How To Use A Charcoal Grill For Beginners (A Complete Guide)

Although charcoal might be scary, following the simple techniques listed here will have you grilling like a pro in no time!

Grilling is a great way to sizzle your suppers in the summer (and, if you’re adventurous, even in the winter!). While some people prefer the convenience of a gas grill, we know some prefer charcoal. After all, you can’t get that flavor anywhere else!

Before getting a bag of charcoal and buying your first grill, you’d better learn how to use a charcoal grill alongside helpful tips for a beginner.


Step 1: Choose Your Charcoal

There are several varieties of charcoal, which might be perplexing. While the type of charcoal you use has no bearing on the flavor, it influences the amount of heat produced and how long the coals stay hot. But, there are two types of charcoal when it comes down to it: lump charcoal and briquettes.

  • Lump charcoal has a more natural composition, making it a favorite among grilling purists. Cherry, coconut shells, mesquite, and tamarind are common ingredients. It burns hotter and quicker than briquettes because it is not compacted. It also has a less ashy appearance. Because it’s challenging to pile lump charcoal uniformly, grillers prefer to use it for low-and-slow cooking, such as pork, ribs, and brisket.
  • Briquettes are largely made of sawdust, with additional binding materials added to give them their pillow shape. Briquettes’ consistent size provides a regular unit of fuel, making it easier to control a more accurate fire. Briquettes burn a bit cooler than lump charcoal, so they’re best for meals that require less time to cook, such as steak or fish.

Building a mixed fire using some briquettes and some lump charcoal is one method to achieve some of the benefits of lump charcoal without the negatives. This will allow you to generate a hotter fire for searing while maintaining a more constant temperature for extended cooking durations.

Step 2: Light Your Charcoal Grill

Fill the starter with charcoal

Place a quantity of charcoal in the chimney starter dependent on the temperature you need to attain. In general, more charcoal is required to reach a more significant temperature.

Remember that how many coals you use, how long you cook your meal, and how far apart you distribute the embers all impact the temperature. The temperature will be lower if the briquets are spread out far apart. It will concentrate the heat and stay hotter if you build a deeper bed of charcoal.


Ignite your charcoal

It’s time to fire the chimney after you have the right amount of charcoal. We recommend something similar to a non-toxic Weber lighter cube. The most crucial thing to remember is to stay away from lighter fluid, which may be pretty hazardous.

Place the cubes on the grate of the charcoal grill and fire them. Place the complete chimney starter over the cube after they’ve got going, and wait for the charcoal to turn white-hot and ashy-looking. For the full impact, this process should take around 15 minutes. You may then distribute the hot coals into the grill after this has occurred.

When working with hot charcoal, always be cautious. To protect your hands, chest, and clothes, put on some insulated gloves and a sturdy apron.

Step 3: Decide Between Direct And Indirect Heat

Grilling directly over a bed of hot coals is known as direct heat. Spread a single layer of charcoal on the grate to prepare for direct heating. This layer will create a grilling zone for your meal. Keep a little piece of the charcoal handy for any flare-ups.

Cooking food near the flame (not directly) means that you’re using indirect heat. A protective plate can also be used to shield food. Arrange the coals around the grill’s borders to cook meals over an indirect heat source. As you move from direct to indirect heat, you may also utilize a charcoal basket to keep your hot charcoal.

Step 4: Adjust The Temperature

High heat

The coals take around 5 to 10 minutes to reach high heat (about 700 degrees). High heat is suitable for steaks, burgers, and thick vegetables such as corn on the cob and onions.

The most uncomplicated technique to obtain that perfect sear on the exterior while keeping the interior juicy is to grill high heat. Then, open the vents to let more oxygen in and raise the temperature. Close the vents to lower the temperature, but not totally, or the fire will die out.

Create a two-fire zone while grilling on high heat: stack more coals on one side of the grill for higher-temperature cooking and less charcoal on the other side of the grill for lower-temperature cooking. Sear for foods in the hot zone, then shift to the cooler area to finish cooking without burning.

Allow the meat to rest for five minutes on a cutting board after grilling. A board with a groove around the circumference is ideal because it catches all of the fluids released by the steak.

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Medium heat

To get the grill to medium-heat temperature, it takes around 25 to 30 minutes (about 500 degrees). Pork chops, poultry, fish, uncooked hot dogs and sausages, and heavier fruits and vegetables like pineapple and eggplant should be cooked on medium heat.

Marinades are used in a lot of medium-heat proteins (they will burn off on high heat). Foods may be marinated overnight in a zip-top bag that fits conveniently in the fridge and completely envelops the meat. If you’re short on time (you won’t be able to cook it overnight), increase the quantity of salt (soy sauce) and acid (citrus) to permeate the meat more rapidly, cutting down on time substantially.


Low heat

Because the protein will likely dry out, Christopher Arturo, Culinary Arts chef-instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education, does not advocate cooking at low heat (about 300 degrees) for the entire period on a charcoal grill. However, certain dishes benefit from being cooked on high heat and then moved to a low-heat region of the grill. Larger cuts of meat, such as pork chops, and fattier fish, such as salmon, can be used in this way. With this approach, Arturo also enjoys grilling a whole onion.

Step 5: Clean Your Charcoal Grill

Using a stiff-wire grill brush, you should clean the grill soon after cooking while it’s still hot. To eliminate food particles from the grilling surface, use it every time you grill.

You may rubber your grill grates with a peeled half onion instead of using wire brushes, which may leave tiny wires and pieces of metal behind. Let the grill reach a high temperature before using it. With a fork, pierce the half onion and rub the sliced side on the grill grates. The onion juices will generate steam, which will remove the pieces and burnt debris.

Check out this video for a guide on how to clean a charcoal grill:


As a newcomer to charcoal grilling, it’s critical to have fun while staying safe. Hope that you have grasped all our tips on how to use a charcoal grill for beginners, as demonstrated above. Note that it’s easier to build the chimney starter and light the briquettes since you can prepare your ideal steak in no time. Happy cooking!

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