How to Use a Charcoal Grill Correctly – Avoid Common Mistakes

How to Use a Charcoal Grill Correctly - Avoid Common Mistakes

For many people, cooking meat on a charcoal grill is the classic barbecuing experience.  Food cooked with charcoal has a unique smoky flavor that’s hard to imitate with other types of grills.

Charcoal grills are easy to use. However, people make several common mistakes when grilling with charcoal that you should watch for your first time.

Whether it’s using lighting fluid to start the grill or keeping the vents closed, avoiding these common mistakes is essential to have an excellent grilling session. The easiest way for beginners to get comfortable is to follow some simple steps


Choose the Correct Charcoal

There are two types of charcoal you can use to grill. Charcoal briquettes are inexpensive, easy to use, and burn for a long time. This type of charcoal also tends to keep a steady temperature. For beginners, briquettes should be the first choice. 

The other type of charcoal is hardwood charcoal, also called lump charcoal. This type provides a smokier and more intense flavor. However, it’s a bit more challenging to use since it burns faster and produces intense heat. Both types of charcoal are readily available at any of the big supermarkets across the United States. 


Use the Right Utensils

To use a charcoal grill correctly, you will need the right tools for cleaning and operating the grill. A crucial tool for charcoal grilling is a charcoal chimney. This is a must-have for people who love charcoal grilling. It helps save time and makes the whole process much more manageable

A common mistake when starting a barbecue is using lighting fluid. You should avoid this for safety reasons and because it gives food an unsatisfactory chemical flavor. A much better option to help light charcoal is with wax cubes. These are odorless and non-toxic. 

For cooking and cleaning utensils, you’ll need a stick lighter, a charcoal rake, a wire brush, and some tongs. Using a regular lighter is difficult because you will reach inside the chimney to light the charcoal. The charcoal rake isn’t necessary, but it helps scrape ash off the grill and move around the charcoal if you want to make an indirect heating area. 


What to Do Before Lighting the Grill

Using a charcoal grill is relatively simple, but you should follow several easy steps to avoid making time-consuming mistakes. First, you need to clean and prepare the grill. Once it’s ready, you can start lighting the charcoal. When the charcoal is hot and ready, you can start cooking. 

Place the grill in a spot where you can safely cook. For example, avoid placing the grill right underneath trees or less than 10 feet from your home or other structures. 

Before cooking, clean the inside of the grill. When you clean the grill, your food tastes much better, and you avoid possible flare-ups. Take off both the cooking grate and the charcoal grate down below, and scrape off as much ash as you can from the sides of the grill. For this, you can use a wire brush or charcoal rake.

Some charcoal grills have a lever on the bottom that you can turn to push the ash into the catcher underneath the grill. Finally, toss out all the old ash so the grill is completely ready for a new cooking session. 


How to Light the Grill

Once the grill is ready, you can begin lighting the charcoal. Before handling charcoal, open all the vents on the grill. Air and fire are the two main things you need to start a great barbeque. Closing the vents slightly while cooking can help regulate the temperature. 

Two Methods For Lighting a Grill

There are two ways you can light the charcoal chimney. You can use an old newspaper or some wax cubes. If you want to use a bit of newspaper, put it underneath the chimney and place the chimney on the charcoal grate. Then, fill the chimney with charcoal and light the newspaper using a stick lighter. If you want to use wax cubes, place them at the center of the grate, light them up, and put the chimney right on top of the wax cubes.

Wait Until The Charcoal is Hot

For meats such as hotdogs, hamburgers, chicken breast, and steaks, the chimney doesn’t need to be full. About ¾ is the optimal amount of charcoal. The most important thing is to wait about 20 minutes while the charcoal is getting hot. You can use this time to season and prepare your meat. 

Spread the Charcoal on the Grate

A mistake some beginners make is not knowing how to spread the hot charcoal on the grate. The best way to spread the charcoal is to create a hot and a cool side. Using this method, you’ll have both a direct and indirect heat area. Use the hot zone for searing meats and the cool zone to finish cooking. When the charcoal flares up, you can quickly use the cool zone to avoid burning your meats. 

Using direct and indirect heat is excellent for steaks and chicken. For thinner meats and vegetables, use direct heat by spreading the coal all over the grate. You can change the heat halfway during a cooking session with a charcoal rake. 

Preheat the Upper Grate

The last mistake beginners make is that they start cooking right away after the charcoal is ready. You should preheat and oil the upper grate to prevent food from sticking to it. After spreading the charcoal on the lower grate, cover the grill with the lid and wait for about 5 minutes. The lid’s vent should be on the cool side of the grill

After five short minutes, the grill will be heated to around 400°F. Now that the grate is hot, briefly clean it with some aluminum foil and tongues. Try not to use a wire brush for this since small pieces of wire can stick to the grate and end up in your food. Finally, use a bit of olive oil on a piece of paper towel and oil the grates.  


Enjoy the Smoky Flavor of Charcoal Grills

Following these simple steps can help you avoid common mistakes and make the best of each grilling session. Remember, don’t use lighting fluid to start a grill; keep the vents open to keep the fire going, and use two heating zones for searing and cooking meats.

When you implement these tips correctly, you’ll look and feel like a pro after just a few rounds of charcoal grilling.  

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