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June 8, 2012 at 10:26 AMComments: 3 Faves: 0

Fire Up! 5 No Fail Charcoal Grilling Tips

By Sue More Blogs by This Author

I love the smell of lighter fluid and charcoal in the morning. As odd as it sounds, it makes me long for a fat juicy burger and the good old days when my dad would don his “I am not a cook” apron and fire up the grill. Of course, his burgers were not actually fat and juicy. More like hockey pucks - burnt hard and dry.

Today, I love grilling for my own family and there are many more grill options than my dad had back then. Now, I can choose from:

  • a traditional charcoal kettle grill (like my dad's)
  • a gas grill
  • a smoker
  • an electric and
  • an infrared!

It IS somewhat time-consuming to grill with charcoal, but well worth the effort.

I've personally been lucky enough to grill on all of them and I have to say: the traditional kettle grill produces the best flavor and is my preferred method!

It IS somewhat time-consuming to grill with charcoal, but well worth the effort. Unlike the gas grill where with a push of a button and it’s ready, a charcoal grill requires some prepping as well as fussing and tinkering. I know you are probably thinking, “what does a girl know about grilling” but trust me - I’ve been playing with fire for years. As a self-professed tomboy, I’ve burned everything from army men, to fireworks - even a treehouse… but that’s another story. ;)

Looking to improve your grilling game? Through my years of experience with fire and grilling, I have compiled a list of charcoal grilling tips and techniques.

#1. Use only charcoal briquettes.

All charcoal is not alike. The options are lump, briquette and hardwood. Lump is basically hunks of wood that have been carbonized into coals. Briquettes are wood scraps and sawdust that has been burned at high temperature and pressed into blocks with binders such as anthracite coal, mineral charcoal, starch, sodium nitrate, limestone, sawdust, and borax. Sounds a bit scary however all these elements are natural and safe. Lastly there is the plain hold fashioned hardwood which is exactly what it says, hunks of untreated dry wood. I prefer charcoal briquettes because they burn hotter, longer and cleaner than any of the other options. I also feel they create the best flavor.

#2. Never light charcoal with lighter fluid.

Lighter fluid is toxic and I believe it can taint the meat. Light with a chimney. They work great and are easy to use.

#3. Use the basic set up for charcoal grills.

Once the charcoals are lit and ready (white) Bank the coals against only one side, not two. Place a pan of hot water inside the grill next to the banked coals. Crack the bottom vents so they are open half way. Place the lid on so the vent holes are positioned over the meat and leave them open at least half way. This set up allows you to control the temperature by opening and closing the vents and the pan of water keeps things nice and moist.

#4. Choose the right cut and quality if meat.

There are a couple of things to look for when buying a meat for grilling. First there is the grade. The grade tells you about the quality of the meat based on marbling and age. Prime is the highest grade you can find and I recommend buying this if you can. The flavor will be worth the added price. The second factor is the cut. Different cuts have different qualities. Finding the right cut for what you want to grill is probably the most important part of an excellent steak. My tip is tough cuts like flank steak and chuck cook low and slow. For more tender cuts like tenderloin go hot and fast.

#5. Add charcoal every 45 minutes.

If you are cooking low and slow and need heat to stay steady and even, adding a handful of charcoal every 45 minutes will keep the fires burning and maintain temperature.

These are just the basics and there are of course many other methods and tips. I recommend check out these web sites for more great grilling tips. Once you have mastered the art of charcoal grilling you are going to want some great recipes. Here are a few of my favorites using a variety of grilling techniques.


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  • Ah, you are making my mouth water just thinking about grilling. I love grilling. I love it even more with charcoal. I have been using gas because of the ease of use, but I think that I will be switching back over. Thanks for the helpful hints!

  • It is hard to deny the simplicity of gas grilling though. No trouble lighting the thing, no waiting for the charcoals to get done. My favorite grilling is over the embers of a good camp fire. Not saying it always turns out as tasty or perfect, but the nostalgia fixes everything.

  • oh my gosh, Seth your comments remind me of the time we took our boat out to Grand Haven beached it on the shore and grilled some hotdogs. We had purchased one of those throw away one time use grills. The hotdogs were horrible, it was just so bad, I'm not sure if it was the lighter fluid my husband poured on the charcoal because of course the grill didn't work as planned or what but the taste was terrible for sure.

    I think what helped make it bad was being out in the nice fresh air on a nice gorgeous day and I don't know about you but you get so darn hungry and you want something good to eat and BAM! Our expectations were fizzled out!

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