A Detailed Guide On How To Use A Charcoal Grill

With summers almost here, most of you must be prepping your grills for having some memorable cookouts and most importantly delicious food. If you too are a BBQ enthusiast wondering how to use a charcoal grill, stop your search as we have collected all relevant information in this article. 

Read it out and know which types of coal are preferred by BBQ lovers, what the charcoal grilling basics are, and how you can renew your grill every time after cooking. This and a lot more is added to make your outdoor grilling experience worthwhile. 

How to Choose the Right Charcoal Grill 

If you haven’t bought your charcoal grill yet, or are planning to update your BBQ grill, consider the following points making the final choice: 


Charcoal grills are available in a variety of shapes. While kettle, kamado and other egg-shaped grills are most common, it is better to buy a rectangular grill looking somewhat like a gas grill. Such grills grant users the liberty of placing coals away or closer to the food smoker by means of adjustable racks. This, in turn,  gives you better control over the heat. 


Choose the size of your charcoal grill depending upon the number of family members you have or the frequency of gatherings you host. Generally, the cooking area of a grill is measured in inches or square inches. A grill having 16-20 inches capacity is suitable for a family of 4. Whereas, if you love organizing BBQ parties, go with buying a large-sized grill having a capacity of around 25-inches. 


Ventilation is required to control the temperature and airflow of a charcoal grill. The more the airflow, the more heat will be generated. Similarly, burning will be limited if there’s less oxygen. You can find these vents on top or bottom of the grill. Choose a charcoal grill that has one or two vents installed. Ease in adjustability is another considerable option. 

Charcoal Placement 

For some grill types, the charcoal is placed and burnt directly at the bottom. This restricts the airflow around them, hence burning is affected. Rather, find a grill that has a charcoal grate to place and burn the fuel on it. Moreover, the latest models also provide the ease of adding more charcoal to the grill during smoking through access doors. 


Cleaning a charcoal grill is tiresome. You have to collect and dump the charcoal ash scattered in the firebox and the food mess also needs cleaning. Look for a grill with a removable ash bucket, this will make the cleaning easier. 

Choose the Right Fuel

Before struggling to turn on your charcoal grill, you need to understand the types of fuel used. Following are the two common charcoals frequently bought by grillers:  


Briquettes are the most common type of coal used for grilling and can be easily found anywhere. They are made by compressing sawdust, lumps of wood and other additives to ensure a long and even burning time. They are inexpensive and best for grilling foods with long cooking times, like a whole chicken. 

However, some users don’t like the chemical odor or additional flavors they add to the grilled food. The difficulty in lighting and the amount of ash also puts off some people from using briquettes. To avoid these cons, we suggest buying coal without lighter fuel and wait for the coal to be covered in white ash before grilling. 

Lump Wood 

If your budget allows it, hardwood is hands down the best coal for grilling any type of food. Since its composition is based solely on wood, the flavor it renders is natural, clean and smoky. It lights up easily and responds well to air control; hence, enabling you to maintain the precise grilling temperature. 

As they produce little ash, you won’t need to undergo a hectic cleaning procedure. The only drawback is that they burn out quickly. Therefore, you will be required to buy plenty of hardwood to continue long grilling sessions. 

To cut corners, you can mix both of them so the burning procedure is fastened and smoky flavors are also achieved. 

Extra Tip: Store extra charcoal in a cool, dry place, and far away from heat sources.  

3 Ways to Light Your Charcoal Grill 

You can light your charcoal grill in several ways. Here are the 3 most common methods:

1. Use Lighter Fluid 

Arrange coals at the base of the grill in small layers such that they are making a pyramid shape. Now, spritz lighter fluid evenly throughout. Wait for around 20-30 seconds to let the coals absorb the fluid. Next, light the coals using a grill lighter while maintaining a safe distance. 

Do not add extra lighter fluid, wait until the coals turn white, and spread them. Put the grate in place and start grilling. 

2. Buy a Charcoal Chimney 

Instead of the lighter fluid that may add extra flavor, try using a charcoal chimney. Fill the chimney with the desired amount of charcoal but don’t let it overflow. Add any starter that catches fire easily to the bottom of the chimney. Generally, people use old paper, but finding anything that burns at a slower rate (wood chips or paper cups) would be better. 

Fire the starters and wait until flames start to appear. Now is the time to convert coals. Hold the chimney gently, pour the burnt coals and start grilling once they turn white. 

3. Pick an Electric Firestarter 

Stack the coals in the grill’s base following the same way mentioned for lighter fluids. Plugin the electric starter and bring its nose closer to the coals mound. After a few minutes, sparks will start to begin. Now, keep the electric starter a bit away and move it around the pyramid to extinguish fire. 

