill Grates, like if you were doing a batch of burgers for a big party, in our case we only want to cover PART of the pellet grill, maybe ⅓ to ½ of the cooking area for our pellet grill steaks.
Step One - Decide Whether to Reverse Sear
Depending on the thickness of your steaks, you are going to cook them a little differently.
For thin steaks (less than 1.5-inch thick), you're going for a hot and fast sear over direct high heat until the inside comes up close to your desired temperature.
This means you want to create the hottest possible surface to make contact with the meat to get that nice brown "crust" on the outside while not overcooking the inside.
Many pro and amateur chefs alike swear by the reverse sear.
This is where the steak is cooked at a low temperature to bring the internal temperature of the steak up partially, then the steak is seared over high direct heat until the outside is cooked to your satisfaction, usually 2 minutes per side.
The idea is that by searing the steaks at the end, the fat is already partially rendered and the steak now has less excess moisture than when it was raw.
Therefore you will get a crispier, more crusty brown sear on the exterior, while also bringing the internal temperature of your steak up to final desired doneness.
You also get to serve them piping hot and sizzling right off the hot burners for a slightly more appetizing presentation.
After all, we eat with our eyes and ears as well right?
This is our favorite way to cook steaks.
Step Two - Choose a Cooking Oil / Fat
In order to prevent your steak from sticking to your cooking surface, you're going to need to put grease in your cast iron pan/griddle, or directly on your steaks if using Grill Grates.
One of our favorite greases for steak is Wagyu Beef Tallow.
Beef tallow is rendered beef fat with a consistency similar to butter, vegetable shortening, or lard.
Beef tallow can be used in cooking or to season cast iron.
Using Wagyu tallow imparts the flavor of an expensive Wagyu steak onto a less expensive steak, such as a choice cut New York Strip Steak.
Not only does tallow give a nice flavor to your steak, it also has a high smoke point, which is ideal when searing meat. They also have a Wagyu beef tallow spray.
If you prefer to use oil, we recommend a high smoke point oil such as grapeseed, Canola, avocado, or olive oil.
Just make sure you are using regular olive oil, not extra virgin.
We do not recommend butter for searing the steak, as it will burn on these high heat temperatures.
If you want the flavor of butter on the outside of your steak, you can add some butter to the hot cast iron at the END of the sear and then spoon the melted butter over the exterior of the steak.
Step Three - Choose a Cooking Surface
In order to get a good sear on a steak, we have to modify the cooking surface of the pellet grill.
This is because pellet grills are designed for INDIRECT cooking, particularly low and slow cooking.
This is great for a big piece of meat like a pork shoulder but will never give you a nice sear on a steak.
Even when we heat our pellet grills with INDIRECT HEAT to 450°F, the included enamel grates only come up to just over 200°F.
When we tested cooking a steak on this setting up to a final internal temperature for medium rare, the outside of the steak looked gray and unappetizing.
We do NOT recommend cooking a steak this way.
This brought the cooking surface up to around 430°F.
While this is considerably hotter than the 200°F without using the cast iron, it is still not quite hot enough to get the kind of sear we are looking for.
This prompted us to remove the grill components from our ZGrill that block the firepot then replace the grates over the open firepot and place a cast iron on top of the grates.
Doing this brought the temperature of the cast iron pan up to 675°F!
This gave us a good sear on our steak, but we thought we could do even better.
To do this, we turned to Grill Grates.
Our final test combination was adding Grill Grates over the DIRECT HEAT of our Pit Boss 1150.
This gave us a surface temperature of over 750°F!
Note: our model of infrared thermometer reads "Hi" when it measures over 750°F, which you can see in our video. For this photo we are showing it at 742°F for clarity.
To summarize, if your pellet grill has the direct heat option, we recommend using the Grill Grates for a superior heat surface for searing.
If you have a pellet grill that does NOT have a direct heat option, we recommend removing some components of the grill that block the firepot.
In this scenario, we do NOT recommend the Grill Grates, as they have holes in them and grease will drip down into your firepot.
