Grilling with Charcoal: A Guide

We at Char-Griller produce several different types of grills.  We have propane grills, dual fuel grills, Kamado style grills, and standard charcoal grills.  We started out with charcoal grills, because they are popular, straightforward, and a classic choice for the avid griller.  Using charcoal is an art, as many of  you know, and it’s one that takes time to master.  However, to get you started, we want to bring you a brief guide to grilling with charcoal.

Charcoal Choices

The two main types of charcoal to choose from are charcoal briquettes and lump charcoal.  Charcoal briquettes are essentially compressed charcoal made from sawdust, mixed with a binder such as starch to hold it in a uniform shape.  Briquettes look like this:


The other type, lump charcoal, is made directly from petrified wood.  Its shape is naturally-occurring, and looks more like a piece of wood than a brick.  We generally recommend it because it produces less ash than briquettes do, and it contains no additives or fillers, which makes for more efficient burning, a nicer flavor, and an all-natural grilling experience, too!  Lump charcoal looks like this:

Lighting the Charcoal

There are several different methods for lighting charcoal of either type.

METHOD #1: To light charcoal briquettes, stack 50-60 briquettes in a pyramid on your firegrate.  Saturate with lighter fluid, or use a fire starter briquette made of sawdust and wax.  (Use lighter fluid at your own risk, as it can cause your food to have an unpleasant taste.)  Light coals in several places, and close lid of grill.  After the briquettes turn gray and ash over, spread the coals out and start cooking.

METHOD #2: Use a charcoal chimney to start your coals.  Fill the top of the chimney with the desired amount of either lump charcoal or briquettes, place a highly flammable firestarter material (such as newspaper) in the bottom portion, and place the chimney on your cooking grate.  Light the newspaper underneath, and let burn until the charcoal on top of it catches fire.  Once the coals have turned gray and ashed over, dump them onto your firegrate, and you’re ready to cook.  An alternate method of using the chimney would be to fill the top with charcoal and place on a lit propane side burner, if you have one, until the coals have ashed over.

METHOD #3: This is specifically for Kamado grills, but can be applied with some modifications to any charcoal grill.  Make a pyramid of about 1 1/2-2 lbs. of lump charcoal in the center of the firegrate (about the weight of 2 12-oz. sodas).  Light using a charcoal chimney (see above) or a fire starter, which usually takes the form of a briquette of sawdust and wax.  Leave the lid open until the coals are lit, and there is no more black smoke coming from them.  The smoke should be white or clear, and there should be no flames coming from the coals.  Fire starters or starter sticks (we recommend using starter sticks without kerosene, fats, or scents) should be completely burned away before you start cooking.

Regulating the Temperature

Use your dampers (both on your smokestack and on the side or bottom of your grill) to regulate the flow of oxygen to your fire, and thus your temperature.  Different models will work differently; for example, the Kamado grill is designed with a completely different smokestack and ashpan assembly than our barrel-style grills.  However, in general, you can assume that the more you open the damper next to the coals, the hotter the fire will be, because more oxygen is being allowed to get to the fire.  For our barrel style grills, like the Super Pro, Outlaw, and Wrangler, the long smokestack has a flap damper on it.  To keep the heat trapped in the grill and raise the temperature, keep this flap closed.  On the Kamado, keep the top smokestack damper open for more heat.  If you have an adjustable firegrate ashpan, you can use its height to regulate how close your coals are to your food.

After Grilling – Extinguishing and Dumping the Charcoal

In general, you can simply close the lid of the grill, latch it if applicable, close all dampers, and allow the fire to suffocate until the coals are no longer burning.  Wait several hours and dump the ashes when they are completely cooled.  Make sure not to leave them much longer than that, because leaving ash in your ashpan can cause premature rust and deterioriation in the ashpan.

Be sure to stay safe when cooking on a grill.  When in use, keep your grill at least 15 feet away from your house and anything flammable.  And above all, enjoy the experience.  Happy grilling!


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