11 Rookie Mistakes to Avoid When Grilling on Charcoal

11 Rookie Mistakes to Avoid When Grilling on Charcoal
11 Rookie Mistakes to Avoid When Grilling on Charcoal

It may sound difficult and too messy at first.

But there’s nothing difficult about using a charcoal BBQ grill.

As soon as you learn the basics, and aren’t making any of the rookie mistakes anymore, you’ll be having a perfect barbecue lunch, branch or BBQ party every single time. If you’re new to grilling on charcoal, or aren’t sure if you’re doing it the right way, see the list below. Here we’ve listed some of the most common mistakes when grilling on charcoal.

Avoid these mistakes, and have a great meal every single time.

What to Avoid When Grilling on Charcoal

Are you a bit anxious about your first BBQ party? Afraid that you’ll ruin it?

Don’t worry! We are here to help.

1. You Don’t Preheat Your Grill for Long Enough

Some people start cooking right away — don’t do it.

Follow our guide on how to start a charcoal grill, and always let your grill run for at least 15 – 20 minutes before you start cooking food on it. You have to wait when the coals are fully grey, and if there’s some firewood as well — until it’s all burned up.

It’s simply dangerous to start cooking right away, while the coals are still burning. The oil and fat on your meat may cause flare-ups which you would want to avoid at all costs. A flare-up is an intense burst of a flame, caused by oil or fat dripping off the meat or other food and hitting the coals, causing a fire. It can pose a direct threat to the food on the grill.

Another reason to wait — you want the fumes from the lighter fluid to be gone.

You don’t want your food taste or smell of lighter fluid.

See also: Charcoal Grilling Safety Tips

2. Bad Planning

Don’t forget that preheating your charcoal grill takes time. 

With most medium-size charcoal grills it takes between 15 to 30 minutes. This means that you have to make sure you start your grill some 30 minutes before the party starts, or around an hour or even more before you plan your food to be ready (depending on what you’ll be cooking).

There are plenty of things you can cook on a charcoal grill.

3. Cooking for Too Long

Don’t forget that charcoal burns hotter than gas.

For many it’s one of the top reasons to choose a charcoal grill.

This means, you don’t need to cook, for example, meat as long as you would cook it on a gas grill. Yes, you may not see a flame or anything, but it doesn’t mean that it isn’t hot — in fact, it’s most likely very hot. So, be cautious when cooking, and don’t overcook your meal.

4. Not Controlling the Heat

You can’t dial it down with a charcoal grill, but you can still control it.

All you have to do is to divide your grill into two zones — one with coals and one without, or with a very thin layer of coals. Use the hot side of the grill for searing, and the cooler side for gentle cooking or to keep your food warm longer.

5. Forgetting to Clean the Grill Grate After Every Use

The grate is the part of the grill that you place food on.

That’s the only part of the grill that comes in contact with the food, hence it’s important to keep it clean and well-kept. You don’t have to clean the whole grill after every use, but we would recommend you to take care of the grate. Otherwise your food will stick to the food left from the last grilling session, and you don’t want that to happen.

Learn how to clean a charcoal grill the right way.

Grill grate - My BBQ Table

My BBQ Table

6. You Are Adding the Barbecue Sauce Too Early

You coat your meats with sweet sauces too early, causing them to burn.

This gives your meats bitter taste, and there’s nothing you can do about it anymore. The burn sauce gives the meat black crust which has to be scraped off before eating.

To avoid this, add the sauce towards the end of cooking.

7. Not Preparing the Meat

First of all, let it warm up a bit.

It’s much better to let the meat sit at room temperature before grilling. 

If you are cooking cold meat, it’ll take longer to heat up.

Secondly, don’t forget to season your meat before grilling.

Lastly, 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.

8. Not Using a Thermometer When Cooking Meat

Use a thermometer when cooking meat.

That’s the only way to tell the meat is cooked properly. You can’t tell if the meat is cooked or no just by cutting into it or poking it, especially if you aren’t experienced with barbecuing. Google the type meat you’ll be cooking to learn what’s the perfect temperature for it.

When using a meat thermometer, clean it in between uses to avoid cross-contamination in case  the meat has not yet reached a safe temperature when you were checking it.

9. You Oil the Grates Too Much

And it causes your grill to flare up. 

Instead of oiling the grates, it’s better to coat your food with a thin layer of oil. This will keep it from sticking to the grill and will also prevent flare-ups.

10. You Are Cutting the Vegetables Too Thin

Be careful when grilling very thin slices of vegetables. 

Remember, charcoal grills are very hot, and it takes very little for your thinly sliced veggies to burn. Instead, use thicker slices of veggies, and put them in the corner of the grill with less (or no) coals, or just be extra careful when doing that.

11. You Are Risking Cross Contamination

Cross-contamination can occur when you use tools (tongs, basting brushes, meat thermometer) on raw meat without thoroughly washing them when touching cooked meat.

You’d want to avoid that!

For more tips see our Charcoal Grilling 101.

Happy grilling! 

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