Charcoal grilling is a time-proven method to get flavorful results and mouthwatering presentation. If you’re used to cooking with propane or even if you have never used a grill before, there are some important charcoal grilling tips and techniques you can follow to get started.
With a little practice, you’ll find that charcoal grilling is relatively easy, lots of fun, and one of the best ways to enjoy your favorite ingredients.
Start With High-Quality Charcoal
For a great grilling experience, you need to start your grill with the highest quality charcoal that you can get. Lump charcoal is the best for medium and large-sized grills. Choose a natural product without additives. Low quality charcoal can contain chemical products that will add unwanted flavors to your food.
There are countless charcoal brands on the market. Look for labeling that indicates the product to be 100% natural and free of chemicals. This Brazilian Natural Lump Charcoal is a good example.
Lighting your charcoal is just as important as actually cooking your food. A chimney starter is the easiest way to get your grill going. You simply need to add some paper towels to the bottom of the starter, fill it with charcoal, light the paper towels, and then wait for ten minutes. You can then pour the hot charcoal into the bottom of your grill, and you’ll be ready to start cooking.
This Lodge Chimney Charcoal Starter is a popular option.
Understand Your Vents
While not quite as user-friendly as propane, charcoal grilling can be intuitive once you become comfortable with the process. The key is to use your vents to control heat.
When vents are fully opened, coals will burn more intensely and the heat will increase. When the vents are closed, coals will burn slowly, and the heat will decrease. Vents should be opened when starting the grill, and then gradually closed until you get the desired temperature.
It could take a few cooking sessions to master vents and heat control. Once you do, you’ll keep this skill for life.
Try Cooking with the Hood Down
Cooking with the hood down is a great way to infuse rich flavor and retain moisture. Most foods are suited to cooking with the hood down. Choose a grill with a hood thermometer so that you can closely monitor the temperatures, just like you would with the oven in your kitchen.
Try searing meat with the hood up, and then finishing cooking with the hood down. You’ll enjoy richly flavored food with juices left intact.
Create Two Cooking Zones
A propane grill with two or more burners will allow you to quickly control heating zones. This is ideal for cooking with indirect heat or cooking more than one ingredient at a time. You can do the same with charcoal.
Food that will be cooked quickly should be placed over the hottest area of your grill. Food that needs slower and more thorough cooking should be placed over the cooler side.
It’s easy to create two cooking zones.
- After filling your charcoal grill with coals from your chimney starter, use tongs to push the coals to one side.
- This side will be your hot zone, where the heat will be most intense.
- The other side of the grill will still be hot, but not to the point where your food will sear.
- Grill with the top down over the cooler side to cook your ingredients slowly. This works great for larger cuts of meat, BBQ, and some vegetables like baked potatoes.
You can utilize this technique to get even better flavor when you add smoke chips or pellets. You can cook food over several hours using indirect heat and wood flavor. All you need to do is add chips or pellets directly on top of your coals. Remember to top up the coals if they start to burn out. Food should be smoked for at least two hours to get the most flavor.
You’ll need to experiment with wood chips and pellets until you find a flavor you like. The best way to do this is with a variety pack. This Western BBQ Smoking Wood Chips Variety Pack includes some of the most popular flavors so you can start to explore your preferences.
Know When to Add Sauce
Basting grilled meats wth BBQ sauce is a great way to improve flavor and retain moisture. You might be tempted to lather sauce on throughout the cooking process, but this could actually cause your food to take on bitter and burnt flavors.
Instead, add your sauce towards the end of the cooking process. Sauces rich in sugar and molasses will burn easily, and the crust won’t be pleasant.
Keep Cooking and Learning with Your Charcoal Grill
Charcoal grilling is more of an art form than a science. Experience goes a long way. Follow our tips to get started. Be mindful of what you do when cooking. When you get great results, try to repeat the process. Before long, you’ll be cooking like a pro, and you’ll find that charcoal easily stands up to modern propane and electric cooking methods.