There’s nothing quite like a burger cooked on a charcoal grill. However, many backyard barbecuers these days are turning to propane grills because of their ease of use and relative speed compared with charcoal grills. But propane grills have one tremendous disadvantage compared to charcoal grills: They’re more expensive.
Charcoal grills can be found for less than $50, as opposed to gas grills which routinely command prices of more than $150. So, if you’re not willing to invest that much in a gas grill, especially if you don’t barbecue all that often, a charcoal grill is the right choice for you, and here’s how to get the most out of it.
Charcoal briquets will add a unique flavor to whatever food you’re cooking. Different varieties of wood chips can also be used, and are sold in different flavors. Burgers, steaks, chicken, sausages, and other grilled foods can benefit from the infusion of flavor delivered by the briquets.
However, lighting the charcoal briquets is more challenging and time-consuming than lighting a propane grill. You must prepare the grill for roughly 30 minutes before beginning the cooking process. Once hot, your food will cook quickly, and you have to watch your food very carefully to prevent burning or undesired charring.
To begin, you’ll need a bag of charcoal briquets, a bottle of lighter fluid, and matches or a butane lighter. There is also an alternate method of lighting coals for certain grills. If your grill has an attachment known as a chimney started, essentially a large tin with a handle and a vent underneath, you’ll have the option of starting your grill with this other method. We’ll cover the traditional method first.
First, remove the cooking surface from your grill. There will usually be a tray or a second grill underneath for supporting the charcoal. Place a mound of charcoal on this surface, then spray 2-3 tablespoons of lighter fluid over the coals. You may use more, but never add lighter fluid to already-burning coals. Once you’ve added the lighter fluid, use either a match or a butane lighter to ignite the fluid. Now step away, as the fluid will burn very hot and flames will reach quite high for a short time. When the flames have decreased, you may replace the cooking surface and close the grill.
Check back on the grill in 30 minutes, and what you should find is that the black charcoal briquets have turned, for the most part, an ashen gray. This means that you are ready to cook.
The alternate method for lighting the coals involves the chimney starter but dispenses with the lighter fluid. Place a wad of newspaper in the base of the starter, and then cover it with coals. Ignite the newspaper and wait 15-30 minutes for the coals to turn ashen gray. Then dump the coals carefully into the grill and replace the cooking surface. You’re now ready to cook.
Burgers, sausages, steaks, and chicken cook well on a bare grill, but be sure to use cooking spray on the grill, as this will make it easier to clean and prevent food from sticking. Cover the grill while you’re cooking, leaving the smoke hole open, but don’t stray too far from it or you risk burning your food. Vegetables, potatoes, corn, and fish may be wrapped inside aluminum foil and placed on the grill to cook, making for a well-rounded meal. The more food you can cook on your grill during the same barbecue or meal, the less charcoal you will end up not using. The charcoal will continue to burn for quite some time. Make sure that the charcoal has broken apart entirely before leaving the grill unsupervised.
You can empty the grill of used ashes after they have sat and cooled and are no longer a fire hazard. Spraying the ashes with a hose will prevent fire danger if you are unsure.
Cooking on a charcoal grill is just as tasty and fun as with a gas grill, and you’ll save money, as well, especially if you do not barbecue very often. So what are you waiting for? Get outside and grill!