How to Use a Charcoal Grill

How to Use a Charcoal Grill


If you love the flavor of char-grilled cooking and want to make this delicious food on your grill, we can help. We’ll take you through the process step-by-step so that you will know how to use a charcoal grill with confidence. It starts with choosing your charcoal, ignition method and grilling set-up. From there, it’s all about adjusting temperatures and generating wood smoke, that is, if you like wood smoke. And finally, how to safely put out a charcoal grill.

how to use a charcoal grill


Choose your charcoal.

There are two basic types of charcoal: briquettes and natural lump charcoal.

  • Briquettes contain chemical additives to form their shape and make starting the grill easier and much quicker. They burn longer, maintain steady temperature and cost less than lump charcoal.

  • Natural lump charcoal ignites faster, burns hotter and imparts more flavor without any chemical additives.


Choose an ignition method.

Getting your grill started quickly and with minimal hassle is the goal. When thinking about how to light a charcoal grill, lighter fluid is one way to go. However, lighter fluid is a volatile petroleum product, a fire hazard and can be tasted in your food. The best way to ignite your charcoal is using a chimney charcoal starter or fire starters.

  • A chimney starter is a metal bucket-shaped container that holds the coals together. Place the chimney on top of folded newspapers and ignite to quickly and evenly light the briquettes. Once they’re burning consistently, you can dump them out onto the charcoal grate.

  • All-natural fire starters are non-toxic, bundles of tightly wound wood strips that light charcoal easily with no accelerant or harmful chemicals. Simply light the fire starter and the fire starter will light the coals.


Choose a grilling set up.

There are many ways to set up a charcoal grill. The method you choose will depend on the type of heat  is required for the food you’re grilling.

  • Direct heat works well for steaks, burgers, hot dogs and chicken wings. To cook with direct heat, place food on the grate directly above hot coals.

  • When grilling whole chickens, turkeys and roasts, indirect heat is recommended. For indirect heat, place food on the cooler side of the grill away from the hot coals.

  • Pork shoulders, briskets and ribs are best grilled with indirect moist heat. For indirect heat with added moisture, place a pan with water on the grate under or next to your food.

  • And, when you’re grilling meat and vegetables at the same time, zonal cooking is the best way. Arrange charcoal on just one side of the grill for two zone cooking to grill meats directly over the coals and vegetables on the cooler side for indirect heat.


Adjust the grill temperature.

Cooking temperatures are adjusted by increasing and decreasing the amount of air flow to the charcoal. Opening the vents wide results in a hotter fire. Partially closing them incrementally cools the fire and lowers the cooking temperature. Here’s a gauge for how wide to open air vents to achieve specific temperature ranges.

  • 5% ≈ 225°F

  • 25% ≈ 300°F

  • 50% ≈ 350°F

  • 75% ≈ 400°F

  • 100% ≈ 450°F


Generate wood smoke.

To add some wood fired flavor, simply toss some wood chips or chunks onto hot coals, close the lid and you’re smoking.

  • Wood chips generate more smoke for short cooking times.

  • Wood chunks produce a steady smoke for long cooking times.


Extinguish your charcoal.

When the food is cooked, and the buns are toasted, it’s time to extinguish your charcoal. Since fire needs air to breathe, closing the air vents completely will cool the coals more quickly. So, before you walk away, close the vents and wait for coals to cool down.

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