How to Cook on a Charcoal Grill


If you are wondering how to cook on a charcoal grill, then you've come to the right place.

Using a flame is the oldest method of cooking. Cooking on a charcoal grill is a high-heat cooking method where food is cooked quickly. To barbecue in this manner, it is best to select tender, smaller cuts of meat, vegetables, pieces of chicken - anything that can benefit from a relatively quick cooking time over high heat.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Charcoal Grilling

When learning how to cook on a charcoal grill, the first question to ask yourself is whether you will use charcoal or gas. Both types of grills are widely available.

Advantages of Charcoal

  • The main advantage of cooking on a charcoal grill is flavor. Most cooks agree that charcoal imparts a flavor to the food that you just can't get from gas grilling.
  • Another advantage of learning how to cook on a charcoal grill is economic. Charcoal grills are typically far less expensive than gas grills and charcoal is a readily available fuel source.
  • Charcoal burns hotter than gas. This is necessary for many of the types of high-heat cooking done on charcoal grills.

Disadvantages of Charcoal

  • Charcoal can be highly unpredictable. It often heats unevenly, which can cause cooking times to become a moving target.
  • Charcoal takes forever to heat up. Lighting charcoal for a grill can often take a Herculean effort.
  • Charcoal heats unevenly. It is prone to having hot spots and cooler spots, requiring you to move whatever you are grilling around to find just the right temperature.

What to Look for in a Charcoal Grill

A quality charcoal grill needs to have the following:

  • Sturdy legs that don't wobble
  • A firebox made of a heavy metal
  • A tight fitting lid
  • A grate at the bottom of the firebox to hold the charcoal
  • A sturdy cooking grate that can be raised and lowered easily
  • Air vents in the lid and in the bottom of the firebox for temperature control
  • Heatproof handles

Types of Charcoal

When learning how to cook on a charcoal grill, it is best to give consideration to what type of charcoal you will use because the type you select influences the flavor of the end product. There are three basic types of charcoal:

  • Charwood is made by burning lumps of wood in a kiln. It burns clean and hot, and imparts a smoky wood flavor to foods.
  • Natural briquettes are made from pulverized charwood, held together by starches. This is a less pure form of charcoal, and imparts less smoky, woody flavors than charwood.
  • Composition briquettes are made from burned wood and scraps of wood. They are held together by paraffin or petroleum binders. The least expensive of the three, they also are the most likely to cause hot and cold spots and impart the least amount of smoky flavor to foods.

How to Cook on a Charcoal Grill

Step 1 - Build your Fire

  1. Start with enough coals to cover the base of the heatbox. Or, if you are only cooking a small amount of food, use enough coals to cover an area that is about three inches larger than the food that you will be cooking.
  2. Put the briquettes in a chimney starter on top of a few crumpled up balls of paper.
  3. Put the chimney on the bottom grate of the barbecue and touch a match to the paper in the bottom.
  4. When the coals are covered in a thin layer or gray ash, they are ready (this takes about ten minutes). Lift the chimney and dump the coals in the grill.

Step 2 - Clean and Oil Your Grate

  1. While you are waiting for the coals to heat up, wash your grate.
  2. Once the coals have been spread along the bottom of the barbecue, put your grate in place.
  3. Dip a paper towel in vegetable oil with a high smoke point, such as grape seed oil. Using long handled tongs, use the paper towel to lightly oil the grate.

Step 3 - Direct Grilling

This type of grilling is good for relatively thin or small cuts of meat such as steaks, chicken, and pork chops.

  1. Place your meat on the grill and let it sear in place, for about four minutes without moving the meat. If you'd like criss-crossing grill marks, turn the meat 90 degrees and let sear for another few minutes.
  2. Turn the meat over and repeat step one on the other side.
  3. Now cook your meat, turning frequently, until it reaches desired doneness.

Step 4 - Indirect Grilling

If you are cooking a larger cut of meat, such as a ribs or a whole chicken, then you will want to use the indirect grilling method.

  1. Divide the charcoal and push it to both sides of the grill, leaving a spot with no coals in the center.
  2. Place a drip pan in the center of the firebox where there are no coals.
  3. Place your cut of meat over the drip pan.
  4. Cover the grill tightly.
  5. This method, often referred to as "low and slow" can take several hours. You will need to replenish your coals from time to time by adding 10 to 12 fresh briquettes to each side.
  6. Low and slow lends itself well to adding smoke flavor. To add smoke, soak wood chips or chunks and then place in a foil packet with slits cut in it. Nestle the packet in the coals with the slit side up. Open the top vent of the grill to draw the smoke up and across the meat.

That's it. You're ready to make delicious grilled foods on your charcoal grill. .

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