Charcoal Grill Tips

coals-ready-to-cook-onGrilling with charcoal is one of the best ways to grill for that true grilled flavor. Our charcoal grill tips in this post will help you get the best experience and most enjoyment from your charcoal grill.

There are probably hundreds of variations of charcoal grills out there. Most of them are pretty simple, basically just a grill shell where you can place the charcoal in the bottom and then a rack above it where you can place the food to grill. Fancier and more advanced charcoal grills include an automatic ignite switch, smokestacks or ventilation systems, and preparation space for food and holding utensils. While these things can certainly help with convenience and ease of use, a good cook can make the same wonderful tasting food on a basic $20 charcoal grill as a $200 charcoal grill system.

Safety First

Grilling is a lot of fun, but there are some basic safety tips to follow that are very important. You do not want the fire department to have to come and crash your next barbeque party or family picnic! Here are some basic safety charcoal grill tips:

1. Grill Away From Buildings, Trees, Roofs, Etc: This may seem like common sense, but many people do not take into consideration that they should grill at least 5 feet away from any other surface or object.

2. Allow for Ventilation: You should never attempt to grill indoors or even in a garage with the door open. Not only is this a fire hazard, but the smoke will have no where to go. Also it is best not to grill on a covered porch if possible, since again it is a possible fire hazard and the smoke will not have anywhere to go.

3. Use Tongs & Oven Mitts: Grilling gets HOT, which means you’ll want to protect your hands. Having a good pair of grilling oven mitts and tongs will help keep you from getting burnt.

4. Secure Pets & Children: Pets and children, while we love them, should not be anywhere near a grill. This is because they may not realize that the grill is hot and get burnt. They may also knock over your charcoal grill, which not only will certainly delay and ruin dinner, but also puts them at great risk at getting hurt or starting a fire. Keep the kids and pets entertained somewhere else as far away from the grill as possible.

5. Never Leave the Grill Unattended! It only takes a minute for things to go wrong. Always have someone watching the grill to make sure that the flames stay under control.

6. Keep Baking Soda or Salt Nearby: Having a large container of baking soda or salt may seem silly, but if you have grease dripping onto hot charcoal and the flames get out of control, pouring (I mean pour – a little sprinkle will likely not help too much) will put the fire out before it gets unmanageable. Having a fire extinguisher is also a good idea.

Lighting the Charcoal Grill

Lighting a charcoal grill all in of itself can be an art and a challenge. Many people get discouraged by lighting charcoal grills, which certainly contributes to the popularity of propane and natural gas grills! However, once you learn a few tricks, you’ll be grilling like a pro.

1. Choose the Right Charcoal: The best kind of charcoal is up to much debate. If this is the first time you’ve tried to grill on a charcoal grill, you may want to consider the kind that is instant and does not require lighter fluid.  For starters, you don’t get that lighter fluid taste and it lights almost instantly, which really helps cut down on frustration, as well as reduce the risk of the charcoal getting out of control since many people use more than enough lighter fluid. If you’re more experienced or are worried about additives and such, you can also try all natural coconut charcoal.

2. Use the Right Amount of Charcoal: This is another tough part that many people struggle with. Too much charcoal, and the grill is way too hot to cook and your food ends up “golden brown delicious”: burnt on the outside, raw in the middle. Too little charcoal, and you might end up standing there for an hour and the food is not even warm. So how much should you use? Generally you will want to make sure that you have enough charcoal to evenly cover the entire bottom of the grill assuming that what you are grilling will likely take up most of the space on the grill rack. You’ll want to make sure though that you have enough room that you can move the charcoal on the bottom if need be. 30-45 pieces should be your bare minimum for just a few small things, if you plan on grilling for a large crowd, you may need to fill your grill with as much as it can safely hold with still room to move.

3. Lighting the Charcoal: The easiest way to light the charcoal, since you are using the instant charcoal like Match Light that requires no lighter fluid, is to place 1-2 crumpled sheets of newspaper on the bottom of the grill and then stack your charcoal in a pyramid shape on top of it. Using long matches or a grilling lighter, you’ll want to light the newspaper and if all goes well you should see everything starting to burn nicely. Leave the lid of the grill open until most of the coals are glowing and turning white.

There are a few ways to cheat with lighting the charcoal grill. An Electric Charcoal Starter makes it so you don’t even need matches – you just turn it on underneath the coals and it heats them up. Another nice option for making lighting the charcoal easier is a Chimney Starter, which basically makes it super easy to get the coals to light.

4. Spread the Charcoal Out: When the coals begin to ash over and look like they are turning white, you are ready to start grilling. They should be about 90% white and ashed over and glowing nice and red or else you may find your food having that “too much charcoal” taste to it OR if it’s not hot enough it may take too long to cook. Spread the charcoal out of the pyramid shape, and you are ready to start cooking!

General Grilling Tips

Now that you’ve got the basics of safety and lighting your grill, you’ve managed to overcome the major hurdles of charcoal grilling! Here are some other grill tips to follow:

1. Invest in a Good Meat Thermometer: A digital meat thermometer can make your life so much easier when cooking. You’ll never have to guess again when cooking steaks or other meats. They are only $10-$20 and well worth it!

2. Remember Bigger Takes Longer: A really thick steak will take longer to cook than a thin one. Remember too that lean meat will tend to cook much faster and dry out quickly as opposed to meats with more fat in them.

3. Keep Your Grill Clean: Cleaning the grill might not sound like fun, but it is important not only for making sure you get the best flavor but also maintaining and prolonging the life of your grill. Always wait 24-48 hours before dumping hot ashes (unless you can dump them in a fire pit if you are camping) and then hose your grill out. Some swear by mixing a few tablespoons of vinegar with water and rinsing the grill out that way, others like to use good old regular dish detergent for cleaning the grate of the grill. (Make sure you rinse well to remove the soap residue).

Have any other charcoal grill tips to share? Leave them in the comments below1

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