How to use a Charcoal Grill?

No matter what type of grill you have, grilling always means cooking food on a grate exposed to high temperatures, usually outside.

The most traditional way of grilling is, however, with charcoal. This is why, in this article, we chose to focus on it, and we’re dealing with how to use a charcoal grill.


Key Takeaways

  • Because grilling happens at a high temperature, it is a fast-cooking method.
  • You should clean your grill when it is already hot to remove the dirt easily.
  • Some charcoal grill comes with a chimney, cooking tools, etc.
  • Lay the charcoal beneath the grill and light it, once the charcoal looks white, you can place the food on the crate and start cooking it.

How does a charcoal grill work?

Charcoal Grill

So, how does a charcoal grill work? The principle is very simple: you have a layer of pieces of charcoal, and you let them burn.

They develop so much heat that, putting a rack over the charcoal and some food over the rack (or grate), the food will be quickly cooked.

A charcoal grill is, therefore, equipment that provides a space for the charcoal, a grate, and sometimes a smoke control system.

There can also be additional features, like a chimney, cooking tools, a system for gathering the excess oil and fat that leaks from the meat, and so on.

Check Out 8 Best Kingsford Charcoal Grills Alternatives On Amazon

Also Check Out 10 Best Small Charcoal Grills 

Starting a Charcoal Grill

Setting up and lighting the charcoal grill may seem like a challenging task, especially if you are a beginner. But by keeping some things in mind, you can light your charcoal very easily.

Which Type of Charcoal to Use?

Type of Charcoal

Choosing the right type of charcoal is important to light the fire. There are many kinds of charcoals that you can choose from; let us have a look at them below:

  • Lump or Hardwood Charcoal: This charcoal is made from pure wood; thus, it adds more flavor to your food. These are easier to light and produce less waste and ash, but are more expensive than Briquettes.
  • Briquettes: You can find briquettes very easily in supermarkets, and these are composed of many wood materials and compressed sawdust. These are more affordable as compared to hardwood charcoal. The only problem with this type of coal is that it leaves a lot of ash and other residue and does not add much-charred flavor.
  • Combination of Both: If you are not able to decide which one to buy, then you can also get your hands on a mix of both. This will cut down the cost and still add more flavor. 1

Here’s what Reddit users think

First time using charcoal BBQ need some tips on lighting and maintaining.
by u/DeepDuck in grilling

Different Ways to Light a Charcoal Grill

Light a Charcoal Grill

There not only different types of charcoal, but also different types of methods to light them. And you can choose the one that you are most comfortabe with.

Electric Charcoal Starter

An electric charcoal starter is very easy and convinient to use, however it will add to your cost and are more suitable to use with charcoal briquettes.

Here are steps to light charcoal using an electric charcoal starter:

  • Arrange the briquettes in a payramid shape on the grate.
  • Insert the charcoal starter in the center of the charcoal pile.
  • Now plug in the starter and turn the switch on.

Lighter Fluid

This method of lighting charcoal is preferred by many because it is economical and easy.

However, using too much lighter fluid can also be dangerous. Here are the steps to light charcoal using lighter fluid:

  • Arrange the charcoal in a pyramid shape or in a pile inside the grate or inside the grill’s belly.
  • Now pour the lighter fluid gently over the charcoal by following the packet instruction and let it soak in for 20 seconds.
  • Do not make the mistake of pouring or spraying the lighter fluid on ignited charcoal.
  • After the coal soaks in the fluid, light them using a matchstick.
  • When the coals turn white hot, you can start cooking your food.

Fire Starters

Instant Lightning Charcoal sticks ignite just like a matchstick and burn away with the charcoal. Here are the steps to light Instant Lightning Charcoal:

  • Arrange the charcoal into the grill’s charcoal pit, or arrange them in a pyramid form.
  • Now strike the fire starter, and it will start burning the charcoals.
  • Once the coal turns white, you can distribute them evenly and start cooking your food.

Chimney Starter

If none of the above methods appeal to you, you can use this method to ignite your coal. Here are the steps to light Chimney Starter:

  • Take the chimney and add crumpled newspaper to it.
  • Fill the chimney with coal right up to the top.
  • Light the paper at the bottom and let it light up the charcoal.
  • Once your charcoal has burned and has turned white, you can use them to grill food. 2

How to Start grilling?


If you are new to charcoal grilling, this is how to use a charcoal grill.

  1. The first thing you want to do with your new grill is to clean it. Why? Because any chemicals, dirt, or odor that’s on the new grill will end up in the food, you’ll be cooking. This is something you want to recall every time you use your grill: make sure you always clean it properly, or the taste of the food you cook today will end up on the food you cook tomorrow (not ideal if you’re grilling salmon today and pork chops tomorrow!)
  2. Now it’s time to lay the charcoal: what you need to know is that you need to simply create a layer of charcoal on the provided space.
  3. You can use a starter to light the charcoal. You can use a fluid lighter: simply spread some on the charcoal.
  4. Now, this is important: you need to wait for half a minute before lighting the charcoal for safety reasons.
  5. When half a minute has gone, use a lighter to start the charcoal.
  6. You can now put the grate over the charcoal and oil with an oiled towel (do not wait too long for doing it because you don’t want to oil the grate when it’s already hot!)
  7. Now, wait that the charcoal turns white. When it turns white, the temperature is high enough, and you lay your food on the grate.

Grilling is a fast cooking method because it happens at very high temperatures.

However, not every meat or food needs the same time to cook, so check the recipes for how long you should leave the food on the grate (it is usually no longer than 10 minutes, 5 minutes per side).

After you’ve done grilling, clean the grate before it gets cold: it’ll be easier to remove all debris. 3

Also Check Out How To Start A Charcoal Grill?

Different Types of Charcoal Grill

Charcoal Grilling Tips

Here are some of the tips that will come in very handy to you, especially if you are beginner to grilling:

  • To add smoky flavor to your food, take a few wood chips, soak them in water for 30 minutes and then add them to the coals before you start grilling.
  • If you are grilling thick or large pieces of meat, then make sure to add more coal for prolonged cooking.
  • If you want to prevent your food from drying out, then we recommend you put a drip pan filled with water; this will help in regulating temperature.
  • Brush the grates with cooking oil and then place your meat on the grill to avoid it sticking to the grate.
  • Keep a meat thermometer handy if you are a beginner; this will help you determine if the meat is cooked or not.

Also Check Out 5 Best Weber Charcoal Grills Available For Purchase 

How to Set Up a Charcoal Grill For Any Kind Of Cook?

How to Clean a Charcoal Grill?

Wrapping Up

Grilling food shouldn’t have to be challenging. If you know the basics, such as which type of charcoal to use, how to burn the charcoal, how to clean the grill, etc., as shared in the guide above, then you will become a pro in no time.


How to put out a charcoal grill?

Turn off the grill, close the lid, and wait for the coals to burn out completely. This can take up to two days.

Or you can also put them out using water, but this will create a mess for you to clean up.

What are the basic grilling tools?

You should have the following essential grilling tools:

  • Grill brush
  • Spatula
  • Tongs
  • Chimney starters
  • Meat thermometer

If you are not new to grilling and want to level up your grilling game, then you should get these grilling tools:

  • Hardwood charcoals
  • Grilling planks
  • Grill light
  • Grilling basket
  • Electric charcoal starter
  • BBQ mop brush

How long should I let the charcoal burn before cooking?

This depends on the amount of charcoal you are lighting, but you should set the coal aside for a minimum of 15-20 minutes at least.

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