Summer Grilling: Charcoal Tips

Posted by on June 27, 2013


The smell of charcoal always brings me back to camping trips with my dad, specifically watching him struggle to light briquettes without the benefit of lighter fluid. I would eye campers in adjacent sites jealously, sending up enormous spouts of flame as they liberally applied lighter fluid to just about anything that could burn. I’d get impatient and tell dad that I was just going to head over and ask to borrow a bit of lighter fluid.

My father, being the food snob he is, forbade it. His method, he assured me, was superior. There are lots of fancy chimney starters on the market, but pops used a simple coffee can with holes punched in the bottom.

“No lighter fluid stinking up my grill, son,” he’d say, attempting to light the charcoal for the fourth time.

I’d roll my eyes at that, but soon enough he’d have the coals glowing and ready to use.

You could call him a purist, I suppose. For all you charcoal purists out there, we’ve got some ideas that you might enjoy.

Aside from avoiding lighter fluid, you can enhance the flavor from your charcoal grill by making your own charcoal.

Different types of wood will yield different flavor, so do a bit of research to find the right type of wood for you. Apple wood and mesquite are popular choices. There are a few methods out there to turn your chosen wood into charcoal- they all involve burning the wood in a low oxygen environment. You can even use your grill if you can make it airtight.

Now that you’ve gotten your charcoal and chimney starter together, you can start grilling. There’s a lot of conventional grilling wisdom out there, and it’s good stuff to know. Here’s a quick rundown:

  • Create hot and cool sides of the grill for temperature control – You can accomplish this simply by piling your coals a little higher on one side of the grill.
  • Don’t overcook it – Cuts of meat shouldn’t be gray inside.
  • Turn once and flip once – For steaks and burgers, turning once gives you an attractive cross hatch pattern on your meat and helps it cook more evenly. No need to turn after the flip, however, or even touch the meat at all until it’s done.

That’s the conventional wisdom, anyhow. Nothing wrong with it. Here with a rebuttal, however, is Adam Perry Lang, author of Charred & Scruffed, who takes a distinctively more active approach to grilling:


Looks tasty, Adam!  Pick up his book, Charred & Scruffed, right here to learn more about his insanely delicious techniques.

photo credit: ewen and donabel via photopin cc

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