Mistake #: You Used Lighter Fluid Or Match
The Thinking:If I douse my coals in liquid fuel, of course they’ll light faster! It’s logical and it’s a mistake most beginning grillers make. It doesn’t help that match-light coals and lighter fluid are heavily marketed in the grilling aisle at the home centers and supermarkets. It’s easy to understand why so many people buy lighter fluid: Try holding a match underneath a coal and you won’t get very far.
The Reality: After erupting in a mushroom cloud of fire, the flames quickly subside and die. You end up squirting more lighter fluid on the coals in a desperate attempt to keep the fire going . All seems to be going well until you take that first gasoline-scented bite of a hamburger. Truth is, no matter how long you let a fire that was started with lighter fluid burn, you can taste it on your food, and it’s not pleasant.
The Fix: What you really need is a chimney starter. You place some crumpled newspaper underneath it, pack the top with coals, set the newspaper on fire with a single match or lighter, then let it work its magic as oxygen is drawn up and through the coals, lighting them efficiently without the need for any lighter fluid at all.
Your coals will be lit in record time with no risk of adding off-flavors to your food.
How To Start A Charcoal Grill With A Chimney
Members of our Test Kitchen agree when it comes to charcoal chimneys like this. The cooks love em! Its our recommended method for lighting a charcoal grill. Josh explains, A charcoal chimney is my preferred method for lighting coals. A chimney allows for proper ventilation around the coals as they heat, and also allows for easy mobility.
To use a charcoal chimney, start with these steps:
Step 1: Add charcoal to the chimney
Fill your chimney with the amount of charcoal specified by your product. You want your charcoal to reach the top, but not overflow.
Step 2: Place starters under the chimney
Starters will be lit on fire, so you can use any items that catch easily. Many people use newspaper or old paper, but Josh recommends using things you may have around the house that burn more slowly than paper, like paper cups, wood chips, dryer lint or even wax.
Step 3: Light the chimney
Light the starters on fire under the chimney. Keep an eye on the coals for the next 10 or so minutes.
Step 4: Pour coals onto the grill when you see flames
Once you see flames poking through the coals, its time to flip the chimney over. Gently grab the handle and pour the coals out.
Step 5: Top with grate when coals turn white
After a few more minutes, once the coals have turned white, spread them and cover with a grate and get to grilling.
Let Your Grill Heat Up Before Putting The Food On
Just like if you were cooking in an oven, you want to make sure your grill is preheated before putting any food onto the grates. Of course, you also want to make sure the grill racks are clean before placing anything on them.
Once youve got your lit charcoal distributed in your grill, close the lid and let it sit for 5 to 10 minutes before placing any food on the grill. This is where a good digital grill thermometer comes in handy to be able to quickly determine the internal temperature of your grill.
You also want to oil the grill grates before they go over the hot coals and before you put food on. This will prevent the food from sticking to them and allow you to get those nice grill marks.
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Rookie Mistakes To Avoid When Grilling Over Charcoal
While there may still be some argument about it, most people in the know agree that food grilled over charcoal tastes better than food grilled over gas. Yes, gas grilling is quicker and more convenient, but when it’s the weekend and you have all the time you need, charcoal is truly the way to go. For those of us who grew up gas grilling, though, grilling over charcoal can take some getting used to and a little trial and error. Here are five common rookie mistakes that we all make when grilling over charcoal and how to best avoid them.
Don’t: Forget To Use A Chimney Starter To Light The Coals
The single most important part of charcoal grilling is the charcoal itself and the lengthiest part of the charcoal grilling process is readying the coals. You will be tempted to use lighter fluid, but just keep in mind that any lighter fluid you use will end up flavoring your food, which none of us want. Instead, use a chimney starter to the light coals. It’s simple, just pack the bottom of the starter with newspaper and then fill the rest with charcoal. Then light the bottom and let science do the rest. Depending on how much charcoal you’re lighting, make sure to set 15-20 minutes aside to let your charcoal properly heat up before pouring it into the base of your grill.
This tool from Weber is the best-rated chimney starter on the market.
To buy: $30 at
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Using Charcoal Grill To Grill Steak
I love my charcoal grills. Like, I really, really love them. I love them so much that I own 4 different kinds of charcoal grills.
While I do most of my outdoor cooking on them, my favorite thing to cook over flame would definitely be a nice thick medium rare steak.
If youve never had a steak prepared over charcoal, man are you missing out! There is something about the subtle smokey flavor that really makes beef stand out.
