Instructions on How to Use a Charcoal Grill

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Try out a charcoal grill over the summer. Your cookouts will be epic, and the food will be mouthwatering. You’ll also have beautiful memories to look back on. 

You can grill all year round if you’re brave enough, and it’s a great way to cook up a storm in the summertime. We’re aware that some people prefer the convenience of a gas grill, but we also know some charcoal grill devotees. Besides, there’s no substitute for the unique flavor of this dish! 

A charcoal grill is a great way to prepare delicious recipes. However, it can be difficult to know how to make the most of your charcoal grill when you aren’t sure what type of food goes with the right charcoal grill techniques. This article will show you how to make use of a charcoal grill.

Read up on the basics of barbecuing before you go out and buy your first bag of charcoal or grill. 

Getting Started with a Charcoal Grill 

Fire up coal is the scariest part of grilling. If you’ve ever lit a grill, only to walk away and come back to find the coals still cold 20 minutes later, you know what we’re talking about. (This has been done by every griller ever!) However, lighting a charcoal grill is a simple process. Using the proper methods and a little perseverance, you’ll be able to flip burgers successfully. 

Select a Charcoal Grill Type 

Choose the right fuel for your fire before lighting a cigarette. There are a variety of charcoals on the market, each with a distinct flavor and heat profile. 

Charcoal briquettes: This time of year, you’ll find charcoal briquettes in grocery and convenience stores. Compressed sawdust and other wood materials go into making these little hunks of charcoal.

Charcoal briquettes burn for an extended period and are highly consistent. They’re also incredibly cheap. You can expect to pay around $10 for a bag that weighs 16 pounds. As a drawback, this fuel is heavy to clean up after use and does not impart much of the charred flavor that many grillers crave. 

Hardwood or lump charcoal: You can get more flavor out of your food if you use hardwood or lump charcoal. It burns faster than briquette charcoal but generates less ash and waste. Many experienced grillers prefer to use hardwood charcoal for this reason. Despite the higher price, we believe that the flavor is worth the extra money spent on a 15-pound bag of briquettes. 

A mix of both: There is good and bad news when it comes to charcoal. Briquettes can be mixed with hardwood charcoal to save money. This saves money and time while retaining some of the smoky flavors of a charcoal grill. 

Keep your extra charcoal in a dry location, no matter what fuel you use. If you have a shed or a garage, you can use it. Invest in a lidded container for your coals if you’re concerned about moisture. 

A Guide to Lighting a Charcoal Grill 

There are numerous ways to light a grill, including various charcoal starters, just like there are a variety of charcoals to choose from. 

Lighter fluid: Most people use lighter fluid to start a charcoal grill. When you’re ready to cook, pour your charcoal into the grill’s belly and form a mound. Then douse the coal with lighter fluid and allow it to soak in for about 20 seconds. When they’re ready, toss a match into the bowl. Coals can be moved around in the grill’s base when they’re hot enough. 

The chimney starter is a popular method of starting a grill for those sensitive to the flavor of lighter fluid. Put a newspaper sheet or two in the chimney’s base, then fill the chimney to the brim with charcoal. For about 20 minutes, light the bottom paper and allow it to heat up until the coals are white. You can begin cooking them as soon as they’re ready. 

An electric charcoal starter is a good option for grillers who enjoy new technology. Our Test Kitchen prefers the Looft Lighter, so we piled our charcoal in the grill’s kettle and held the device up to it while we lit it. The coal will be ready for cooking in no time at all, thanks to the starter. 

Strike-able charcoal starters: Diamond makes strike-able charcoal starters that you can use as a fire starter. Using these fire-starting sticks, you’ll be able to start a fire with ease. You can use them by making a well in your charcoal and then striking the fire starter and allowing it to do its job. Grab some brats when the coals are white-hot and re-distribute them in your grill if necessary. 

It’s easy to tell how hot the coals are by their color. As a rule of thumb, you want to cook with a color that ranges from white to bright red. 

With your hand about four inches above coal, you can tell if the grill is ready. More than five seconds of comfortable holding time means your coals still need to warm up. A two- to three-second hover is all you need to get perfect grill marks. 

Remember to use these grill safety tips before lighting and cooking your grill and afterward cooling it down. 

How to Prepare for Grilling 

Preparing the Grill Grates 

It’s a good idea to coat your grill grates with seasoning before you start cooking. Cleaning the grate and spraying it with a high smoke point oil, such as canola or vegetable oil, is the only way to do this. 

You can prevent food from cooking by sprinkling the grates with a light oil coating before cooking. 

Arranging Your Coals for Maximum Protection from Direct and Indirect Heat 

While you may believe that cooking everything from hot dogs to kabobs directly over the coals is ideal, this is not always the case. 

You’ll want to push your charcoal to one side inside your grill. This area will be hotter and is where you will do all your grilling over direct heat. Sausages, kabobs, shrimp, and any food that needs seared, such as steaks, should all be grilled over direct heat. 

