A Crash Course in Charcoal Grills

Grilling is a huge passion among our Total Home Supply staff. From sharing our recipes and grilling tips with our followers to offering our consumers a wide range of outdoor grills and accessories on our website, we certainly equate summer with night after night of deliciously grilled foods. Among our selection of grills is a terrific line of Primo charcoal grills and their many accessories, which are popular items for the way charcoal grills offer folks a more authentic grilling experience and naturally give food all that smokey flavor we have come to know and love about BBQ season. Grilling with charcoal is very different than working with a gas grill, however, and is a skill many people need to learn before they can properly execute a well cooked meal. This week’s topic is a crash course in charcoal grilling, a step-by-step how-to guide to get you started with your very own charcoal grill.

Prepping the Grill

First, make sure vents are clean and working properly. Dirty, rusted, or corroded vents are difficult to adjust and make it harder to control the fire once it is lit (more on this later!)

Then, gather all of your materials. Having the proper grilling materials on hand is important not only for convenience, but for safety purposes, as well.

For grilling, you will need some sort of charcoal starter (you can use anything from long oven matches, a long lighter, or a chimney starter for this), a stick you can use to move burning coals around inside the grill, and of course, charcoal. Many people like to use charcoal briquettes because they are easier to light and generally stay lit longer than real charcoal, but so many chemicals and fillers are used to form the perfect charcoal briquettes that you are better off using real, unprocessed charcoal.

For safety purposes, be sure to have a pair of fireproof gloves – the coals and the grill are going to get very hot. Also be sure to station your grill in a safe place, far enough away from the house or shrubbery. Charcoal grills can pose a danger if tipped over.

Lighting the Grill

Getting your charcoal grill going can be a frustrating endeavor, especially if you are just learning how. Therefore, taking shortcuts like using lighter fluid or easy-to-light briquettes become desirable options, but don’t do it. Like we said, briquettes are full of additives, and lighter fluid is just as bad. Lighter fluid will also add a strange chemical-like taste to whatever you are cooking, so it’s best to just stick with the charcoal as it is and learn the proper way to light it.

The best way to light your charcoal is with a few pieces of newspaper and some sort of lighter – like we said, you may use long oven matches, a long lighter, or a chimney starter for this. Follow these steps for the easiest and safest way to light your grill.

First, take the top grate of the grill off, open the vent at the bottom of the grill, and shape the charcoal in pyramid-style formation at the center of the grill.

Next, insert the newspaper and light it.

Then, once a few of the charcoal pieces look like they have begun to get hot and burn (they will begin to show orange vein-like lines on the sides closest to the fire), stir the charcoal slowly and carefully to distribute the heat and flames throughout the entire pile. It will take a good 10 to 15 minutes for all of the charcoal to be hot enough, so be patient.

Finally, when the charcoal pieces become coated in that white-gray ash, carefully put the grilling grate back in place (remembering to wear your fireproof gloves for this!)

Grilling Techniques

Adjusting heat to the types of food you want to cook is very important on any grill, but is more difficult on a charcoal grill. Charcoal grills, unlike gas grills, do not have an external knob to control the flames – you have to do this yourself. The two most straightforward ways to do this are by knowing how to properly arrange your charcoal and how to manage heat once the flame is in full-force.

Positioning coals – How you position burning coals depends on what kind of food items you plan to cook, and the size/weight/density of these items. For thinner items and foods that will cook more quickly (vegetables, thin steaks, or fish, for example) spread the coals evenly across the bottom of the grill for an indirect flame. For thicker items (thicker steaks, burgers, chicken, etc.), arrange the coals higher on one side than the other. You’re going to want to start these foods out on the side of the grill with the higher pile of coals (and thus higher heat), then move them over to the side with the lower pile (and thus lower heat).
Managing heat – You want to begin grilling with the vents open, to get the fire off to a raging start. Cooking over high heat is sometimes ideal, but leaving the vents open too long may cause the fire to become a little bigger than you intended. Slightly closing the vents (again, wearing fireproof gloves!) is an easy way to manage the fire and heat from your charcoal grill, but be careful not to leave the vent closed completely for too long, otherwise you run the risk of prematurely extinguishing the flame altogether. Opening and closing your grill’s lid is also an easy way to manage heat – open the lid to grow the fire, close the lid to settle it down (closing the lid of your charcoal grill can also work to seal in some authentic smokey flavor). Always use a grill thermometer or instant-read food or meat thermometer to keep track of your grill’s temperature.

Extinguishing the Grill

This is arguably the most important thing to know how to do. Why spoil a fantastic charcoal-grilled meal by burning the house down? Charcoal can (and will) stay hot for up to 24 hours, so it is crucial to know how to properly and safely wrap up your grilling endeavor for the night.

One of the things you should never do to extinguish a charcoal grill is throw water on it. The steam it will create can cause serious burns that even your fireproof gloves cannot save you from. Instead, start by simply closing all vents and the lid of the grill. This will naturally put out the flame due to lack of oxygen.

Once all the flames are out, carefully (and still wearing your fireproof gloves!) open the lid and use wet paper towel or newspaper to cool down the cooking grate. Remove the grate and place in a safe location (in case it is still hot), and use a pair of tongs to dip coals in water, removing the ash and extinguishing any remaining embers. Do not place coals directly back into the grill, as there will be ash left over at the bottom of the grill, as well. Dispose of the ash, then place the still-salvageable pieces of charcoal back in the grill. These pieces can be re-used the next time, as long as you give them time to dry out. Clean off the grilling grate with water and gentle soap and place back on the grill.


What have you grilled on your charcoal grill so far this summer? Let us know in the comments section!

Kristen Turner

Featured blogger for Total Home Supply.


Leave a Comment

Please be polite. We appreciate that.
Your email address will not be published and required fields are marked