In this article, were going to run down what you need to know to be able to grill an awesome steak over charcoal.
How Much Charcoal Should I Use
The answer to this lies in what youre cooking, how much youre cooking and how hot you want the grill.
If you need high heat, youll want a full chimney. If you want lower heat, then theres no need to fill the chimney all the way and wait for the heat of all those coals to dissipate. The numbers below are based on the capacity of a standard charcoal chimney, available at most hardware stores, which holds about 100 briquets.
High heat 450°F to 550°F 1 full Chimney
Medium heat 350°F to 450°F 1/2 Chimney
Low heat 250°F to 350°F 1/4 Chimney
Keep in mind, maximum temperature and the length of the cook depend on how you spread out the coals. If you spread the lit coals in a thin layer across a larger area, temperatures will be lower and the heat will dissipate faster. If your layer is deeper and the coals are more concentrated, temperatures will be higher and stay hot longer.
Exactly how hot are the coals?
The most accurate way to gauge temperature is with a thermometer. However, if your cooker doesnt have one built in, you can use the hand test. Simply hold the palm of your hand about 5 to 6 inches above the grill grate. Leave it there until you have to pull it away. The number of seconds you can keep your hand there gives you an indication of how hot the coals are at the grate.
High heat 450°F to 550°F 2 to 4 seconds
Medium heat 350°F to 450°F 5 to 6 seconds
Low heat 250°F to 350°F 8 to 10 seconds
What is the best way to arrange the coals for cooking?
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Adding Food To The Grill Too Soon
Grilling takes patience especially as its heating up. When you jump the gun and add food before the grill is fully preheated, its very likely to stick to the grates, and it can impart off-flavors on the food if youre cooking with briquettes.
Follow this tip: The grill needs to get good and hot before any food is added. After lighting the grill, cover it with the lid and let the charcoal heat up for at least 15 minutes. Youll know its ready when it looks gray and ashy.
Should I Grill Burgers With The Lid Open Or Closed
It’s best to grill burgers with the lid open. This will help to ensure that the burgers are cooked evenly on both sides.
If you’re using a gas grill, you’ll want to keep the lid open when cooking. This will help to prevent the burgers from sticking to the grill and burning.
However, if you’re using a charcoal grill, you can keep the lid closed. This will help to keep the heat in and cook the burgers faster.
Read Also: How To Maintain Your Grill
The Best Charcoal For Grilling
Weve read through this guide and stand by our current picks.
The right charcoal can make your grilling experience more consistent, produce better tasting food, and leave less clean up. After much research and testing, were convinced that Royal Oak Classic Briquets are the best charcoal for your grill. This charcoal burns hotter, lasts longer, and produces less ash than nearly every other briquet we tested. Its competitively priced, and its available all year from stores such as Home Depot, Kmart, and Walmart.
The Royal Oak briquets lasted longer than other charcoal and burned almost as hot as the best we tested. The consistent size, shape, and quality of the briquets translate to consistently hot temperatures and long burn times.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $10.
In tests, the Royal Oak Classic Briquets, sometimes called Ridge Briquets, sustained average temperatures of about 900 degrees Fahrenheit for an hour and lasted for a total of 80 minutes of cook timethe second-best results of any charcoal we tried, and plenty of heat to produce excellent charring and searing. These briquets left behind less ash than Kingsford Original Charcoal, and didnt impart any unpleasant flavors to our burgers. Weve found Royal Oak charcoal to be widely available in stores like Lowes and Home Depotits often easier to pick up a bag in person than to order it online.
Tip : Use Indirect Cooking For Large Meats
Allen: With a standard grill, the best way to do a long low cook is to use the indirect method. Pour your hot chimney of coals to one side of your grill. This will create two zones, a very hot one on one side and a cooler zone on the other side. Put the meat on the side without coals. Without the heat directly on the meat, you will be able to cook at a lower temperature for a longer period of time. Indirect heat will allow a slow and low cook that will help tenderize large meats.
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Prep Your Grill Grates
This quick coating of oil will prevent food from cooking and will help season the grates the same way youd season a cast-iron skillet.
How To Use Charcoal Sustainably
Over 80% of the charcoal we use in the UK is imported, with a significant amount coming from countries with tropical or subtropical forests and high rates of deforestation, according to WWF. So is it possible to make a more sustainable choice when we buy charcoal?
Of the many certification schemes out there, WWF considers FSC to be the most robust. By choosing coal that’s FSC certified, you can ensure that it was produced in a way that effectively manages forest resources while also being environmentally responsible and socially beneficial.
