Top 5 Grills

How to Use a Charcoal Grill: A Beginner’s Guide

Masterbuilt Gravity Series 1050

If you’re new to charcoal grills, this beginner’s guide was created with you in mind. 

We’ve compiled all the essential facts you’ll need to understand how a charcoal grill works, its benefits, step-by-step instructions on how to cook with a charcoal grill, and tips and tricks to help you get the most out of it.

RELATED: TOP 5 CHARCOAL GRILLS

How to Use a Charcoal Grill: A Beginner’s Guide

  1. What Is a Charcoal Grill?
  2. Benefits of a Charcoal Grill
  3. Charcoal + Wood Chips for Added Smoky Flavor
  4. Step-by-Step Instructions: How to Cook With a Charcoal Grill
  5. Tips & Tricks
Weber Original Kettle
Weber Original Kettle

What Is a Charcoal Grill?

A charcoal grill takes a lot more effort to start up, operate, and clean, but your labors are well rewarded with that incomparably smoky flavor in your food — that special something that can’t be replicated with a gas or electric grill. 

For weekend BBQ parties, a charcoal grill is the best way to go, especially for those who genuinely enjoy the grilling process and not just the taste element.

Portable Kitchen Cast Aluminum Charcoal Grill
Portable Kitchen Cast Aluminum Charcoal Grill
best 5 charcoal grills

Benefits of a Charcoal Grill

#1 Cost-Effective & Mobile

Even the higher-end charcoal grills are more affordable and portable than most gas grills in the market, making them ideal for cookouts at the park, camping or tailgating. They come in all kinds of variations these days: kettle grills, barrel grills, and ceramic Kamados. Whatever your budget, you’ll definitely find one that ticks the boxes! 

#2 It Gets Super Hot

It takes patience and practice, but charcoal grills can crank up the heat to 700°F for the perfect sear on your steak, which is much hotter than most gas grills are capable of. Having such a broad temperature range allows you to cook a wider variety of food especially with a dual-zone heat system.

#3 True Chargrilled Taste

The other grills can aspire towards replicating that authentic chargrilled taste, but none can come close to charcoal grills for the real deal. The only caveat: avoid using lighter fluid to light the coals, as you might find your food tasting of lighter fluid instead!

Jealous Devil All Natural Premium Hardwood XL Lump Charcoal
Jealous Devil All Natural Premium Hardwood XL Lump Charcoal

Charcoal + Wood Chips for Added Smoky Flavor

Types of Charcoal

There are two types of charcoal commonly used for grilling: lump charcoal and briquette charcoal. 

Lump charcoal is widely considered the best option due to its pure wood composition without fillers or additives, unlike briquette charcoal. Its clean-burning properties and ability to produce high heat also allow for easier clean-up and more efficient grilling.  

Charcoal briquettes, on the other hand, are made of sawdust, coal dust, binders to maintain shape, and other fillers, which make them a cheap and easy option for lighting a charcoal grill. Some briquettes, such as match light briquettes, are saturated with lighter fluid so they’ll catch fire more easily.

The convenience comes at a cost though. Not only does this create a chemical aftertaste in the food, but briquettes also tend to produce a fair bit of messy ash behind.

Western Pecan BBQ Cooking Chunks
Western Pecan BBQ Cooking Chunks

Wood Chips

Wood chips are a useful complement to enhance the smoky flavor of your food. Like spices, they can be used in a variety of combinations to suit your palate. 

Hickory and mesquite add a more pungent flavor, so be sure not to overuse them to avoid a bitter, campfire taste. Woods such as alder, cherry, apple, and pecan, on the other hand, will add a nice sweet flavor that complements hickory and mesquite well.