Without the coals, the side will remain hot but not scorching. This is the area with indirect heat. Indirect heat is ideal for grilling foods that require 20 minutes or more to cook, such as larger or tougher cuts of meat. Additionally, you can use your grill’s indirect heat area to keep food warm. 

The Fundamentals of Charcoal Grilling 

When learning how to use a charcoal grill, there are a few best practices to follow to ensure that your grilling recipes turn out perfectly: 

Turn food only once (if possible): Like searing a good steak in a cast-iron skillet, it’s best not to fuss too much with what you’re grilling. Cook your food halfway through on one side—whether it’s a brat or a veggie kabob—and then flip. Ideally, you should only convert your food once to ensure the best possible cook and grill marks. 

  • Avoid squeezing your proteins: Avoid squeezing your burgers or steaks as tempting as it may be. While the sizzling sound is irresistible, pressing on your meats extracts the juices, resulting in a dry burger. 
  • Examine your vents: Charcoal grills feature vents on both the underside and the lid. You can relocate these vents to help with the heat. Closed vents will reduce the heat generated by the fire because less oxygen will fuel it. Open vents provide more oxygen to the charcoal, which results in a hotter burn 
  • Maintain the heat: The best way to maintain the heat on your grill is to keep the lid closed. This traps the heat inside, ensuring that your foods cook quickly. Utilize vents and the top to regulate the temperature. 
  • Consider the possibilities: While hot dogs and chicken are grilling staples, your grill is capable of much more. Consider grilling fruits or desserts. 

What to grill at a high temperature 

The coal will reach a high temperature in approximately 5 to 10 minutes (about 700 degrees). Steaks, hamburgers, and dense vegetables such as corn on the cob and onions are all resistant to high heat. 

Grilling over high heat is the best method for achieving the perfect sear on the outside while maintaining the juicy interior. Increase the temperature by opening the vents to allow more oxygen to enter. Close the vents partially to reduce the temperature — but not wholly, or the fire will extinguish. 

When grilling over high heat, create a two-fire zone by stacking more coal on one side of the grill for high-temperature cooking and less charcoal on the other side for low-temperature cooking. When grilling, sear food in the hot zone first and then transfer to the cooler area to finish cooking without burning. 

Allow the meat to rest for five minutes on a cutting board after grilling. A board with a groove running around the perimeter is ideal, as it collects all the juices released by the steak. 

What to cook at a medium temperature 

The grill takes between 25 and 30 minutes (about 500 degrees) at medium heat. Meats like pork chops, chicken, fish, uncooked hot dogs and sausages, pineapple and eggplant, as well as other dense fruits and vegetables, should be cooked on medium heat. 

Marinades are commonly used to enhance the flavor of many medium-heat protein dishes (they will burn off on high heat). Overnight, marinate your food in a zip-top bag so that the meat is completely encased in the bag.  

Short on time? Increase the amount of salt (soy sauce) and acid (such as citrus) to penetrate the meat faster, reducing cooking time. 

What to cook at a low temperature 

We do not advise grilling at a low temperature (around 300 degrees Fahrenheit) on a charcoal grill for the entire time because the protein is likely to dry out and lose its nutritional value.  

For some foods, high heat cooking followed by low heat grilling is the best cooking method, but this isn’t always the case. People can do this with larger pieces of protein, like pork chops and fattier fish, like salmon. Arturo also enjoys grilling an onion whole this way. 

A Guide to Charcoal Grill Buying 

If you’re in the market for a new grill or want to upgrade an existing one, there are a few things to consider. 

  • Shape: Charcoal grills come in a variety of shapes and sizes. While round kettle shapes are the most common, barrel-style, rectangular, and square grills are also available. While any form will suffice, you may prefer one that fits your yard, storage space, and cooking style. 
  • Surface area: Grills come in a variety of sizes. Ascertain that the one you purchase has sufficient space for your needs. 
  • Ease of cleaning: Charcoal grilling is a messy endeavor. Consider models that include easy-to-clean features such as ash containers. 
  • Price: Charcoal grills come in a wide range of prices. The classic Weber kettle grill starts at around $100 and is an excellent option for amateur and professional grillers. Additionally, some relatively upscale charcoal grills cost well over $1,000. It’s entirely up to you and your financial constraints. 

Today Best Charcoal Grills


Cooking on a charcoal grill may seem daunting to those who have never done it before, but you can quickly cook up some delicious food with a bit of preparation and patience. Just remember to season the grill properly and be sure to let it heat up before cooking anything too greasy.

A charcoal grill is an excellent tool if you know how to use it. It gives your meat a nice smoky flavor, and it’s easy to control the heat. If you follow our step-by-step instructions, you should be able to cook up some delicious burgers on your next barbecue!

We hope you found this article helpful. To learn more about using a charcoal grill or to purchase one for yourself, click here.

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