Charcoal Barbecue Grill

Your charcoal barbecue grill is a versatile piece of outdoor cooking equipment. With it, you have the ability to slow smoke a brisket, grill a steak, or barbecue chicken. Using a charcoal grill to its full potential is all about temperature control.

Charcoal Grill Techniques

With a charcoal barbecue grill you can...

  • Grill foods directly over low, medium or high heat
  • Barbecue and roast foods using indirect heat
  • Slow smoke foods
Each method requires a different method of setting up and burning the charcoal. With practice and patience, anyone can master these charcoal barbecue grill cooking techniques.

Grilling Over Direct Heat

The most common use for a charcoal grill is grilling over direct heat. Grilling meats and veggies browns the exterior, adding great flavor and texture to the food.

The steps for setting up your charcoal barbecue grill for direct heat grilling are:

  • Lighting the Charcoal - Four Methods
    • Using a charcoal chimney is the best method of lighting charcoal. No lighter fluid is used that could add off-flavors to the food. Just add crumpled paper into the lower section, and your charcoal to upper section. Light the paper, and in 15 to 20 minutes, the charcoal is ready to arrange in the smoker.
    • Arrange the charcoal in a pyramid shape and light with a propane torch. Light several briquettes and the entire pile will be burning in no time. Then you arrange the charcoal in the grill as desired.
    • Use an electric charcoal starter. These are convenient and do a great job at lighting the coals.
    • My least favorite method is using lighter fluid. It's an effective way to light charcoal, but it tends to give food a petroleum like taste. If you do use charcoal lighter fluid, use a small amount and then make sure the charcoal is completely ashed over before you start cooking.
  • Arrange the Charcoal
    • For high temperature grilling light enough charcoal so the pile is two or three briquettes deep under the cooking area. The briquettes should only cover one-half of the grill...the other half will be the "cool" area, where the food is moved to finish over indirect heat.
    • When medium temperature grilling, follow the directions for high temp grilling, but light just enough charcoal to cover the cooking area with one layer of briquettes.
    • When low temperature grilling, arrange the charcoal so there is space around each briquette. Use 1/2 to 2/3 as much as you would when grilling over medium heat.
  • The Grate
    • Position the grate and oil it lightly with vegetable oil. An oil soaked paper towel held with tongs works great for this step.
  • Grilling the Food
    • Place the food on the grate over the charcoal and put the cover on the grill. Leave the vents open to provide air for the burning charcoal.
    • In general, thinner cuts can be cooked entirely over direct heat. Thicker cut are grilled over direct heat until browned and partially cooked, then placed over the cooler part of the grill to finish with indirect cooking.

Grilling With Indirect Heat

With this method, the food is never directly over the charcoal. Cooking time can be longer with the indirect method, and may require the addition of more charcoal as the food cooks. This method is used when barbecuing and roasting foods.

  • Light the briquettes as described above. Arrange the burning charcoal into two piles, opposite each other on the outer edge of the grill. Figure on using 20 to 30 briquettes on each side, depending on the size of your grill.
  • Place a heavy duty aluminum pan between the charcoal piles, directly under where the food will be placed. Fill it halfway with water. You can add spices, herbs, veggies, beer or wine to the water to add flavor to the food as it cooks.
  • Place the food on the grate over the water pan and cover the grill.
  • Every hour, add more charcoal briquettes to the piles...between 5 and 10, depending on the grill size.

Slow Smoking In Your Charcoal Barbecue Grill

To smoke food in your charcoal grill, use the indirect method described above. Use less charcoal when starting up the grill, and add less every hour. For smoke, wrap a small amount of smoker wood chips in aluminum foil and place the packet directly on the hot coals. One or two foil packs may be all you need to add smoky flavor to your food.

Partially close the lower air vents to slow the burn rate of the charcoal and to maintain a lower temperature. This is something that will take some experimentation and practice, since grill design and type of charcoal used will both affect the temperature.

Use your instant read thermometer through the vent at the top of the lid to measure the grill temperature. Meaure directly over the food, and not over the charcoal. Try to maintain a temperature of 225-250 degrees Fahrenheit by adjusting the lower vents. Always leave the top vent on your charcoal barbecue grill open to allow the smoke to circulate past the meat. If not, your food may end up oversmoked and bitter tasting.

With these techniques, you can use your charcoal barbecue grill to cook over direct heat, to slow smoke, or to barbecue up some mighty fine eating.

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Charcoal Barbecue Grill