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Last Updated on October 22, 2021
If your summer months are filled with alfresco dining and tasty BBQs, there’s no denying that cooking on a grill is the perfect way to bring out those smoky flavors. With charcoal grills being a popular choice for many outdoor cooking enthusiasts, they are a staple of summer dining.
For those who are eager to join the outdoor cooking club but have never used a charcoal grill before, you may wonder how to start one and how to keep it burning. It’s easy once you’ve mastered the basics, and with a few quick tips, you’ll be cooking fancy summer BBQs for your friends and family in no time.
What to Know Before You Grill
If you’ve never used a charcoal grill before, there are a few tips and tricks you’ll need to know if you’re going to light it quickly. It all starts well before you’re ready to get cooking.
How to Prepare Your Charcoal Grill
Before you light it up, always ensure your grill is free from grime and debris and is completely spotless. This practice improves the taste of your food, is more sanitary, and preserves the lifespan of your grill.
If your charcoal grill is shiny and new, then skip this step for the first use. However, once you’ve used it a few times, you’ll want to scrub the cooking surfaces to ensure your food gets the smoky BBQ flavors synonymous with charcoal grills.
Choose the Best Charcoal Type
Another thing to be aware of for lighting a charcoal grill quickly is to purchase the best type of charcoal. For example, lump charcoal is one of the best types for lighting a grill quickly and easily. This is because lump charcoal burns at a high temperature.
It does, however, burn down quicker than other types of charcoal, such as briquettes, so it’s essential always to keep your eye on the grill and add more when you feel it’s appropriate. Lump charcoal is perfect for those who love to cook burgers or sear steaks, as these meats don’t have a lengthy cooking time.
Arrange Your Charcoal for Optimal Burning
Something to think about once you’ve purchased your charcoal is learning how to arrange it properly, which can dramatically affect how quickly your grill starts.
Unfortunately, randomly emptying your charcoal bag won’t have the same effect as arranging it strategically. Instead, pile your coals into a pyramid or mound. This increases the coals’ contact with each other and helps the fire spread, which means you will be ready to cook faster. Also, lighting the charcoal on the edge of a few blocks helps the flame spread quicker to the other pieces.
How Much Charcoal Should You Use?
When deciding how much charcoal to use, the general rule is the more coal you use, the hotter your fire will be.
A good recommendation would be 20 lump coals if you’re cooking on portable or smaller grills. For larger charcoal grills, around 50-60 lump coals will be sufficient for a sustained fire. Note that on rainy and windy days, you’ll probably need more fuel to keep the fire going. You’ll also probably need to stoke the coals more frequently.
When cooking BBQ food such as burgers and hot dogs, you don’t need an extensive amount of charcoal. This is because these foods cook better on moderate heat. A single layer of coals across the bottom of the grill will do just fine. A lesser amount of coal will start quicker, ensuring a speedy result.
To maintain your grill temperature and ensure it keeps on burning, add around 5 coals at a time, roughly every 30 minutes.
Invest in an Electric Charcoal Starter
Electric charcoal starters are one of the fastest pieces of equipment for lighting a grill quickly. Dramatically reducing the time it takes to heat your charcoal, these tools are an excellent investment if you want to have a quick BBQ. They’re also safer than lighter fluid and don’t harm the environment.
Most electric charcoal starters have two simple settings, heat and fan. These two modes take your coals from cool to hot in mere minutes. The heat setting ignites the charcoal while the fan setting spreads the flames. In combination, the heat and fan features make an electric charcoal starter one of the fastest ways to light your grill quick like a pro.
Fanning the Flames
When lighting charcoal quickly, there are few primary factors to be aware of. By arranging the charcoals in a pyramid and close together, the fire will spread rapidly to the adjacent coals. Be sure to leave enough space between the charcoals that air can flow, providing the fire with oxygen.
You should always use fresh charcoal and never use coal that has been exposed to wet and adverse weather. Cheap charcoal can crumble if it gets wet, turning into a useless powder. High-quality charcoal can sometimes be dried out if it gets wet, making it usable. However, even high-quality charcoal that’s been damp is only suitable for slow-burning and may give off excess smoke. Pre-used or low-quality charcoal will have a dramatic impact on the quality of your grill, not to mention the time it will take to heat up.
Also, because fire needs oxygen to burn, you should increase the airflow if you want your grill to light more quickly. You can do this by using a hairdryer and blowing the hot air onto the coals. You can use other devices that blow air too, such as a heat gun, to fan the flames and ultimately speed up the grill start time.
Final Thoughts on Starting Fast Every Time
With a better understanding of how to start a charcoal grill quickly, you can now ensure you’re arranging your coals correctly and permitting sufficient airflow.
Now it’s time to grill. Choose the right charcoal, ensure there’s enough airflow, and invest in an environmentally friendly electric charcoal starter. Fill your summer with speedy alfresco fun by following these simple tips and techniques. With fantastic food and better company, you’ll make it a summer to remember.