Weber 7416 RapidFire Aluminized Steel Charcoal Chimney
Weber 7416 RapidFire Aluminized Steel Charcoal Chimney

Step-by-Step Instructions: How to Cook With a Charcoal Grill

1.Light the Coals

This is the most important and also the most time-consuming part of charcoal grilling: lighting the coals. You might be tempted to use lighter fluid for convenience, but trust us, you don’t want your food to have that awful chemical aftertaste.

Use a chimney starter or charcoal chimney instead. It’s basically a metal container with a grate at the bottom and a handle on the side. 

The process is fairly simple. First, take a piece of newspaper, wad it up, and soak it in vegetable oil. Stuff it into the bottom of the charcoal chimney, place the charcoal on top of it, and light the newspaper using a long match or igniter.

Let the coals burn until they’re covered with white-gray ash. This takes up to 20 minutes. Once the coals are ready, use protective grill gloves to hold the chimney by its handles and pour the charcoal carefully into the grill.

2.Create a Dual-Zone Heat System

After pouring the coals into the grill, move them to one side of the grill to create a dual-zone heat system. The empty side of the grill is the cool zone with indirect heat for slow-cooking foods, while the hot zone can be used for foods that require high heat and for searing.  

This dual-zone system is also useful for moving food around to prevent overcooking and to control flare-ups caused by fat dripping onto the coals.

Best Charcoal Grills 2021

3.Prepare the Cooking Grate

Now that the grate is pre-heated by the coals, this is the perfect time to clean it. Wrap a clean rag tightly around the end of a stick or long metal spoon to form a ball. 

Dip it in water and run it back and forth across the hot grate to remove any residual grease, food, or other debris. Keep the stick wet by continuously dipping it in water.

Next, cover the grill with the lid for five to ten minutes before placing food on the grate. You should hear a light sizzle when the food hits the grate. 

Using tongs, grease the grate with a paper towel soaked in vegetable oil to prevent food from sticking to the grill. Now you’re ready to start cooking!

Masterbuilt Gravity Series 1050 Grill Size
Masterbuilt Gravity Series 1050

Tips & Tricks

1.Medium-Heat Grilling

Use medium-heat for foods that need to be thoroughly cooked through such as pork chops, chicken breast and wings, fish, hot dogs and sausages, as well as moderately dense fruits and vegetables like pineapple, eggplant, and capsicum.

2.High-Heat Grilling

Grilling on high heat is suitable for steaks, burgers, and denser vegetables such as corn on the cob and onions. High temperatures allow for the perfect sear while keeping the meats or vegetables moist and juicy on the inside.

3.Slow-Cooking Foods

Foods that take a longer time to cook such as bone-in chicken or pork loin need indirect heat to ensure they’re cooked thoroughly. Cover the grill with the lid to increase the indirect heat and make sure to keep the lid on as much as possible to prevent loss of heat.

Weber Master Touch 22
Weber Master Touch 22

4.Control the Heat Using the Vents

Charcoal grills use vents or dampers to control the airflow, which feeds the flames. The rule is simple, to turn the heat up, open the vents wider, to turn it down, close the vents but not completely, as that will put out the fire.

The vents are located on the lid as well as the bottom of the base. For the highest heat, open the vents all the way. For medium temperatures of 350 to 450°F, close the top vent halfway and for low temperatures of 250 to 350°F, keep the top vent open a quarter of the way. The bottom vent should be kept all the way open in most cases.

5.Dispose of Ashes Properly

Once the grill has cooled down, scoop out the ashes and soak them in water overnight in a metal bucket or basin. Wrap the cooled charcoal ashes in heavy-duty foil and dispose of them in your trash can.

best 5 charcoal grills
Portable Kitchen Weber Original Kettle Weber Original Kettle Premium Weber Master Touch Masterbuilt Gravity Series 1050
Rating
4.81
4.76
4.72
4.72
4.40
Cooking Area (sq in)
301
363
363
443
1050
Burger Count
12
20
17
17
18
Ease of Set Up
5/5
5/5
5/5
5/5
5/5
Price Range
$
$
$
$
$$