10 Tips for Grilling with Charcoal

10 tips for grilling with charcoal

It’s no wonder why so many Americans love grilling with charcoal. A charcoal BBQ grill gives off a smoky flavor that makes the process of igniting the coals well worth it. Charcoal is commonly found in the supermarket, but cooking with charcoal is more involved than using a gas or electric grill. Once you get the basics under your belt, or should we say apron, you’ll be a charcoal grilling expert in no time!

Here Are 10 Tips For Grilling With Charcoal

1 – Make Sure Your Grill Is Clean

Your grill is an outside appliance. That means it is subject to the elements, animals, and other debris. Even if you keep the cover on when your grill is not being used, the grates will still collect grease and gunk from previous cookouts. Cleaning your grill after each use and storing it under a cover is an excellent habit. It’s as simple as giving your grate a quick scrub with a wire brush after you’re done cooking and before putting out the coals. Doing so can extend the life of your grill and keep your food tasting fresh!

2 – Ditch the Lighter Fluid

When it comes to igniting your charcoal, we urge you not to use lighter fluid or other accelerants. You don’t need them, and they often produce a distinct, unnatural smell. Another reason not to use lighter fluid is that it can affect the taste of your food. We’d also like to mention that some charcoal briquettes may be pre-coated in lighter fluid. Avoid terms like “match light” or similar names. 

We recommend using a charcoal chimney or an electric starter to light your coals. 

3 – Use The Appropriate Amount of Charcoal

The amount of charcoal you need to cook your meal depends on what target temperature you are trying to reach. The more charcoal you use, the higher the temperature inside the grill will be. The following measurements show how much to fill your charcoal chimney, depending on your desired temperature.

  • 450 degrees Fahrenheit or more – Fill your charcoal chimney all the way
  • 350 to 450 degrees Fahrenheit – Fill your charcoal chimney 1/2 way to 3/4 of the way
  • 250 to 350 degrees Fahrenheit – Fill your charcoal chimney 1/4 of the way

It’s also important to note that you’ll need more charcoal than normal on cold, windy, or rainy days.

4 – Choose a Quality Charcoal

Lump charcoal and briquettes are both fine options for grilling. The difference is that lump charcoal burns hotter requires less cleanup, and has no fillers or additives. This makes lump charcoal the preferred method, but we aren’t discrediting briquettes by any means – just as long as those briquettes aren’t pre-soaked in lighter fluid!

The Mad Hatter stocks a wide selection of charcoal, including options from Jealous Devil, Big Green Egg, and more! Click here to shop our premium charcoal brands online!

5 – Enhance the Flavor with Wood

Adding dried wood chunks on top of your charcoal is a great way to enhance the natural smoke flavor. This is a delicious tip for cooking things for longer periods over lower temperatures. If you want to add wood flavor when grilling over higher temperatures, use wood chips that have been soaked in water. Choose whichever style of wood appeals to you, but the most common options are hickory, walnut, and mesquite.

6 – Position The Charcoal In Your Favor

How you position your charcoal will affect what areas of your grill receive heat. Positioning them strategically will allow you to utilize different temperatures as needed. The idea is that you want to set up a two-zone grill with your charcoal. Let us explain. 

A two-zone grill will allow you to utilize different temperatures for different food items. You may need high heat to sear a steak but only low to medium heat to grill some veggies. You can achieve this by distributing a large portion of charcoal on one side of the grill, leaving the other side without charcoal or with less charcoal than the large side. The side with more charcoal will be a higher temperature than the side with less charcoal. This also gives you a “safe zone” to rest food in case of a flare-up. 

7 – Let The Coals Get Nice and Hot

Cooking with charcoal requires more patience than its gas and electric counterparts. Like a traditional oven, a charcoal grill needs time to preheat. When coals are just starting to burn, they produce quite a lot of smoke. This is not the smoke that you want to cook your food with.

Once your charcoal is distributed and lit on the grill, close the lid and let it sit for at least 10 minutes before placing food on the grill. Some experts say it’s best to let the coals sit for longer before cooking over them. A good rule of thumb is that the coals are ready when there is at least some white on all the coals. If some coals are still completely black, wait until they show some white.

8 – Utilize the Grill Vents To Control Temperature

One way to regulate the temperature inside your charcoal grill is by adjusting the top and bottom vents. Charcoal needs oxygen to keep burning, and these vents control airflow through the grill. Opening the vents will make your charcoal grill hotter, while closing the vents will lower the temperature. Please feel free to adjust the vents as much as you need to get the desired temperature.

9 – Put Out and Dispose Of Your Charcoal Safely

To safely put out your charcoal grill, cover the grill and close the vent holes. Your charcoal should be at a safe temperature to throw away after 24 hours. We recommend wrapping your ash or used charcoal briquettes in aluminum foil before throwing them into the trash.

10 – Keep Unused Charcoal Fresh

Charcoal stored in a cool, dry place can stay good for 1-2 years. Open bags should be sealed tightly and kept away from areas with water. Consider keeping your charcoal bag inside a container, such as a small trash can, for more secure storage.