A cast iron griddle will give you more room to cook multiple steaks at once.
Ours is reversible with a grill pan on the other side if you prefer to have grill marks on your steak or burgers.
If you're wondering how we measured the cooking surface temperature, we used an infrared thermometer.
You simply shine the laser at any surface and it will give you a temperature reading.
We love using this inexpensive tool to get an accurate idea of how hot our cooking surfaces are for both indoor and outdoor cooking!
Step Four - Set Up the Pellet Grill and Grill Surface
If you have a pellet grill with a DIRECT HEAT option, like the Pit Boss 1150, you are going to want to use this for creating the hottest possible grilling surface.
Make sure your upper rack is in place for the initial cooking step of the steak if cooking thick steaks.
If your pellet grill does NOT have a direct heat option, like a ZGrills 700D3, we recommend removing the heat baffle and the grease drain pan to allow the grill to produce DIRECT HEAT.
For cooking a steak less than 1.5-inches thick, you can do this before you start heating your pellet grill.
For steaks 1.5-inches thick or more, keep the heat baffle and grease drain pan intact for the initial low temperature indirect heat cook until your steaks are partially cooked.
Cook your steaks with INDIRECT HEAT on the upper rack of the grill.
Once you have removed your preheated steak from the grill, THEN carefully remove these two grill components using good heatproof gloves BEFORE turning the grill up to high heat.
Step Five - Heat The Pellet Grill and Grill Surface
For THIN steaks (less than 1.5-inches thick), you're going to do a hot sear immediately, so set your pellet grill to the highest temperature it will go (or use the "high" setting if it has one).
If your steaks are greater than or equal to 1.5-inch thick, we recommend a reverse sear method which starts with preheating the steak at a low temperature, so set your pellet grill to 250°F to 275°F.
Make sure your upper rack is in place because that is where we will be placing the steaks for the initial cook.
Step Six - Prepare Your Steaks
You want to start with completely thawed steaks, so if your steaks are frozen, make sure to defrost them in the refrigerator first.
You want your steaks to be about room temperature when you cook them, so take them out of the refrigerator about 1 hour before you plan to place them on the grill.
Pat the steaks dry with paper towels right after taking them out of the refrigerator and season them immediately.
This allows the seasoning to penetrate the meat while the steak comes up to room temperature.
We prefer a simple sprinkle of salt and pepper, but you can use your favorite seasoning or rub. You want to ensure that all of the meat is seasoned; do not forget about the sides of the steak too.
Once the steaks have reached room temperature and the grill is preheated, they are ready to be cooked.
Pro Tip: Ensure that you have removed any excess moisture from the surface of the steaks before placing on the grill, this will help to sear the meat.
Step Seven - Internal Steak Temperature
Before you start cooking your steaks, it is vitally important to know the EXACT target internal temperature of the meat to ensure that it will be cooked to your liking.
Always use a good instant read thermometer when cooking steaks on a pellet grill.
We have included guidance below for the target internal temperatures for both THIN and THICK steaks.
Because we recommend reverse searing on thick steaks, the initial "preheat" temperatures are also provided.
Target Internal Temperatures of Steaks Less than 1.5-inches Thick:
Rare (very red center): Sear until 110 - 120°F, Rest to 120 - 130°F
Medium Rare (red center): Sear until 120 - 125°F, Rest to 130 - 135°F
Medium (pink center): Sear until 125 - 135°F, Rest to 135 - 145°F
Medium Well (slight pink center): Sear until 135 - 145°F, Rest to 145 - 155°F
Well Done (no pink, cooked throughout): Sear until 145 - 155°F, Rest to 155 - 160°F
Target Internal Temperatures of Steaks Greater than of Equal to 1.5-inches Thick:
Step Eight - Cook Perfect Steaks on a Pellet Grill
For steaks 1.5-inches thick or more, you first need to "preheat" the steaks by cooking them over low, indirect heat. Remember, we heated our grill to 250-275°F for this step.
The general rule of thumb for reverse searing is to bring the internal temperature of your steak to 40°F BELOW your final target internal temperature.
