Charcoal BBQ: The Ultimate Guide

As warmer weather approaches, so does the thought of firing up the grill for a night of outdoor cooking, mouthwatering smells, tasty food, and the promise of good times to be had.

However, nothing can ruin your BBQ more than improperly cooked foods, which typically occurs as a result of either not knowing the right temperature to cook certain foods on, not knowing the proper way to control the grill heat, not knowing the right internal cooking temperatures for a variety of foods, or a combination of these factors, which can result in foods that are perfectly charred on the outside but under-cooked on the inside or foods that are burnt and dried out.

Perfectly charcoal bbq foods should have a nice sear on the outside while remaining tender and juicy on the inside, which can be challenging to accomplish without the right knowledge and tools. In fact, the next time you cook out, simply incorporate the following charcoal grilling tips to help ensure perfectly grilled foods every time.

The Best Way to Light a Charcoal Grill

Let’s begin with the right way to fire up a grill, which has been the subject of many debates throughout time.

Always Begin with the Coals Positioned Closely Together

Positioning the briquettes closely together before lighting them helps the fire spread easily from coal to coal, so they’re ready to use in just 10 to 15 minutes.

Igniting the Coals Using Lighter Fluid

This is the most traditional, and probably the most-loved, way to light a grill. However, when using this method, avoid using too much lighter fluid on the coals as it can give your foods a chemical taste. Simply refer to the recommended lighter fluid amount included in the instructions for best results.

Position the coals in a pile

Place the briquettes into a pile, or pyramid, for coal-to-coal contact, which will help the fire spread easier.

Add the lighter fluid

Carefully squirt a bit of lighter fluid onto the pile of coal, mainly the top and sides of the pile. Quickly light the briquettes after applying the fluid. However, once the coals are lit, avoid squirting lighter fluid on them as this can be hazardous.

Allow the coals to cover in gray ash

As the coals burn and the lighter fluid gradually burns off, the edges of the coals will begin to turn gray. Allow the briquettes to continue to burn until each piece of coal is covered with gray ash. Once the majority of each coal is covered in ash, the briquettes are then ready to be spread out and used. It should take about 15 minutes in total for the coals to become ready.

Igniting Charcoal Using Easy-to-light Coals

Easy-to-light briquettes already contain lighter fluid, so all you have to do is simply light them.

Place the coals in a pile

Place the charcoal into a neat pile to allow each briquette to light and the flame to spread quicker.

Light the briquettes

Once you light just a few of the coals, the fire will automatically spread throughout the rest of the mound. Just be sure to light just the edge of the coals, which will allow them to light easier.

Allow the briquettes to become covered in gray ash

Once the coals are lit, the fire will start to die down, and the edges of the coal will begin to turn gray. Allow each briquette to become almost completely covered in gray ash. Spread the coal out and begin your grilling. It should take about 10 minutes in all for the coals to become ready.

Igniting the Coals Using a Chimney Starter

The chimney starter is a metal cylinder that uses newspaper, or any other type of paper, to fire up the briquettes once they are placed inside the unit. The briquettes sit above the paper so that once the paper is lit, it quickly ignites the edges of the coals, which helps light the entire mass.

Fill the chimney starter with briquettes

Add enough coal to the starter so that it is full. Usually, about 100 briquettes are enough to fill a standard chimney starter; however, you may require less.

Add the paper and light it

Place one to two sheets of newspaper into the bottom of the cylinder. Ignite various spots of the paper. As the paper burns in the lower half of the cylinder, the flames ignite the edges of the briquettes in the upper half of the cylinder. Examine the coals through the chimney vents to ensure the briquettes are ignited, and the edges of the coals are starting to turn gray. If the briquettes are not lit, simply place another piece of paper into the chamber and then light it.
Drizzling the paper with a bit of cooking oil prior to lighting it will help it burn longer.

Pour the briquettes onto the grill rack

Allow the briquettes to burn about 10 minutes, after which time you should observe the coals starting to glow through the vents and the fire flickering over the top portion of the briquettes. At this point, pour the coals out into a pile on top of the rack, and wait until they become mostly covered in gray ash. Once the coals are ready, spread them out, and you are ready to start grilling. It typically takes about 15 minutes in total for coals to become ready.

How to Control Temperature on a Charcoal Grill?

As we all know, charcoal grills do include a setting to read the temperature. Instead, they have vents, also called dampers, on the lid as well as on the grill bottom that enable you to control the heat.

The top vents are designed mostly to either retain smoke and heat or to allow them to escape, while the bottom vents control the supply of oxygen to the grill.

