Master Cooking On A Charcoal Grill
Grilling is our favorite activity and truly our preferred method of cooking. While we all love the ease of a gas grill, there's really nothing quite like that flavor you get when using a charcoal grill—plus charcoal grills are easy to move and can essentially be used anywhere, meaning cookouts aren't limited to your backyard!
Before you hit the store for a bag of charcoal or head to the park for your big cookout, make sure read up on how you can master the art of cooking on a charcoal grill!
Choosing Your Charcoal
Don't bust out the burgers and dogs quite yet! Before you get grilling you need to choose the right type of coals for grill. There are a few types of charcoal out there, each with some pros and cons depending on how long you're grilling, how big of a mess you want to make, and most importantly what type of flavor you want.
Charcoal briquettes: Charcoal briquettes are made of compressed sawdust and other wood material. Charcoal briquettes are great because they burn consistently and for a long time. They're also reasonably priced. However, the biggest downside to using charcoal briquettes is that they produce A LOT of ash, which means clean up can be a little more difficult, they also lack flavor meaning your food won't quite get that grilled flavor you know and love.
Lump charcoal: This type of charcoal is made from pure wood that can give your food a ton of flavor. The downside is that lump charcoal burns quite quickly so you might need to buy an extra bag, but it doesn't produce nearly as much ash as briquettes.
A mix of both: The good news is you don’t have to stick with one type of charcoal. You can mix inexpensive briquettes with flavorful lump charcoal. This can help keep your costs down, and flavor up!
Regardless of whether your cook with lump coals or briquettes, be sure to store your coals in a dry place. Charcoal notoriously soaks up moisture like a sponge, which can affect its flavor and worse yet, make it difficult, even impossible to light.
Lighting Your Grill
According to Taste of Home, just like there are different charcoals to choose from, there are plenty of methods for lighting a grill to choose from, too, including many different charcoal starters.
Lighter fluid: This is the method most people think of when starting a charcoal grill. Start by pouring your charcoal into the belly of the grill and shaping them into a mound. Then spritz the lighter fluid evenly over the coals and let it absorb into them for about 20 seconds. Then toss a match into the bowl and let those coal heat up. Once the charcoal is hot you can get cookin'.
Chimney starter: If you are sensitive to the taste or smell of lighter fluid there are a few fluid-free methods to starting your grill. Our favorite is the chimney starter. Start by crumple a sheet of newspaper into the bottom of the chimney and fill to the top with charcoal. Light the paper at the bottom and let this heat up until the coals are white-hot—about 20-30 minutes. Once the coals are hot enough, you can pour them into your grill and begin cooking.
Electric starter: Another fluid-free option is an electric charcoal starter. To fire up the coals with an electric starter simply mound your charcoal in the base or kettle of your grill, touch the nifty gadget to your coal and voila!
Color is the best way to tell how hot your coals are. Ideal grilling coals should be glowing red or white (but not black or grey). Another way to tell if your grill is ready for food is to hold your hand about four inches over the coals. If you can't keep your hand over the coals for more than two or three seconds, then it's time to get grilling! If you're able to hold you hand over the coals fo longer than three seconds, your coals probably need a little more time to heat up.
Prep Those Grates
Before you grill, it’s a good idea to prep your grates. That means making sure they're squeaky clean, and hitting them with a little canola oil. This will keep your food from sticking and will it ensure your food is not taking on any lingering, unsavory flavors.
Arranging Your Coals
You don't cook everything over the same heat on your gas grill, or even in your oven—so you certainly shouldn't do that over a charcoal grill.
You’ll want to create two sections, one for direct heat and one for indirect heat. To do this, simply push your coals to one side of the kettle. This area will be your direct heat section. It will be hotter and should be where you cook foods like sausages, burgers, kabobs or steaks.
The side without the coals will be your indirect heat area. It will still be hot, just not as hot as your direct heat section. You should use indirect heat to grill foods that take 20 minutes or longer to cook like larger or tough cuts of meat.
When it comes to learning how to use a charcoal grill, there are a few best practices to follow so your food turns out delicious and perfectly cooked.
Flip Once: Just like when searing a good steak, it’s best to let it do its thing. If you keep your flipping to a minimum, we're talking one flip..maybe two max— you'll have better, evenly cooked food and beautiful grill marks.
No Pressing: As tempting as it is, do not press down on your burgers or steaks. Yes, the sizzling sound is oh-so-satisfying, but pressing on your meat squeezes out the juices which can lead to a dry burger or tough steak.
Check Your Vents: Charcoal grills are equipped with vents on the underside and lid. You can change the positions of these vents to help with the heat. Closed vents will decrease the heat as less oxygen will fuel the fire. Open vents will give more oxygen to the charcoal so it burns hotter.
Keep It Closed: The best way to keep your grill hot is to keep the lid on. This traps the heat inside so your foods cook in a timely manner.