For example, for a final steak that is "medium" you want an internal temperature of 130°F. This means you first want to bring the internal temperature of the steak up to 90°F before searing.
Place the steaks on the top rack of the grill until the internal temperature reaches the "preheat" temperature. This will take approximately 10 minutes.
Then, remove the steaks to a plate and cover with aluminum foil.
At this point, if your grill is not designed for DIRECT heat, you may want to consider taking out the grill components that block the firepot.
For ANY thickness steak, now it's time to turn the grill up to high heat with the cast iron or Grill Grates inside the grill.
On our Pit Boss 1150, we turn the heat to "high," which is around 500°F.
On our ZGrills, we turn the grill up to 450°F.
If using a cast iron pan or griddle, you can add a dollop of solid beef tallow or oil directly to the pan.
Never apply cooking oil, spray, or beef tallow directly to the Grill Grates. It will immediately smoke up and leave an acrid tasting residue or worse, ignite and pose a safety hazard.
Instead, use a silicone pastry brush to apply a high smoke point oil (such as grapeseed) or melted beef tallow to the exterior of the steaks.
Once the fat in the pan is well heated, add the steaks to the heating surface.
Make sure to space them comfortably apart so that they cook individually with air circulation all around each one, rather than as one large meat mass.
Once you have put your steaks on the grill, set a timer for 2 minutes. Resist the temptation to flip them. Let the Maillard reaction to occur!
Flip the steak after the 2 minutes and cook on the other side another 2 minutes, making sure to monitor the internal temperature with your instant read thermometer.
If you want fancy looking cross hatch grill marks, use the grill side of the cast iron grill pan or grill side of the Grill Grates.
Cook the steaks 1 minute, then turn them 90° and cook for another minute. Then repeat when you do the other side.
Do not walk away during this crucial time, 1-2 minutes too long on any side can result in burning and carbonization which will destroy the taste of your meat.
You want crispy brown and sizzling rendered fat, not black ashy meat.
You can always turn your pellet grill back down and finish cooking the steaks in that lower temperature zone if they are still too underdone inside.
But, you can't put the genie back in the bottle if you cooked them to too high an internal temperature.
Step Nine - Rest the Steaks
For the perfect steak, allow it to rest, UNCOVERED! for at least 5 minutes and understand it may rise another 5°F internal temperature after you remove it from the grill.
We recommend allowing the steak to rest on a wire rack set above a baking sheet for maximum airflow on all sides of the steak.
Some Pro TIPS for Resting Steaks:
- Do not stack your steaks on top of each other as the ones on the bottom will overcook from the ambient heat of the other steaks.
- Do not cover or "tent" them with aluminum foil.
- They will continue to overcook if you do.
- Place them on a wire rack, spread apart as much as possible, and allow them to rest.
The Best Way to Cook Steaks on a Pellet Grill: The Verdict
To make the perfect steaks on a pellet grill, it's important to adjust your cooking method for the THICKNESS of your steak.
Here we show a comparison of the 5 cooking conditions we measured.
Despite the vastly different exterior appearances, each steak was cooked to a final internal temperature of 130°F.
From Left to Right:
- INDIRECT heat in a pellet grill set to 450°F,
- INDIRECT heat in a cast iron pan in a pellet grill set to 450°F,
- DIRECT heat on the grate side of Grill Grates on a pellet grill set to 500°F,
- DIRECT heat in a cast iron pan in a pellet grill set to 450°F,
- DIRECT heat on the flat side of Grill Grates on a pellet grill set to 500°F.
This will ensure that the steaks are cooked at the best possible temperature resulting in a quality Maillard reaction, and give you that sizzling crispy exterior you are looking for rather than a soft, pot roast like texture.
Making modifications to your pellet grill to create DIRECT HEAT rather than INDIRECT HEAT will maximize the temperatures you can get on your cooking surface.
We were able to get a surface temperature of over 750°F on the Grill Grates on our Pit Boss, as measured by our infrared thermometer, despite the grill only going up to 500°F.