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When Is Your Charcoal Ready To Grill
Just because the charcoal turns white, doesn’t mean that it is time to cook. Placing hamburgers and steak on the grill as soon as the charcoal ashes will only sear the outside of the meat. When this happens, you will need to leave the meat on the grill longer to ensure the inside is cooked thoroughly. This could potentially leave you with a charred outside and undercooked inside or even a “hockey-puck.” Follow these simple steps to ensure that your charcoal is ready for grilling and that your steaks and burgers come out grilled perfectly.
When All Coals Are Ashed Over Pour Out The Chimney
After about 15 to 20 minutes, youll see the coals starting to glow through the vents and flames starting to flicker over the top layer. Pour when all the coals in the chimney are ashed over. Then spread the coals out.
Learn more about how to arrange your charcoal.
Method 3: How to light a charcoal grill without lighter fluid
Easy-to-light Kingsford® Match Light® Charcoal has just the right amount of lighter fluid added to the briquets, so all you do is light it with a match. This method is perfect for tailgating and on-the-go grilling.
Also Check: How To Butterfly Lobster Tails For Grilling
What To Grill On Low Heat
Christopher Arturo, Culinary Arts chef-instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education, does not recommend grilling at low heat on a charcoal grill for the whole time because the protein will likely dry out. That being said, there are certain foods that do well cooked on high heat and then transferred to an area of the grill at low heat. Folks can do this with larger pieces of protein, like pork chops, as well as fattier fishes like salmon. Arturo also loves grilling a whole onion with this method.
Tip : Use High Heat And An Onion For Grill Cleaning
Matt: After youve finished grilling, open all the vents on your charcoal grill to drive up the temperature. After five minutes, the grates and surfaces will be super-hot, making it easy to clean them with a wire brush. No grill brush? How about an onion? Cut an onion in half and place the cut side down on the grill. Stick a fork in the onion and rub it up and down the grates the natural oils from the vegetable will help clean and season the grill.
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Classic Bread Stuffing Recipe
Keeping a charcoal grill at a consistent temperature is a challenge. The weather, the size of the grill, and the fuel you usehardwood charcoal burns a good 300°F hotter than standard briquettesall affect the strength of the fire. But you do have some control over how hot your fire is when you start to cook. This is important, as the biggest mistake grillers tend to make is starting to cook too soon. For most direct cooking, you want a medium-hot fire, though chops and burgers can benefit from higher heat. Fish and vegetables require a more gentle, medium heat.
No matter what youre cooking, wait until the flames die before starting. Active flames mean the charcoal is still igniting and giving off a fair amount of smoke. At this stage, not only will the flames char the outside of the food without cooking the inside, but the smoke is filled with unburned particles of fuel that will make your food taste somewhat like smoky ashes. .
The best test is the hand test . If the heat forces you to withdraw your hand immediately, you have a very hot fire hotter than any standard kitchen broiler. For a fire thats less hot, wait 8 to 10-minutes and test again. When the coals have cooled to medium, the glowing red bits will be less apparent, and many of the coals will have turned yellow-brown.
How To Light Charcoal Without Lighter Fluid Or A Chimney
If you don’t have a chimney starter, another reliable, yet simple option for starting a charcoal grill is the newspaper method.
1. Place newspaper under the grill grate. Ball up newspaper and place it wherever you wish to place your charcoal. If you plan to have multiple heat zones, place the newspaper in each location charcoal will be. Sprinkle a bit of cooking oil on the newspaper to help it ignite.
2. Arrange the charcoal around the newspaper. Use enough charcoal to cover the newspaper sufficiently while still allowing airflow to encourage ignition.
3. Light the newspaper. Find a piece of exposed newspaper and light it with a long lighter. Remember to light your newspaper in every zone you established.
4. Wait for the charcoal to ignite. This will take a bit longer than it would with a charcoal chimney but the charcoal should all ignite within about 15 minutes. Keep your grill open to let oxygen feed the fire. You’re ready to grill once your charcoal is grayish-white.
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Wait Until Your Charcoal Is Really Ready
It is important to wait until your charcoal is fully gray-white hot in the charcoal chimney before you start adding them to the base of your grill. Waiting until they are will definitely pay off in the end. If you start adding the charcoal to your grill when some of it is still black, it will be much more difficult to control the temperature as you cook.
The black charcoal will eventually ignite and will increase the temperature in certain areas of your grill very quickly. This will make the way youve arranged your charcoals in the grill pointless and will no longer match the desired temperatures.