How to Use a Charcoal Grill and What to Avoid for Successful Grilling

There's nothing quite like the taste of fresh BBQ after it comes off a charcoal grill. Freshly grilled, charred with perfect grill marks, and a slightly smoky flavor will permeate your meat and veggies. Grab the tongs, grab some lighter fluid, and grab some wood chips. Let's get started!

How to Charcoal Grill for Successful Grilling

The two most popular types of grills are a gas grill and a charcoal grill. A gas grill is easier to use, but doesn't hold a candle to the taste you get from charcoal. Charcoal grills may be a bit more complicated to figure out, but once you get the hang of it you won't want to do your grilling any other way. The key with a charcoal grill is constant practice. With a kettle grill, you'll want to monitor the cooking temperature and cooking time carefully, using the dampers to adjust your heat. Stick with it and you'll soon be a pro.


Types of Charcoal

The two main types of charcoal are lump charcoal and charcoal briquettes. Personal preference regarding flavor and heat determine which to choose.

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.

Starting a Charcoal Grill

While you may be used to just turning a knob on your stove or gas grill, starting a charcoal grill is a bit more challenging. Unlike gas, which uses propane that you can just turn on or off, a charcoal grill requires you to measure out the charcoal ahead of time. Before you start cooking, you'll need to add the briquettes in the bottom of the grill, underneath the grill grates.

How to Light the Coals

Grab some old newspaper and stuff it into the bottom of the starter. Next, fill the starter with the desired amount of coal. Lastly, 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, pour them into the bowl of the grill.

Wondering how much coal to use when grilling? This guide gives a handy breakdown of how much charcoal you need to use for various items.

Prepare Your Grates

You'll want to make sure to start with a clean grate. Much like a cast iron pan, you'll want to season your grill grates for optimal flavor. An easy way to do this is to spray on some canola or vegetable oil.

Setting Up the Coals

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.

Any food that you want to have a sear on should be cooked on direct heat. These are your thicker cuts of meat like pork chops. For foods that will take longer than 20 minutes, or are a tougher cut like brisket, use indirect heat.

Using indirect heat is also great for a cookout, when you need to keep your hotdogs warm while you wait for your guests.

4 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

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 Keeping An Eye On The Internal Temperature

Charcoals 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.

4. Fueling Hot Coals and Flare-Ups By Taking a Peek Too Often

For Heaven's sake, do not lift the lid too often! While it may look cool to pop your lid off and take a peek, it may actually burn your food. 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.

Happy grilling!

Watch: Grill Safety Essentials