How to Light Your Charcoal Barbecue & Grill

Tip on Charcoal Cooking with Barbecue Grill

Charcoal barbecuing offers a rich, smoky flavour that many grill enthusiasts love. However, it also comes with its own set of challenges and questions. Here are some of the most common queries about charcoal grilling and their answers to help you master your BBQ skills.

How to Light Charcoal for a Barbecue

Lighting charcoal can be done using various methods:

  1. Chimney Starter: This is one of the most efficient ways to light charcoal. Fill the chimney starter with briquettes, place crumpled newspaper or fire starters under it, and light them. The coals will be ready when they turn ashy, usually in about 15-20 minutes​.
  2. Lighter Fluid: Arrange the charcoal in a pyramid, apply lighter fluid, and light it immediately. Wait until the coals are covered in ash before spreading them out​.
  3. Electric Starter: Pile the charcoal in a mound, place the electric starter in the centre, and plug it in. Remove the starter once the coals are lit​. You can get electric starters online such as at Amazon.
  4. Newspaper Method: Roll up newspaper, place it under a mound of charcoal, and light it. This method might take longer but works in a pinch​​.

How Do You Know When Charcoal is Ready?

Charcoal is ready for grilling when it is covered in a layer of white-grey ash. This indicates that it is hot enough to cook on and the initial chemicals from lighter fluid or quick-start briquettes have burned off​.

Grey Charcoal Ready for Barbecuing

Why Is My Charcoal BBQ Not Getting Hot?

If your charcoal grill isn't getting hot enough, several factors might be at play:

  • Insufficient Charcoal: Ensure you’re using enough charcoal. For a hot fire, use a full chimney of briquettes.
  • Poor Airflow: Make sure the vents are open. Charcoal needs oxygen to burn hot. Clean out any ash from previous use as it can block airflow. You can also use a manual hand fan to add airflow throughout the lighting and cooking process​​.
  • Weather Conditions: Wind, rain, and cold can affect the temperature. Add more charcoal to compensate for adverse weather​.

Why Won't My Charcoal Grill Stay Lit?

A common issue is insufficient airflow. Ensure that the vents are open and that the grill is free from ash build-up. Using damp charcoal or not allowing enough time for the charcoal to light properly before spreading can also cause the fire to die out​.

How Do You Control the Temperature?

Controlling the temperature on a charcoal grill involves adjusting the air vents and the amount of charcoal:

  • Air Vents: Open the vents to increase the temperature by allowing more oxygen in. Close them partially to reduce the heat.
  • Charcoal Amount: More charcoal means higher temperatures. For lower temperatures, use fewer briquettes and arrange them in a single layer​​.

Which Charcoal is Best to Use?

There are two main types of charcoal:

  • Briquettes: These are consistent in size and burn for a long time, making them ideal for longer cooking sessions. However, they can contain fillers and binders that may affect flavour.
  • Lump Charcoal: Made from pure wood, lump charcoal burns hotter and cleaner. It’s best for achieving a good sear on meats and imparting a natural wood smoke flavour to your food​​.

By understanding these fundamentals, you can enhance your charcoal grilling experience and impress your guests with perfectly cooked BBQ every time. Once you are happy with how you are happy lighting your charcoal, you need to get your hands on a barbecue and whilst you are at it why not check out our blog on hosting your first barbecue for some more great tips.

Happy grilling!

As an alternative to charcoal you could consider using wood. Whilst it may not be as easy to work the difference in flavour may be worth effort.

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