Things I wished I’d known when I started cooking with charcoal.

  1. Give yourself plenty of time to get your charcoal lit, and your grill hot! It takes time to properly light your charcoal. I always add an hour to my cooking time, for lighting and preheating my grill. If I want to eat steak at 5, I would start getting my charcoal ready at 4.
  2. Charcoal chimney, I don’t think we could live without one now. We like to use pure charcoal (it gives off less of a chemical flavor when cooking, and also avoids an off flavor in your finished product.). The downside of using natural lump charcoal is that it can be hard to light. To make this an easier task invest in a good charcoal chimney you will have glowing charcoal in 20-30 minutes. You know it is done when it is glowing red and flames are shooting out the top! Make sure to use your chimney in an area that 1. Won’t catch fire, 2. remember that wherever it is sitting will get really hot, and 3. It will still be hot once you dump the charcoal out, and you will want somewhere to set it. You will also need something to start your charcoal chimney with we historically have used old newspaper, however we recently discovered all-natural Fogostarter’s made from shaved aspen and all-natural vegetable wax. They light fast and burn hot and don’t make your meat taste like lighter fluid.
  3. Welding gloves! Great, I now have my glowing hot charcoal in my chimney, but it is too hot to get my hands near. invest in a good pair of welding gloves and avoid burning your hands.  They also work great for handling hot grill grates or whatever else might be too hot to touch around your grill.
  4. Direct versus indirect heat. What the heck is the difference? and how do I achieve this using charcoal? Once you have your charcoal lit in your chimney it is time to add it to your grill. If I want to cook something for a longer amount of time I am going to want to implement an indirect heat set up. To do this place your lit charcoal on one side of your grill and your meat on the opposite side of the grill. This allows you to cook using radiant heat. This method works well for larger cuts of beef, chicken, it also works well if you have any kind of sauce you are cooking with as sauces tend to have sugar which easily burns over direct heat. For the direct grilling method I would add my lit charcoal to the center of the grill and place unlit charcoal around it, then allow my grill to heat up to the desired temperature I am looking for. This method  provides a better environment for searing meat, like steak, sausage, and pork chops the list goes on and on. If you are really brave you could attempt to cook caveman style right on your hot-lit charcoal, in my opinion, one of the best ways to cook a steak.

Like with any job having the right tools and a little know-how goes a long way in avoiding frustration and having fun.

I hope these tips and tricks help you get a smooth start on your cooking with charcoal journey!

~Pitmaster Erin