How to Grill with Charcoal: Everything you Need to Know

Summer’s here, and so is the Barbecue season. It’s time to pull out that charcoal grill! But wait, are you a rookie who’s a bit intimidated by this ironed pit of coals? While it may seem like a daunting, scary and a rather difficult task to handle all by yourself – you don’t need to worry any longer. 

In this guide, we’re going to teach you how to grill with charcoal in a hassle-free and easy way. Continue reading and follow along, to make your next barbeque easy and memorable. 

Choose Your Preferred Type of Charcoal

Your choice of charcoal will determine the heat and also heavily influence the flavor of your BBQ. There are a variety of options to choose from, so let’s shed some light on a few different types of charcoals: 

Hardwood/Lump Charcoal

This charcoal comprises mainly wood that transmits the rustic flavor onto your food. One of its major drawbacks is that it runs out quickly and needs to be refilled multiple times. On the other hand, it leaves little to no residual ash, all the while providing you with immense flavor. 

Due to the powerful flavor it gives, it is the go-to pick for seasoned grillers and barbeque enthusiasts. However, it may be a bit costly since you need a sizable quantity, even for one-time use. A bag of 15 pounds may cost something around $14-$18, depending on where you buy it. 

Charcoal Briquettes

Easily available and cheap, these are a staple all year round for all those grillers. These charcoal pieces are made up of sawdust and other wood-based material and last a long time, seldom needing to be refilled. 

However, because of its lack of intensity in terms of char content, the flavor is not as potent and the residual waste produced is quite a lot, which may become a hassle to clean up during the cooking. It is though very economical as one 14-pound bag usually costs around $10.


A neat trick would be to mix them both up, allowing you both a lovely charred flavor and less cooking time because you wouldn’t have to refill as frequently. And of course, some added savings as charcoal briquettes are cheaper.  

Assemble The Tools Needed 

You need the right tools at hand so you don’t burn your food and make a mess! An organized kitchen is the best kind, right? Here’s a list: 

Spatula and Tongs: Keep these close so you can flip your burger patties, turn over the juicy sausages and char those beautiful onions and bell peppers. Spatula and tongs will also prevent you from getting too close and burning yourself. 

Chimney Opener: Also known as a “starter” this is a tool you’ll thank us for. You can easily set up and start your grill without any chemical inflamant. We’ll talk more about how a chimney opener can be helpful in the next section. 

Meat Thermometer/Bamboo stick: To keep your meat juicy and tender, cooked to perfection – this tool is a must to have on hand. With its help, you can check the temperature needed for your medium-rare steak to cook, or your pork tenderloin being grilled to a tender finish. 

Light up your Grill

This is where the chimney starter comes in; it is a chemical-free alternative that doesn’t leave any waxy taste or smell in the food, in contrast to lighter fluids which do. To use this method, simply fold and stuff a bunch of newspapers into the chimney, there’s a rack inside the grill, fill it up to the top with chunks of charcoal. 

And simply light the newspapers. Keep an eye on the color of the coals and wait for them to turn a blistering, glowy red and then white. The process will take around 20-25 minutes and then you can transfer the charcoal onto your grill kettle and prepare to cook. 

Moreover, to measure how much charcoal you need, look at the capacity of the chimney’s canister and how much food you’re cooking and how hot you need the grill. You can fill it up a quarter, half, three-quarters and so forth according to your preference. 

How to Grill with Charcoal: A 3-Step Process: 

After you’ve lit up the grill, you can follow this 3-step guide to grilling your food: 

Step 1: Prepping the Cooking Grate

When the coals are lighting up, use this time to oil and clean the grate as this will loosen up any hardened oily gunk and debris that’s leftover from before. You can scrape or wipe off the grill, depending on the condition. 

To oil it, so your food doesn’t stick to the grill, use a hand towel, or a paper towel, and dip it in oil (Canola, Olive, Sunflower or any oil that you prefer) then brush the grill with it. 

Another very important part of knowing how to grill with charcoal is preheating the cooking grate. This is after you’ve assembled the charcoals and they’ve heated up properly, pit the grate in place and place the lid on top. Leave it for 4-5 minutes for it to heat up. 

Step 2: Managing the Charcoals

This is a crucial step in making sure you don’t wreck your cooking plans. Depending on what you want to cook, you will have to be careful in distributing the coal in the grill. If you plan on cooking everything the same way then you can simply spread the charcoal even beneath the grate. 

But if you want to be more specific, like roasting your vegetables on the grill. And cooking protein like beef and chicken, you ought to look for creating a fire that operates in dual-zones. Which is basically shoving the coal up to one side and leaving the rest relatively light with the coal portions. 

You can then manage the hot zones and cool zones respectively. For instance, items like steaks, shrimp and kebabs should be cooked in the hot zone. While the sides to the mains like vegetables should be cooked in the cool-zone. 

This also helps in keeping you from overcooking the food, especially when using heat that is direct. For heat indirectly effectively, you can do that to keep the food warm, or to tenderize tough pieces and cuts of meat. 

Step 3: Follow the Golden rules of Grilling

When it comes to grilling your food, here are the golden rules you should adhere to: 

Cook your Proteins Right

When cooking your proteins, make sure that you don’t fuss around too much with them. That means don’t turn, flip, press down and slap the meat unnecessarily.

The sweet sizzles may sound lovely, but doing that will only make the protein lose all its moisture and juice which makes it tender and delicious.  

Ideally, you should be flipping over the proteins only once during the cook. And well, if you don’t do that how else are you going to get that lovely sear on your steak with the grill streaks cloaking it? 

Control the Temperature

Remember – a hot grill is what will ultimately make for the best grilling experience. So to keep the grill hot, keep the lid on, if need be refill the canister with more coal and distribute the coal over smartly so it doesn’t burn out all at once. 

Keep a Check on the Vents

The underside and the lid tops have vents, so to control the heat you can shift around their positions accordingly. Opening the vent up will allow in more oxygen and thus the fire will burn hotter. Whereas in a closed lid oxygen supply is limited and the fire will burn at a lower temperature, making it easier for you to slow cook anything you want. 

To Wrap Up

There’s a first time for everything. And even if grilling with charcoal looks challenging at first, practice and patience is all you need. Now you know how to grill with charcoal. Go and smoke some steaks on that blazin grill.