How to Use a Charcoal Grill

how to use a charcoal grill

With summer right around the corner, getting your grill ready to go should be at the top of your to-do list. Grilling in your backyard is a great way to bring friends and family together while spicing up your typical menu. 

Believe it or not, there is a little more that goes into charcoal grilling than you might think. It is not as easy as just turning on the gas and cooking your food. Although it may take more time, the flavor that it adds to any grilled food is unmatched. 

Below we will answer all of your questions regarding how to use a charcoal grill. 

Step One: Apply Charcoal and Light the Grill


Before you can start cooking, you need to light the grill. First, spread the briquettes of charcoal in a single layer across the grill, going a little further than the area where you will be cooking the food. Next, light the grill. There are a few different methods to do this. 

  1. Place the briquettes in a pyramid in the kettle, stacking them on top of one another. Pour lighter fluid all over the pyramid, dousing the charcoals. Carefully light the briquettes. 
  2. Chimney starters are an excellent way to safely and quickly get your grill going. They require no lighter fluid, and they heat the coals within 20 minutes. If you have one, crumple some paper and place it at the bottom of the grill then place a chimney starter over it. Fill up the chimney starter with briquettes and light the paper that is underneath. As the coals light, dump them into your grill and spread them around.

Apply Charcoal and Light the Grill

  1. If you have an electric starter, stack the briquettes in a pyramid in your grill. Push the electric starter into the middle of the briquettes and turn it on. They usually take eight to 10 minutes to heat the coals properly. Continue until they are covered in ash.

Step Two: Make Sure Coals Are Hot Enough


To tell if the coals are hot enough for cooking, hold your hands four inches above the coals and count how long you can keep it there before it gets too hot. If you can hold your hand for five seconds, your coals are probably around 300 degrees. If you can hold for four seconds, then they are approximately 350; three seconds is around 400, and two seconds means they are about 500 degrees.

Step Three: Cook the Food


There are two different ways to cook your food on a charcoal grill. You can either use indirect head or direct heat. 

Indirect Heat

If you are cooking with indirect heat, you are cooking slightly away from the flames where it is not as hot. Things like meat can be left in indirect heat for hours to achieve the best possible flavors. To cook like this, split the coals in half and move them to the sides of the grill. Place the meat in the middle of the charcoals and cook according to the recipe.

Direct Heat

Cooking indirect heat is cooking right over the flames. This will char the outside of the food quickly, so cook small items this way. Veggies and small cuts of meat will cook great with this method. To cook your food indirect heat, simply have the charcoal spread in an even layer across the grill. 

Step Four: Clean the Grill


The last step after cooking is to clean your grill. To clean it, simply run a metal grill brush along with the grates after cooking. The heat will help all cooked-on food to come off. If your grill needs a deep clean, you can empty the charcoal and the ash catcher and clean the inside of the kettle with soap, water, and a magic eraser sponge. 

More Tips For Using a Charcoal Grill


  • Oil and preheat your grate before you start to cook. This ensures that your food does not get stuck to the grill and you will not overcook your food by starting to cook it before the coals are hot enough
  • You cannot adjust the temperature of your coals, but you can control how hot they are cooking your food by opening and closing the air vent on your grill.
  • Opening the vents makes your grill hotter while closing them cools the grill down. 
  • Layer the charcoal on one side of the grill and leave the other side empty, creating two different zones of heat for cooking your food. This will allow you to cook meats and veggies at the same time. 



There you have it, the simple steps you need to know to cook with a charcoal grill. Once you get the hang of it, cooking with charcoal is easy, check our article on the best portable charcoal grills! Remember to heat your coals properly and keep your grill clean. With a good charcoal grill, your summertime cookouts will be revolutionary!

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