Once done, remove the firestarter and wait until coals turn while. Start grilling!    

How to Use a Charcoal Grill – The Basics 

Season the Grill Grates 

You don’t want your meat to stick with the grill, right? So, season the grill to make it non-stick and also for its longevity. You can use any oil with a high smoke point like canola, peanut or avocado oil. 

If there is any debris on the grates, start by brushing it away. Next, spray the oil throughout such that a thin, even layer is formed. Light up the charcoal grill and let the oil cook for around 30 or more minutes. That’s all, you are done seasoning your grill! 

Arrange the Coals

Different foods require different levels of heating. Some go well with direct heat while others are suitable for the indirect heating method. If you are grilling, kabobs or shrimps, placing them right over coal is best. 

However, for larger cuts and dishes with a cooking time of more than 20 minutes, we suggest trying the indirect method. Move the coals at one side of the grill, place the food where there are no coals at the bottom and cook them for the recommended time period. 

For searing, keep the meat for a minute or two on direct heat and then transfer on the other side. 

Flip the Food 

Keep an eye on what you are grilling. To cook tender meat, you will need to flip it once or twice during grilling. The best time to turn food is when half of the grilling time has passed. Do not flip too much, or you will miss out on the perfect grilling marks.   

Learn to Handle the Heat

Heating is the most crucial part of grilling. If you are not an expert, keep a meat thermometer alongside to maintain the optimum temperature. The vents on grills can be positioned to control the temperature. Open the vents when you want to raise the temperature and close them to stop heating.  You can also cover the grill with a lid to reach the required temperature quickly.  

What Can You Cook on a Charcoal Grill? 

By now, you must have developed an understanding of how to use a charcoal grill. The next thing is to talk about the extensive diversity of your grill. From all types of meats to all vegetables, everything can be smoked on a charcoal grill. But maintenance of proper temperature is mandatory. Here’s a breakdown of food categories in accordance with the temperature of the grill: 

Foods to Grill on High Heat

High heat means the coals are burning to a temperature of around 700 degrees. Attaining this temperature generally takes 5 to 10 minutes. You can open the grill vents to reach the desired temperature faster. 

Dense food items like burgers and steaks, or vegetables like onion or corn on the cob can withstand high temperatures. Searing is also done best on high heat. Nevertheless, such high temperatures can also lead to burning food. 

Therefore, try maintaining a balance by using both direct and indirect methods for cooking. This will let the high heat do its magic on the topmost layer of food, while the inner juiciness is retained during indirect cooking. After you are done grilling, let the food rest for around 5 to 10 minutes for serving. 

Food to Grill on Medium Heat

Medium heat denotes a temperature of around 500 degrees. Maintaining this temperature will take some 25 to 30 minutes of yours. Food that needs to be thoroughly and evenly cooked is best for medium heat. This includes fish, pork chops, hot dogs or dense fruits like pineapple. 

The meat cooked on medium heat delivers the perfect flavors when coated with a marinade. Leaving the meat to marinate overnight is desirable. However, if you are short on time, add more salt and citrus ingredients to the mixture. This will help the marinade to effectively infuse in the meat within a short time.  

Foods to Grill on Low Heat

Cooking the food on low flame (300 degrees) isn’t recommended. Low temperature will result in drying out the proteins and hence, making the food tough and chewy. With that said, you can use the low heat in combination with high heat to cook food like salmon or large protein pieces. You can also try grilling vegetables like whole onions through this method. 

Done Grilling? Time to Clean Now!  

Brush the grill 

While the grate is still hot, rub a grill brush over it. This will scrape off all the debris or baked-on food stuck to it. 

Soak in Soapy Water 

If the grill still needs some cleaning, prepare a mixture of warm water and dish soap. Dip the grates in it for some time. Now, scrub the grills again to remove all dirt. 

Dump out the Leftover Charcoal  

The burnt coals and debris in the firebox are of no use. Dispose but make sure they are completely dead. If not, pop them in a water bucket before throwing.  

Clean the Grill’s Interior and Exterior

After some grilling sessions, clean the entire grill by using a soapy water mixture and steel wool. This won’t take long but will wipe away all the stuck-on mess from the grill as if it was newly bought. 

Happy Grilling!  

There is a lot more you can do to be an expert griller. Make sure the charcoal grill you buy has the right shape and size that fits well in your backyard and is sufficient for your family. Special accessories like grill brush, wood planks, grill light and a lot more can be bought to grill those right-on-point BBQ kebabs, burgers and much more. The rule is simple – the more you invest, the better it gets. 

So we hope this guide is helpful in learning how to use a charcoal grill and you will now be able to host unforgettable BBQ evenings.