When it comes to grilling, charcoal grills tend to be a little more hands-on work than a gas grill. So, once you’ve mastered charcoal grilling, you should boast about being something of an expert yourself. Without further adieu, here are some tips to get you started.
1. Don’t use lighter fluid. I cannot emphasize this enough, lighter fluid will give any food you cook a chemical flavor. Instead, opt for a chimney starter, chimney starters are widely available and make for a considerably easier time lighting your charcoal. With a match or lighter and some newspaper, you’ll get your charcoal ready to start cooking within around 20 minutes. Weber offers an excellent Rapidfire Chimney Starter, which is great for beginners as well as seasoned grillers.
2. If you’re looking to add that signature smoky flavor, consider adding hardwood chunks to your lump charcoal. While many people use briquettes (a popular brand being Kingsford), hardwood lump charcoal lights faster, burns hotter, and tends to have a woodier, smoky flavor. This is because hardwood lump charcoal doesn’t contain the binding agent that briquettes have. Preserve any unburnt charcoal for the next time you grill. While chunks are good for throwing directly onto charcoal, you also have the option of wood chips. These are good for putting into a smoking box. However, there is no need to pre-soak the chips.
3. When it comes to the amount of charcoal to use, it all comes down to the temperature you’re targeting. For high heat grilling, 450-550 F (this temperature is more for hamburgers and steaks), you’ll want a full chimney. For medium heat, 350-450 F (good for seafood, veggies, chicken wings and thighs), you’ll want about ½ a chimney. These foods also lend themselves well for indirect cooking. And for low heat, 250-350 F (perfect for ribs, roasts, and smoking), you’ll only need about ¼ of a chimney. You may have to add charcoal as you go to reach your optimal length of smoking time.
4. For larger cuts of meat, such as a roast, indirect cooking is the way to go. Pour the hot coals from your chimney into one side of your grill to create two separate cooking zones. You’ll then put the meat on the side without the coals, this will allow you to cook at a lower temperature for a longer duration of time. You can also sear meat on the direct heat side, and on the indirect side cook vegetables. Indirect grilling is also a great way to cook sausage and fish.