Charcoal Grilling Basics

Learning the basics of charcoal grilling is one of those tasks you must accomplish before using a charcoal grill, unless you want potentially burned food, hands or home. If grilling can be considered an art form, then charcoal grilling is one of the most sacred styles of this art. If you plan on practicing this particular style of grilling, just make sure to do it outside.

Choosing the Charcoal
Several different types of charcoal are available for grilling, but they all fit in one of two categories: Briquette and non-briquette charcoal. Briquette charcoal is pressed, dense and slow burning. Non-briquette charcoal is unfinished, burns hotter and for a shorter period of time. Both types of charcoal can be paired with assorted wood chips to help enhance flavor.

The amount of charcoal you need to use for grilling depends entirely on your grill, the food being cooked and general weather conditions. Obviously, the more food you'll be cooking, the more charcoal you need. The colder the temperature around the grill, the more charcoal you need.

Lighting the Charcoal
Charcoal is usually stacked in a pyramid shape in the middle of the grill. If the charcoal isn't ready to light, you might need to spray a light coating of lighter fluid on the coals. Always use lighter fluid, never gasoline, to help light the coals. Carefully light the coals with a grill lighter or grill match.

The coals will need to burn off all the lighter fluid before you start cooking with them, so use as little as possible. Let the coals burn for 30 to 45 minutes, or until they're coated with a white ash. Spread the coals out to cover the bottom of the grill. You're now ready to cook.

Cooking With Charcoal
Cooking time and temperature varies with charcoal just like it does with any other cooking method. To increase the heat of your grill, fan the briquettes gently or use a grill tool to tap off large clumps of ashes. You can also add a few more briquettes if needed. To decrease the heat of your grill, carefully splash or spray a little water over the briquettes.

Either the food or the grill will need a light coating of oil or cooking spray to help keep things from sticking. Place your food on the grill, and use tongs to turn the item while cooking. For even cooking, lay your food out with enough space around each item that you can see the coals below.

Cleaning Up Charcoal
To extinguish the charcoal after cooking, close any vents on the lid or grill. Cover the grill with lid, and let coals burn themselves out. The ashes will need to cool for at least 48 hours. Then you may drop the coals into water or sand to make sure every ember is out. Throwing water or sand on the hot coals can result in hot steam or dust bellowing up and burning you.

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