Charcoal is considered by many home cooks to be the ultimate cooking fuel. It offers versatility with temperatures that range from low and slow, right up to searing hot. Charcoal gets hotter than most gas grills, making it ideal for classic ingredients like burgers, steaks, pork chops, and marinated chicken.
Whether you’re just getting started with a charcoal grill or if you’re experienced and looking for new ideas, there are plenty of ways to add more flavor to your food.
Here are the best ideas to inspire new recipes and cooking styles.
Add Herbs Directly On the Coals
Most people are used to putting food on the cooking grate, a few inches above the firebox and the charcoal. Although it might seem unintuitive, there are actually ways to put ingredients directly onto the coals.
While we don’t recommend putting food that you will eat onto the coals, you can put herbs or even drizzle a marinade mix on the coals themselves. When ingredients are heated directly, their volatile ingredients are vaporized and infused into the food. You can try fresh herbs like rosemary and thyme, which are perfect for rich red meat and poultry.
Aromatics like onion and garlic also work well when dropped directly onto the hot coals. If you cook with the hood down, all of the complex flavors will permeate throughout your ingredients.
If you like a bit of spice in your meals, you can even put chili pepper seeds on the coals. Aim for something that isn’t overly spicy, as the compounds released could cause respiratory distress or a sting in the eyes. Jalapeno peppers are a good option.
Sometimes, the perfect way to cook a nice cut of meat is to sprinkle it with salt and pepper, and then sear it on the grill. Many steak purists will argue that there’s no better way to cook.
While a well-seasoned steak is something very special, you shouldn’t limit yourself by missing out on flavorful marinades. Marinades can be injected into food, or, you can cover meats and leave them in the fridge overnight to take on more flavor.
Store-bought marinades work well, or, you can make a basic home marinade with soy sauce, finely cut garlic, ginger, cayenne pepper, and any of your other favorite spices.
Marinades work well because as they drip off the meat onto the hot coals, the liquid is vaporized and infused into the food. If you are searing your food, the brown char that develops on the outside will be mostly comprised of all those flavorful compounds reintegrating on the surface.
Add Smoke Chips or Pellets
Marinating and adding fresh herbs to the firebox will give you rich and complex flavors, but nothing can come close to the flavorful smoking options that you will have with a charcoal grill.
Unlike gas grills, charcoal is perfect for smoking. You can put smoke chips and pellets right on top of the coals, infusing your food with out of this world flavor ranging from the dark woodiness of mesquite to classic roadhouse flavors.
- Alder wood is perfect for pork, chicken, and seafood.
- Cherry is a versatile wood for adding smoke flavor to all red meats, including game.
- Hickory is a classic flavor that is great for authentic roadhouse BBQ.
- Maple adds sweetness, which works well with seafood, chicken, pork, and vegetables.
- Mesquite is great for pork and beef.
- Oak adds complexity to all meats, poultry, and seafood. It’s amazing with slow-grilled pork and beef.
The best way to experiment with smoke is to buy a sampler pack. This Jax Smok’in Variety Pack includes Apple, Oak, Orange, Maple, and Pecan, giving you a range of new and interesting flavors.
Try Your Favorite Ingredients with These Charcoal Grill Flavor Tips
Cooking on a grill is all about fun and experimentation. Try our tips to get more flavor out of your food, and impress friends and family at your next cookout.