Lesson 3: How to Start a Charcoal Fire
Whether you’re already an accomplished griller or just a novice, grilling cookbook author Fred Thompson will turn you into a grill master in ten short episodes.
Using a chimney starter is the most efficient way to get your charcoal fire going. It’s fast, and it doesn’t involve a lot of chemicals that can end up flavoring your food the way lighter fluid can. They’re really simple to use and I’m going to show you how it’s done.
Look for the oversized chimney starters like this one from Weber. You can find cheaper ones out there, but this holds enough charcoal for a good long grilling session, and it also has a double handle that makes it easier to empty the coals into the grill.
|Agujas (Grilled Chuck Steaks)||Classic Barbecued Chicken||Apple-Bacon Barbecued Ribs (Gas Grill Version)|
One of the biggest mistakes people make is to stuff the bottom of the starter with too much newspaper, which can stifle the flames. Instead, compact the paper lightly and only use enough to just fill the bottom.
Set the starter on the grate. Light the paper with a long match or lighter. Leave the lid off so the paper ignites the coals. At this point, you can leave the coals unattended and work on prepping your food for the grill. It’ll take about half an hour until the coals are ready.
When the coals are glowing red and covered all over with a light coat of ash, that’s a hot fire. Empty the coals onto the fire grate and arrange them for a direct or indirect fire, as your recipe instructs.
How hot is your grill?
To test the heat, hold your outstretched palm an inch or two above the cooking grate. The length of time you can stand the heat tells you how hot the grill is. The same test can be used for gas grills.
Time palm can
|Grill heat||Temperature range|
|less than 1 second||very hot
|1 to 2 seconds||hot||400° to 500°F|
|3 to 4 seconds
||medium||350° to 375°F|
|5 to 7 seconds||medium-low||325° to 350°F|
How to keep the fire going
If you’re cooking over indirect heat for a long time, a batch of briquettes will die down within about an hour, so it’s a good idea to start you’ll need to add additional coals. Here’s how you can get them going in your chimney starter before you add them to the fire:
- Put an extra grill grate over a galvanized metal bucket or another large, heatproof container. You want air to be able to circulate under the chimney.
- Load your chimney starter and set it on the grate. Light the paper and let the coals start to burn.
- When the coals are glowing and ashed over, pour them into the grill. If your cooking grate doesn’t have a flip-up door on one side, you may need to use tongs to add coals to the fire.
|Lesson 1: The Perfect Burger
||Lesson 2: Great Steaks on the Grill||Lesson 3: How to Start a Charcoal Fire|
|Lesson 4: The Two-Zone Fire||Lesson 5: How to Grill Bone-In Chicken Parts||Lesson 6: How to Add Smoke to a Gas Grill|
|Lesson 7: How to Grill Fish||Lesson 8: Lump vs. Briquette Charcoal||Lesson 9: Slow-Smoked Pork Shoulder|
|Lesson 10: Real Barbecued Ribs|