To get the grill off to a roaring start, fully open both the lid and the bottom vents. Once you are ready to begin grilling, if the grill is too hot, allow some of the heat to release by opening the lid vents.

You should also close the bottom vents to decrease the oxygen supply, which will help lower the fire as well as prolong the amount of time the coals burn.

However, avoid fully closing the bottom vents or keep them closed for too long because it could put out the fire. On the other hand, if the grill is not hot enough, simply open the bottom vents a bit more and close the vents on the lid to generate more heat.

You can also use the grill lid to manage the grill’s heat. For instance, to decrease the fire, simply cover the grill with the lid. Meanwhile, removing the lid provides more oxygen to the coals, which helps increase the fire.

For an exact temperature reading, simply gauge the heat coming from the grill using a cooking thermometer, such as the ThermoPro TP20 Wireless Remote Digital Cooking Food Thermometer. Likewise, the internal cooking temperature for your foods can also be gauged using a cooking thermometer, such as the ThermoPro TP20 cooking thermometer.

How to Cook on a Charcoal Grill

When cooking on a grill, using a grill mat, such as the ThermoPro Grill Mat, will help prevent the food from adhering to the grill, which will help make clean up a cinch, and it can be cleaned using the dishwasher.

It also helps prevent small pieces of food from falling through the rack and onto the hot coals, which can cause a burnt odor. It also enables you to use marinades with more confidence because you don’t have to worry about them burning off.

Since different food items require different cooking temperatures, for instance, larger food items such as ribs benefit best from low, slow cooking, while thin steaks require high heat and a shorter cooking time, when grilling, it is recommended that you use a thermometer to gauge the grill temperature, which will help ensure your food cooks at the right temperature. It can also be used to help keep your grill’s heat evenly balanced.

When cooking meats, they are done and safe to eat when they have the proper color as well as the proper internal food temperature, which for beef, pork, lamb, and veal is 145 °F or higher. Meanwhile, fish, seafood, and poultry should be fully cooked, which is when the internal food temperature reaches 165 °F.

What to Grill on High Heat?

Grilling on high heat is the best way to get a perfect sear on the outside of foods while keeping them tender and juicy on the inside. However, only foods, such as burgers, steaks, corn on the cob, onions, and other thicker vegetables are recommended for high-heat cooking. To grill on high heat, open the vents to permit more oxygen to the coals, which will increase the warmth.

You can also create two different heat zones to prevent your foods from burning. To do so, stack more coals on one side of the grill for higher heat cooking, which will allow you to get a great sear on the outside, and then stack the other side of the grill with less charcoal for lower heat cooking, which will allow you to finish cooking the inside of the food without burning it.

When grilling meats, you should always allow them to rest on a cutting board before cutting them to allow for carryover cooking and to retain their juices.

What to Cook on Medium Heat?

Some foods, such as pork chops, fish, chicken, hot dogs, sausages, eggplant, and pineapple, require medium-heat cooking, which enables them to cook thoroughly. Medium-heat cooking is also recommended for cooking foods with marinades because the medium heat will not cause the sauce to burn off.

Grill Cleaning and Storage

Cleaning your grill helps ensure it works efficiently, and it also helps decrease the chance of a fire, which can occur as a result of food build up.

Close the grill lid, which will allow the coals to slowly burn down, or you can use water to cool down the coals. However, never pour or splash water onto the heated coals because it can cause major burns.

Instead, using tongs made of metal, place the briquettes into some water, then place the cooled coals into a trash bag to dispose of them. You should never allow the wet coal or ashes to remain inside the grill because wet coal causes an acidic effect that can quickly rust the grill.

Next, close the grill vents, then using a brush for the grill, brush away any stuck on food.

To remove dry food residue from the grill rack, simply lay some newspaper or paper towels on the rack, and then spray the paper with a solution made of water and mild detergent. Allow the paper to soak the grill rack before cleaning it off.

To keep the bottom of the grill clean, simply line it with a few pieces of foil before placing the briquettes into the grill and then lighting them, which will help make them easier to remove once you’re done. Many grills also include a tray or a grate for the coal to help make it easier to remove used charcoal and ashes, as well.

Lastly, be sure to store your grill using the grill cover, and then simply place it, along with any leftover charcoal, in a safe, dry place until it is ready to be used again.

As an aspiring grill master, there is nothing like having your guests swoon over your food, and still raving about it long after the meal has ended, to make you feel proud. Therefore, it is worth it to learn the proper grilling techniques and internal cooking temps for your foods in order to help ensure your BBQ is a success.