If you’re looking for a hand’s on barbecue experience, there’s nothing more authentic than a charcoal grill. You just have to know a few basics.
Clean the grates and remove ash
Before you get started, it’s important to clean the grates thoroughly and remove all the ashes from the last use.
Measure out charcoal
Determine how much charcoal you’ll need for the meal — one layer is ideal for burgers and steaks. If you’re grilling something that will take longer to cook, like a roast or a chicken, you’ll need two layers.
Choose your lighting option
Now it’s time to heat up the charcoal. Here are a few options.
A chimney starter is a metal cylinder that you fill with charcoal. Add newspaper to the bottom and light it in several places to ignite the charcoal. Give it about 10 minutes to heat up and when you can see flames coming out the top, carefully pour the burning charcoal into the drum of your grill and add some additional charcoal on top if needed.
Organic fire starters are all-natural cubes that sit among your charcoal. They’re highly flammable – simply light them with a barbecue lighter or match and let them heat up the charcoal.
An electrical charcoal barbecue starter is a great option for safely lighting coals. Just plug it in, bury the metal loop in the charcoal and it will be red hot in minutes.
Wait for the coals to heat up
Before you put any food on the grill, you need to make sure the coals are hot. Lump charcoal will resemble hot coals with little smoke, while briquettes will start to turn white/grey. Using long-handled tongs, gently spread the hot coals evenly across the bottom of the grill box.
Prepare the grates
Lightly oil the grates with some cooking oil and a brush.
Control the temperature
Since charcoal grills don’t have temperature settings, you need to control the heat by using the vents. Start with both the top and vents open. Once you get close to your desired temperature, reduce the amount of oxygen available by partially closing the bottom vent. If it’s not hot enough, close the top vents and open the bottom vents a little wider. If it’s too hot, open the top vents and close the vents at the bottom. This reduces the amount of oxygen, so the flames die down a bit. However, if you keep both vents closed too long, the charcoal may extinguish.
You can also simply open the lid of the barbecue to increase the fire or close the lid to dampen the fire and create more radiant heat to cook food faster.
When you’re done cooking, close all the vents and give the grates a scrub with a grill brush while they’re still hot. Put the lid on the barbecue and let them coals burn down gradually. It can take some time to completely extinguish and cool.