Here's what you need:
- A Clean Charcoal Grill - Ashes and debris block vents and make fire control difficult
- Working Vents - Rusted or corroded vents are hard to adjust
- Fireproof Gloves - Charcoal grilling requires you to touch hot things, be prepared
- A Charcoal Starter - Whatever works dependably for you to light charcoal
- A Safe Place - The #1 safety problem with charcoal grills is them getting knocked over
- Grilling Tools - All the usual tools you need for flipping food
- A Good Stick - Actually anything you can use to move burning coals around inside the grill
- Patience - Charcoal grilling is a longer process so take your time
- Practice - Charcoal grilling takes time to master, but is worth it
Rule 1: Have a safe place for hot coals. You've finished grilling and closed the vents on your charcoal grill to snuff out the fire. How long will those coals stay hot? Answer: Up to 24 hours! Don't dump hot coals in the garbage can or you can have a fire. The #2 safety problem with charcoal grill is mishandling hot charcoal and ashes. Even a tiny ember can start a fire so you must make sure that ashes are properly extinguished before they go anywhere that a fire can start.
Rule 2: Conserve Charcoal. A good charcoal grill can be shutdown when you are done. With the lid on and the vents closed the lack of oxygen will stop the charcoal from burning. Though they will stay hot for up to 24 hours, you can save this remaining charcoal for next time. So when you are done, remove the cooking grate, stir up the charcoal, replace the lid and close the vents. Next time you cookout, add fresh charcoal to what was left behind and light. If you are careful you can cut your charcoal consumption in half and save yourself some money.
Rule 3: Keep it Clean. I'm not just talking about the grill here. There are a lot of charcoals out there with additives, sometimes pretty nasty additives. Cooking over a real charcoal fire is a very natural thing to do so why add petroleum based lighter fluids or self-lighting charcoal with all kinds of chemicals. Buy natural charcoal without chemicals, light naturally with a charcoal chimney, electric starter or natural charcoal lighters. Your food will taste better and you won't fill the air with noxious fumes.
How to Build a Charcoal Fire:
- Charcoal takes about 10 to 15 minutes to reach the proper temperature
- When Charcoal is ready for grilling it will have an ashy coating all around, appear white or gray, and be very hot
- Light the charcoal, then spread it to build your fire.
- For a medium fire spread your charcoal in a single layer on the coal grate
- For a high fire light enough charcoal for a double layer of coals on the coal grate
- For an indirect fire push all the charcoal to one side of the coal grate and cook on the other side of the grill
Remember, this is supposed to be fun. Leave yourself plenty of time to build a fire and do the grilling. Charcoal grilling isn't hard and once you get the hang of it you will love doing it. Charcoal grills (at least the good ones (see my list of the best charcoal grills)) can hit temperatures above 700 degrees F. or hold temperatures around 200 degrees F. This means that you can sear a steak better than you can on a gas grill, and still cook low and slow for those things you want slow roasted. Many charcoal grills have rotisserie options and can most anything a gas grill can and for a much better price.