Fire! Its discovery and our ability to recreate it willingly are by far one of the most important technological advancements in human history. It’s not an understatement to say that it changed our evolution, with some scientists even claiming that cooked meat over a fire and coals, changed the way our brains grew.
It’s no wonder that people are so drawn to BBQ-ing with charcoal grills – there’s something special and visceral about it – nature and man working together.
Nowadays cooking on a BBQ charcoal grill is a beloved past-time which transcends cultural and physical boundaries, found everywhere around the world. It’s a way to help bond family and friends while grilling some delicious meats and veggies.
Putting meat on a hot surface and waiting for it to cook seems like a simple enough thing, right? The truth of the matter is that there are so many variables to cooking meat well, that it’s an artform and a science at the same time.
The Griller Dude team won’t leave you hanging because today we’ll give you an introduction to how to cook on BBQ grill with charcoal. Enjoy!
Types of Charcoal Grills
There are many different types of charcoal grills, from standard cast-iron portable BBQ charcoal grills, to large grills which can produce up to 1000F without breaking a sweat.
Charcoal grills of all varieties work on the same principle – they hold the fuel source in a container with some sort of grate over the open heat where meat or other products are cooked.
What makes some charcoal grills like our Smart Flip Grill stand out – it’s the grill’s ability to actually provide much more control over the cooking process than other higher class options.
It flips the cooked product for you, with just a single push or pull of the handle, you can basically eliminate all contact with the meat and the need to manipulate it.
These are called “Argentinian style grills” and there are lots more variations, like for instance:
- Kettle grills;
- Barrel grills;
- Ceramic grills.
They all have their uses and applications, with some varying degrees of success and ability to provide access to more options. The Smart Flip Grill is an Argentinian type, however, unlike the standard option it’s a portable charcoal BBQ grill – you get the flipping option and the portability in one product.
There are also different types of grills depending on the heat source, like:
- Electric grills;
- Gas grills;
- Wood pellet grills.
What’s so Different About Charcoal Grill BBQ-ing
The thing that is so different about cooking on a charcoal grill, is that you generally have to have a “feel” about most of the cooking processes. Many experienced grillers use intuition when cooking though there are many options to have exact information about the cooking process, like laser thermometers and meat thermometers (which we do recommend you use).
Below we’ll be mentioning most, if not all, of the important details on how to BBQ on a charcoal grill.
Preparation of the Grill
Grills need to be prepared before being used. If it’s your first time using a given grill, then it’s important to season the grates well using animal or vegetable fats and oils. This will help prevent whatever you are cooking from sticking to the heated metal.
Clean out the grill if there is any leftover ash from previous grilling, but make sure that there are not active coals still burning, because free embers can cause trouble.
Put your fuel of choice and light with a suitable lighting method, some people prefer spirit lighters which evaporate quickly, other use more high-octane lighter fluids to light their fuel source.
Place the grate on top of the heat source and let it sit for at least 5 minutes before you start using it, that will get the metal hot enough so it cooks properly and it doesn’t “boil” your meats or vegetables.
Choosing the Fuel – Charcoal Briquettes
Picking the fuel source for your charcoal grill, whichever one you decide to go with, is a hugely important decision. Charcoal provides the heat which is used to cook your dinner, the easier it’s to control the more consistent results you can get.
Having a consistent heat source which can last for a longer period of time before burning all of its fuel is also important for knowing how to BBQ ribs on a charcoal grill (because it takes 5-6 hours).
Fuel for cooking must be free of toxic additives which evaporate upon burning, because those toxins will transfer to your food, making it toxic to consume. Avoid mineral coal at all costs.
There are two main grill fuel sources – charcoal briquettes and lump charcoal which is basically wood (from a non-coniferous source) which is reduce to pure carbon by a slow burning process with restricted air.
BBQ briquettes are produced from wood chips and wood shavings, using a bonding agent and intense pressure to form them into an almost oval shape. There are additives in this fuel source, which additives can be felt in the meat, especially if you BBQ chicken on a charcoal grill.
Pros and cons of lump coal:
- It gets to hotter temperatures;
- No additives – completely natural;
- Generally cheaper;
- Does not last as long;
- Harder to light without additives;
- Does not burn as consistently.
The pros and cons of charcoal briquettes:
- Lasts longer;
- Lights more easily;
- Easier to control;
- Can fit more in a smaller space;
- Often manufactured with additives.
There are charcoal briquette brands out there that do not use additives and simply compress wood fibers with extreme hydraulic pressure. If you go for briquettes, just be sure not to pick quick fire ones – those have the additives.
Understanding Heat and Coal Placement
The laws of convection dictate that hot air rises and cool air sinks simply because of the change of air molecule agitation. This is a constant process and plays a very important part in using any portable BBQ grill with charcoal.
The amount of charcoal you place on any given spot of the grill will determine how hot this part of the grill gets. The more coals you put in a single spot, the hotter this spot will get – the less fired coals there are the colder it gets.
This is useful to know because meats like salmon filets, or a porterhouse beef steaks, require cooking on both hot and cold spots.
If you want to be as precise as possible, use thermal imaging cameras (they come for all sorts of budgets), which can read temperatures above 390F (the average heat a grill can get to).
Following Airflow and Heat Management
Heat can be managed by the placement of the coals and the access to additional airflow through small gates on the bottom of the grill. These gates can be opened at different intervals to draw in more or less air.
More air means higher heat but quicker fuel consumption, less airflow means less heat but longer lasting charcoal burn. Combining a higher charcoal mound on one side, with increase airflow, will allow you to reach really high temperatures – up to 540F-600F.
The best way to learn about airflow is to be watchful of the way your heat reacts. While an open flame would be helpful to best understand the behavior of the convection process, it’s not so good for cooking because it will charr the outside and leave the inside uncooked.
Getting Consistent Results Each Time
In order to get consistent results each time when BBQ-ing ribs on the grill charcoal, you can do two things – get some additional tools like thermometers, or you can observe.
You can also always get the only grill you will ever need – the Griller Dude Smart Flip Grill which allows you far more control over the cooking process than any other type of grill out there.