How to Grill on a Charcoal Grill?

How to Grill on a Charcoal Grill?
How to Grill on a Charcoal Grill?

That season has arrived, and you can’t wait to spend more time outside.

You want to try cooking in your backyard, you have a charcoal grill (or you plan to buy one), but there is one but. You aren’t sure about your charcoal cooking skills. You aren’t sure whether you even know how to grill on a charcoal grill. And that matters. It’s important to know how to use a charcoal grill safely — how to start it, how to cook with charcoal, and what to avoid.

So it doesn’t destroy neither your meal, nor your mood. 

Read on to learn more about the basics of charcoal grilling.

How to Grill on a Charcoal Grill: Basics

1. How to Start a Charcoal Grill?

First, put your charcoal grill in a safe place.

Floating embers can easily spark a fire! Take that into account when choosing a place where to put your grill. If you own a My BBQ Table set, take off the grate and take the grill section out of the grill table and place it on its stand. All our sets come with a dedicated stand and removable handles for safe carrying.

Now you can start a fire.

Pour in some 2 kilos of charcoal briquettes.

Cover them with some firewood or wood chips.

Pour lighter fluid, wait a minute or two and light the fire.

Some 15 – 20 minutes later, once all the firewood is burned up, the grill is ready for cooking. At this moment all or most of the charcoal must have turned white or grey — that’s the easiest way to tell if charcoal is ready to cook on.

Read more: How to Start a Charcoal grill? 

1.1 What Type of Charcoal to Use?

Should you use coal for bbq or briquettes?

We recommend you to use charcoal briquettes.

Charcoal briquettes burn longer and maintain a steady temperature for a longer period of time than regular lump charcoal. They are perfect for longer grilling sessions such as BBQ parties and BBQ brunches. True, charcoal briquettes are a harder to ignite, but at the same time require no extra work from you afterwards — you can enjoy the process more.

As our experience shows, a 2-kg bag of charcoal briquettes and a 2-kg bag of firewood (to start a grill) is enough for a 5-hour long grilling session.

1.2 How to Light Charcoal Without Lighter Fluid?

There are several ways to light a charcoal grill bbq. 

By far the easiest option is to use lighter fluid. 

Some BBQ enthusiasts do not recommend using lighter fluid for barbecue, because of the taste it might give and the chemicals it consists of. However, we believe that it causes no danger, as long as it’s done properly and you aren’t rushing. The key here is to let the fire to go on for these 15 – 20 minutes, for all the firewood to burn up, and accordingly for the fumes of the lighter fluid to dissolve as well. And, of course, don’t use too much of the fluid. 

Here are a few other, alternative methods: 

  1. Chimney starter;
  2. Lighter wood or firewood;
  3. Fire starters (and paper or dry sticks);
  4. Paper and vegetable oil / cooking oil;
  5. Electric charcoal grill fire starter (one of the best gifts for BBQ lovers).

Read more: How to Light Charcoal Without Lighter Fluid or Chimney?

1.3 Preheat the Grill Well

Definitely don’t rush things! 

Don’t put your food on the grill seconds after you have lighted it up. You have to preheat your grill first. Wait 15 to 20 minutes as the grill heats up and coals turn grey. Only then food can go on the grill. It’s especially important if you are using lighter fluid to start a grill. You want the fumes from the lighter fluid to be gone — so your food doesn’t taste or smell of it.

Another reason not to rush — if you put your food on the grill right away, it will end up staying on the grill too long. It will lead to dry and overcooked foods. If you place the meat on cool grill grate, it won’t sear fast and will lack that lovely smoky grilled flavour.

1.4 Clean the Grate

Don’t forget to clean the grill grate with a grill brush after every use.

If you cook on a dirty grill grate, the food will stick to it and won’t taste as good as if it was cooked on a clean grate. You don’t have to clean the whole grill after every use.

Read more: How to Clean a Charcoal Grill?

Charcoal burning in a grill

2. How to Control Temperature on a Charcoal Grill?

You can’t dial down the temperature on a charcoal grill.

At the same time it doesn’t mean that you can’t control it.

2.1 Direct vs. Indirect Grilling

You can control temperature by setting up two zones. 

One of our best charcoal grilling tips – position coals on one side of the grill for direct grilling. Leave the other side coal free for indirect grilling. How does a two-zone grill work?

Direct grilling is quick and hot. It uses high heat and is perfect for cooking items like burgers, steak, kabobs, fish, hot dogs, vegetables and pork chops.

Indirect cooking, on the other hand, uses low heat and is for slow-cooking. Use this method to cook large or tough pieces of meat that requires long and slow cooking. You can also use this side of the grill to keep your food warm.

3. How to Prevent Flare-UPS?

Follow these easy steps to prevent flare-ups:

  • Remove excess fat, sauces or marinade before grilling;
  • Don’t over-oil your food;
  • Avoid wind;
  • Clean your grill to remove food residue and old grease;
  • Leave one side of the grill coal free, so you can move your food there in case of flare-ups.

How to put out a grill fire? Move the dripping food to the coal free part of the grill and let the flare-up subside. Never use water to put out a fire!

Read more: Charcoal Grilling Safety Tips

Preparing salmon for grilling

4. How to Prepare Food for Grilling?

Grilling on charcoal is very different from cooking in your kitchen.

Once you’ve started it, and the coals are going and starting to grey, there’s no way to slow it down. You’ll be cooking now, and at the temperature you have. You can’t turn off the grill for 5 minutes to do some extra preparations. Everything has to be prepared in advance.

Prepare everything before you start the grill. Once your grill is going, there will be no time to cut and season veggies and meat. The temperature is high, and the food which is already on the grill might burn while you are preparing other food.

How to prepare meat for grilling? 

Let it sit at room temperature before grilling, and don’t forget to season it before grilling. The same stands true when charcoal grilling fish. If the meat is covered in marinade, wipe off the excess marinade before cooking to prevent flare-ups. Keep just a little marinade on the meat to enhance flavour. Don’t press down on the meat while cooking it on the grill — pressing on your meats squeezes out the juices which can lead to a dry burger or steak.

Be careful with sweet sauces. Don’t add them too early, or you’ll get your food burnt. To avoid this, add the sauce towards the end of cooking.

If you are planning to grill vegetables, don’t cut them too thin, or be extra cautious when cooking. Otherwise they will burn the moment you take your eyes off of them.

That’s it in a nutshell — charcoal grilling for beginners.

Now you know how to grill with a charcoal grill, and it’s time to try it.

For more tips see our Charcoal Grilling 101.


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