Tips for Lighting & Cooking on a Charcoal Grill
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Charcoal Grill Tips & Tricks

There’s nothing like the Barbecue aromas and flavors that come from grilling on charcoal. But using charcoal instead of a gas grill can often lead to underdone or overdone meals if not handled properly. The following tips and tricks for grilling on charcoal can help assure that your guests will beg for seconds and rave about your meal for weeks.

Grill Prep & Lighting

Lit charcoal grill
Image credit: Canva
  • Start with a clean grill. Charcoal grills are designed to both contain heat and circulate air. Even heat distribution and good air circulation will assure that your food is evenly cooked and deeply infused with charcoal flavors. Before each use, clean out old ashes from the bottom and make sure that all air vents are working properly. Cleaning the grill grate thoroughly by removing old food bits and other matter will result in better flavors and quality. You can use a grill brush for better results!
  • Fire the briquettes properly. Light your briquettes early enough so they are at a proper heat when cooking. When placing the charcoal in your grill, stack the briquettes in a pyramid shape before lighting. This will fire the charcoal quicker and create a more even burn. Once they are hot, spread the briquettes evenly across the bottom of the grill.
  • Coat your grate with oil or a non-stick spray. Coating your grate will keep your food from sticking to the surface during cooking. Do not coat the grate too heavily because excess oil will burn when placed over hot coals.
  • Do not overuse lighter fluid. Dousing the charcoal with copious amounts of lighter fluid that creates a roaring flame is not necessary for firing the briquettes. Use only enough fluid to start the edges of the briquettes burning. They will self-heat from that point forward. Using too much fluid will cause your food to taste more like the fluid instead of the charcoal.

Charcoal Cooking Tips

Charcoal burning
Image Credits: Andrey Andreyev on Unsplash
  • Check the heat level of the coals before cooking. For most foods cooked on charcoal, medium heat works best. You can easily judge the temperature by placing your hand over the coals. When very hot you can hold your hand over them for only about two seconds, at medium-hot for about 3 to 4 seconds, and at medium for 4 to 5 seconds. Be patient. If your charcoal is not at a proper temperature, place more briquettes on the stack to raise the heat or open the air vents wider to decrease the heat level. Too hot of a fire can lead to undercooked, blackened food.
  • Use wood chips for added flavors. Placing wood chips such as mesquite, hickory, or fruitwood over your coals (after they are hot) can add unique flavors to burgers, steaks, or anything, really. The chips should be soaked in water before using to prevent flair-ups when they heat. Charcoal with mesquite and hickory pressed into the briquettes is now also widely available for purchase.

    B &B Hickory Lump Charcoal

organic hickory charcoal
    A premium organic hickory charcoal blend, also available with oak. Perfect for adding a bit of extra flavor to your grilled meat.
  • Marinate meats and coat vegetables with oil before grilling. Charcoal creates a very dry and hot heat source. Marinating your cuts of meat and lightly coating your vegetables with olive oil or vegetable oil will help retain their natural juices and keep them from drying out.
  • Keep the covering of your charcoal grill closed as much as possible while cooking. Keeping your grill covered will help create a thick cloud of smoke that will infuse your food with the rich charcoal flavors you desire.
  • Prevent flair-ups. If flair-ups of your charcoal occur, smother them by covering the grill or have a spray bottle filled with water handy to cool the flames. Excessive flair-ups will lead to blackened food on the outside while the middle is still raw.
  • Do not press the juices out of meats while grilling. Constantly turning and pressing the juices out of meats will dry them out. Allowing the meats to cook in their own juices will lead to richer flavors. Not pressing the meats will also decrease the chance of flair-ups. Always allow meats to rest a few minutes after removal from the grill before cutting or serving.

To Wrap Up

A charcoal grill can help you make your food delicious and give it an extra smoky flavor. What more do you need? Just have fun, be safe, and experiment. Have a favorite tip or hack for grilling on charcoal? Share it in the comments below.