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Start a Charcoal Grill Effortlessly in 3 Steps 


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There's nothing quite like the taste of fresh BBQ after it comes off a charcoal grill. The two most popular types of grills are gas grills and charcoal grills. Although charcoal grills are more complicated to figure out, once you get the hang of it you won't want to do your grilling any other way. Here's how to start a charcoal grill and some common mistakes to avoid.

1. Choose Your Charcoal

Part of figuring out a charcoal grill is learning about the charcoal you'll use in it. The two main types of charcoal are lump charcoal and charcoal briquettes. Personal preference regarding flavor and heat determine which to choose.

Man's hand holding lighter and lighting coal in bbq grill

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Lump charcoal imparts more flavor into food because it is made from pure wood. While it produces far less ash than briquettes, it does burn out quicker. Lump charcoal is also more expensive, running about $14 per 15 lb. bag. Many grill masters and home grillers prefer this type because of the extra flavor.

Charcoal briquettes are made from compressed sawdust and wood pieces. While they don't produce as much charred flavor, their burn time is much longer and more consistent. Briquettes are also more affordable, with a 16 lb. bag averaging about $10. Briquettes are also easily obtained, especially during the summer. You can find them front and center at any supermarket or convenience store.

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2. Light the Coals

Once you've decided on your coal, the next step of how to start a charcoal grill is to grab some old newspaper and stuff it into the bottom of the starter. Next, fill the starter with the desired amount of coal. The general rule of thumb is to fill the chimney 25% full for low heat, 50% full for medium heat, 75% full for medium high heat, and 100% full for high heat.

Then, use your lighter to ignite the newspaper. Place the starter inside the grill on the rack where the coals normally go. Don't confuse this with the cooking grate, where you will grill your food.As soon as your coals turn whiter, slowly pour them into the bowl of the grill.

3. Put the Coals on the Grill

Close up man with gloves chimney starter barbecue grill in open air

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While it's tempting to just throw all your food on the grill at once, it's important to remember that coals burn differently depending on where they are in the grill. Set yourself up for success by separating the coals. One side of the grill should have all the charcoal, for high heat cooking. The other side should be free of charcoal, for cooking with indirect heat.

After slowly pouring the coals onto the grill, close the grill, put the lid on and wait about 10 minutes to allow the heat to build.

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4. Grill Your Food

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Once your coals are set up on the grill and you've given them time to heat up, it's time to grill your food. Place any food that you want to have a sear, like pork chops or steaks, on direct heat. For foods that will take longer than 20 minutes, or for a tougher cut like brisket, place them on the side of the grill that has indirect heat.

Mistakes to Avoid When You Use Your Charcoal Grill

1. Not Lighting the Charcoal Chimney

When charcoal grilling, you should avoid tossing the briquettes in without using the chimney starter. The coals won't light properly and you'll spend two hours getting hangry and fighting with your spouse, just to end up ordering pizza.

2. Not Making Use of Your Grill Brush

Cleaning a grill. Male hand cleans round grill with stiff brush. preparation of a grill before cooking.

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Whether you're grilling at home on your Weber Kettle or using a public grill at a park, you MUST clean your grates before every use. You'll need to oil the grates and use a stiff wire brush to scrub the food and debris off. Really put some elbow grease in to get them sparkly clean!

3. Not Regulating Temperature

Charcoal grills have vents for a reason. The top and bottom vent are used to control temperature and airflow. Keep an eye on your food and adjust the vents accordingly. If food is on the verge of burning, close a vent. If you need more heat, open the vents more.

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4. Opening the Lid Too Often

Charcoal barbecue on campground.

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For Heaven's sake, do not lift the lid too often! When you open the lid, oxygen flows in and heats the coals up, which may lead to burned food. Keep the lid closed until you need to flip the food and check on the temperature and doneness.

This post was originally published on May 25, 2021.

READ MORE: Our 11 Favorite Grilling Tools for Perfect Meals This Summer