We think this is pretty amazing!
And just look at this steak. The outside is brown and crusted, while the inside is a perfect medium rare.
Who says you can't make great steak on a pellet grill?
The best tip we can give you when cooking steaks is not to rush the process.
Take your time and try not to overcook your steaks, this can make them hard to chew and not as enjoyable to eat!
We hope this article helped you to discover what temperature you cook steak on a pellet grill.
Other Pellet Grill Steak Recipes
Smoked Ribeye Steaks
How to Make Smoked Tomahawk Steaks
Smoked Flank Steaks
New York Strip Steak vs. Ribeye
Filet Mignon vs. New York Strip Steak
Filet Mignon vs. Ribeye
Smoked Filet Mignon
How to Smoke a Ribeye Roast
Seared Steaks on a Pellet Grill
- 1 Pellet Grill
- Cast iron pan, cast iron griddle, or Grill Grates
- Wood Pellets
- Instant Read Thermometer
- 6 Steaks of your choice
- Beef tallow, grapeseed oil, canola oil, avocado oil or olive oil regular, not extra virgin
- Kosher Salt and Pepper
- Remove thawed streaks from refrigerator. Pat dry with a paper towel and season each side liberally with salt and pepper or desired seasoning.
Thin Steaks (Less than 1.5-inch thick) - Sear Method
- Place your wood pellets in the pellet grill hopper. If your pellet grill does not have a direct heat option, remove the grill components that block the firepot and then replace the grates.
- Put your cast iron pan, cast iron griddle, or Grill Grates on the pellet grill to preheat as well. Do not use Grill Grates if you have removed components from your pellet grill, as the grease will drip down into the firepot.
- Proceed to sear the steaks.
Thick Steaks (1.5-inch thick or greater) - Reverse Sear Method
- Place your wood pellets in the pellet grill hopper. Turn on the pellet grill and set the temperature to 250-275° F.
- Place the cast iron on top of the bottom grates, or insert the Grill Grates on one side of the pellet grill, covering maybe ⅓- ½ of the cooking area.
- PREHEAT THE STEAKS: Place the steaks on the top rack of the grill until the internal temperature reaches the "preheat" temperature (see chart below). For a medium rare steak, cook it until the internal temperature reaches 90° F. This will take about 10 minutes. Remove steaks to a plate, cover with aluminum foil.
- If your grill does not have a direct heat option, using heatproof gloves carefully remove grill components that block the firepot and replace the grates and cast iron on top. Do not use Grill Grates if you have removed components from your pellet grill, as the grease will drip down into the firepot.
- Proceed to sear the steaks.
Sear the Steaks
- Turn your pellet grill up AS HIGH as it will go, preferably to 450 or 500°F, to heat the cooking surface until VERY hot.
- Wait until your cast iron or Grill Grate surface has reached a very high temperature.
- FOR CAST IRON: Add your cooking oil or beef tallow to the hot pan, swirl to evenly distribute. Allow the grease to heat up.
- FOR GRILL GRATES: Brush the surface of your steaks with oil or melted beef tallow, making sure to coat both sides and the edges.
- Using tongs, transfer steaks to heat surface. Set a timer for 2 minutes then flip the steaks and cook for another 2 minutes on the second side. Monitor the internal temperature as you cook to make sure you are staying within a range for your preferred doneness (see chart below).
- After cooking for 2 minutes per side, use tongs to flip each steak on the sides to sear the edges.
- If they begin to be TOO cooked on the outside before the inside comes up to temperature, move them to the upper rack away from the high heat and turn the pellet grill back down to 300°F to finish cooking.
- Transfer the steaks from the cooking surface to a wire rack and let rest for at least 5 minutes, UNCOVERED, before serving.
Medium Rare: 130 - 135°F (red center)
Medium: 140 - 145°F (pink center)
Medium Well: 150°F (slight pink center)
Well Done: 160°F (no pink, cooked throughout) THICK STEAKS (1.5-inches thick or greater)-Reverse Searing Temperatures-