There’s nothing that quite encapsulates the feeling of summer better than the smell of a charcoal grill being fired up in the sunshine. While a lot of people prefer the ease of a gas grill, there remain a large amount of dedicated charcoal fans who staunchly believe that there’s no replicating the flavor of cooking food over charcoal.
One thing’s for sure, mastering the skill of using a charcoal grill means you’ll be sure to have some delicious tasting food as well as some great memories to look back on.
But before you get started, it’s important to learn some of the basics of charcoal grilling. Without taking these into account, it can be a daunting task to get right.
Firstly, you’ll need to fire up the coals. There are a few different types of charcoal out there you can use with each designed to suit different needs in terms of heat and flavor. Traditional briquettes are inexpensive, light easily and can burn consistently for a long time. The only downside is that they produce a significant amount of ash to clean up afterwards.
On the other hand, hardwood or lump charcoal has the ability to impart more flavor to the food you grill. Because of this extra flavor, which is often intense and smoky, many experienced grillers prefer hardwood charcoal. It also burns quicker than briquettes, producing less ash and waste. It’s worth noting that you can use a mix of both charcoals if you wish to cut costs while still achieving a smoky flavor.
Once you’ve picked your choice of charcoal, you’ll need to light your grill. Just before this however, make sure to open the vents as the fire will need oxygen to keep going. When it comes to lighting a grill, there are plenty of different methods.
Using lighter fluid is the method the majority of people think of when wanting to start a charcoal grill. All you need to do for this simple method is spritz the fluid evenly over the coals, let it absorb for around half a minute, then toss a match in and away you go.
Another simple and popular way of lighting your grill is the fluid-free method of the chimney starter. This is the method of choice for many picky grillers who are sensitive to the flavor of lighter fluid. Again it’s relatively simple, just stuff a sheet or two of newspaper into the bottom of the chimney and fill with charcoal.
Then light the paper at the bottom and wait for this to heat up the coals until they’re covered with white-gray ash; this usually takes about 20 minutes. Once ready, remove the top grate of your grill, hold the chimney by its handles, and pour them into your grill kettle.
A great indication of how hot your coals are, is the color of them. You’ll ideally be aiming for them to be white to glowing red for cooking. If you can see a lot of dark gray or black, they’re probably not ready. Another effective way of telling if your grill is ready is by hovering your hand about four inches above the coals.
The sweet spot for grilling is if you can only keep your hand hovering over them for a few seconds before it starts to really heat up. If however, you can comfortably hold it there for longer than five seconds, your coals will still need to heat up further.
When it comes to the exciting part of cooking your food, it’s recommended that you arrange your coals from direct and indirect heat. By pushing your charcoal to one side inside your grill, this will create an area that is hotter and ideal for you to do all your direct heat grilling.
The foods that are typically grilled with direct heat are sausages, shrimps and any other food that you want to be seared. The side without the coals will still be hot, just not scorching. This indirect heat area is perfect for foods that take longer than 20 minute to cook like larger cuts of meat. The indirect heat area of your grill is also incredibly useful for keeping foods warm.
Can I use a charcoal BBQ at home?
Yes, of course. Charcoal BBQs are brilliant for garden parties and family gatherings at home. If you’re looking to use one inside a garage or in an enclosed space however, it’s highly recommended that you don’t, even if it’s raining outside. This is mainly because burning charcoal produces carbon monoxide, a colorless and odorless gas that can be deadly when burned indoors or in other enclosed areas such as a tent.
Other potential dangers of using a charcoal BBQ at home include the obvious risk of children being too close to the heat of the grill, as well as keeping things like charcoal fluid out of the reach of children and pets.
How much charcoal do I need for a BBQ?
This is an important consideration if you want to master the skill of charcoal grilling. If you use too much charcoal you’ll risk wasting valuable fuel, whereas if you use too little, your grill will struggle to get hot enough or won’t be able to maintain a good temperature. Ultimately, the amount of charcoal you’ll need to use will be dependent on what you’re cooking and the type of grill you have.
Working to a general rule of thumb, many believe that the ideal ratio of BBQ charcoal to meat is 1:1. In other words, for every kilogram of meat, you’ll need a kilogram of briquette charcoal or 1.5 kilograms of hardwood lump. It’s worth noting that this ratio can change depending on whether you’re cooking your food all in one hit or staggering the cooking over a period of time.
Where does charcoal go in a grill?
As mentioned above, one of the most popular ways of lighting a charcoal grill is to use the chimney starter method. This involves placing your charcoal first of all on top of scrunched up newspaper, before igniting the paper through one of the holes on the side of the chimney.
Once the flames have travelled up the coals and they’re ashed over (usually takes around 20 minutes), you can then lift up the grill grate of your BBQ and gently dump the coals into the grill. It’s recommended to lay an even layer of charcoal for fast-cooking foods. You can then separate your charcoal into direct and indirect areas of heat if you need to.
How do you clean a charcoal grill?
It’s best to clean the grill straight after cooking while it’s still hot. This can be done using a stiff-wire grill brush which should be used every time you grill to ensure food particles are removed from the cooking surface.