5 Common Mistakes When Cooking On A Charcoal Grill

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With summer well underway, many of us are thinking about one thing: firing up the grill. While gas grills are undoubtedly convenient, meals prepared on a charcoal grill are unique.  

Not only are charcoal grills typically less expensive than gas grills, but food cooked on a charcoal grill also has that authentic, cooked-over-a-fire flavor. Juicy burgers, sausages, and chicken all have a distinct smoky flavor — evocative of the great outdoors and summertime — that a gas grill cannot replicate. You do not yet have one? It is not too late to purchase one (this is our preferred charcoal grill!). 

Whether you are a novice or an expert griller, it is essential to remember that cooking on a charcoal grill takes more effort. Here are five common errors to avoid. 

1. Not scrubbing the grates of public grills before cooking. 

Cleaning and maintaining charcoal grills are necessary to ensure that they function correctly and cook correctly. This applies to both your grill in your backyard and the grills found in public parks and campgrounds. However, while public grills are perfectly safe to use, you should clean them thoroughly before putting your food on them to avoid cross-contamination. 

Please take note of the following advice: The first step in using a charcoal grill, whether at home or in a public place, should constantly be cleaning the grates to ensure there is not any food stuck between them. This is especially important when using public grills because you have no way of knowing what has been cooked on them in the past or when the last time they were cleaned. 

After preheating the grill, clean the grates with a stiff wire brush to remove any charred debris that may have formed. Non-stick grates will not only prevent old food bits from becoming stuck to whatever you are grilling, but they will also produce better grill marks. 

Read more: What is the proper way to clean a charcoal grill? 

2. Placing food on the grill too soon after preparing it. 

Grilling requires patience, especially when the grill is getting hot. Food will stick to the grates if you add it to the grill before it is fully preheated, and if you are using briquettes, it will impart off-flavors to the food if you do so. 

Please take note of the following advice: Before adding any food to the grill, getting it up to temperature is necessary. Allow at least 15 minutes after lighting the grill to pass before covering it with a lid and allowing the charcoal to heat up. When it appears gray and ashy, you will know it is time to harvest. 

3. Use the incorrect heat type for the food you are preparing. 

The charcoal acts as a direct heat source with a charcoal grill, allowing for faster cooking. Using hot charcoal to cook food directly is like using a gas grill for cooking food over high heat. Some foods benefit from being cooked over direct (or high) heat, while others benefit from being cooked over indirect (or low to medium heat). The risk of undercooking, overcooking, or even burning a meal increases if you do not use the most appropriate heat source for the task at hand. 

Follow this advice: Before you start putting charcoal on the grill, think about what you are going to cook. This will determine whether direct, indirect, or a combination of the two is the best option for you, as well as whether you should spread the charcoal over the entire grill or just a portion of it, depending on your preferences. Foods such as burgers, hot dogs, steak, and chicken breasts benefit from direct heat. They cook in a short amount of time, whereas more significant foods that require a longer cooking time (such as whole chickens, pork loins, and ribs) benefit from indirect heat because they take longer to cook. 

4. Not using a charcoal grill’s vents. 

On charcoal grills, vents are located on the hood and the bottom of the grill, whereas gas grills don’t have vents. To keep the charcoal burning and maintain a consistent temperature, these grill parts are critical. When you forget to open or close the vents, either the charcoal will burn out before your food is done cooking, or the heat will soar dangerously high, causing your food to burn. 

Take the following advice: 

  1. Adjust the vents while preheating the grill and cooking to maintain a consistent temperature. 
  2. Keep the vents open while lighting and preheating the grill to increase airflow. 
  3. If your food is cooking too quickly, try partially closing the vents to reduce the temperature. 

Alternatively, if you want to increase the temperature, try opening the vents slightly. 

5. Excessive lid lifting. 

Compared to ovens and gas grills, which lose heat when the lid is opened, charcoal grills retain heat when the lid is opened. By opening the lid, additional oxygen is introduced to the coals, causing them to burn even hotter and increasing the possibility of burning food. 

Keep in mind the following: Open the lid to flip the food and monitor its progress, but keep it as close as possible. This is especially important when cooking larger items, such as ribs or a pork shoulder that benefit from indirect cooking for an extended period. 


While arranging and lighting your charcoal, keep the lid open. Close the lid once the coals are well-lit. Most charcoal grills are hotter immediately after lighting. The heat then gradually diminishes. 

However, how long should the coals be allowed to burn? Allow charcoal or briquettes to burn until they are entirely covered in white-gray ash (it takes about 5 to 10 minutes for the coals to get to high heat and 25 to 30 minutes to get to medium heat). 

Coal is ready to use when it is completely covered in gray ash. Make sure the grill is nice and hot before adding any food. After lighting the grill, cover it with a lid and allow at least 15 minutes for the charcoal to heat up. 

Take the following advice: Before adding any food, the grill should be thoroughly heated. After lighting the grill, cover it with the lid and allow at least 15 minutes for the charcoal to heat up. When it appears gray and ashy, it is ready. 

That is where the vents are located! Both regulate the airflow within the grill, which affects the temperature and direction of the heat. Closed vents result in a reduction in oxygen, which results in less heat and slower-burning charcoal. 

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