Fire Up the Grill: How to Properly Use Your Charcoal BBQ

Cooking food over an open fire takes time and effort, but your reward is a more authentic grilled flavor that no stove or gas grill can match. High heat brings out intense, smoky flavors that make grilling with charcoal especially satisfying.

Whether you’re cooking meat, seafood, veggies, or even fruit, building a perfect charcoal fire is an essential ingredient for ensuring that perfect sear. Our step-by-step guide covers all the basics to get you grilling in no time!

Ready, set, grill!

How to start your charcoal BBQ:

  1. If need be, empty the ashes from the last BBQ.
  2. Remove the grill grate and place your chimney starter in your grill, so it sits upright. A chimney starter is a hollow metal cylinder with holes with a small wire grate inside. Fill up the chimney starter with charcoal.
  3. Add a few sheets of newspaper under the chimney grate, before lighting the newspaper.
  4. Once the newspaper catches fire, it will ignite the charcoal in your chimney starter.
  5. Heat your coals for around 20 minutes, or until they are 50% charred. They’ll be ready for grilling once an ashy, white or gray coating has formed.
  6. Arrange the charcoal on the right side of the grill.
  7. Drizzle canola or grapeseed oil onto a cloth or towel and rub the grill grate to lightly coat the surface.
  8. Place the grate back on the grill, and close the cover for five to ten minutes to heat the grill.
  9. You’re all fired up: it’s grillin’ time!

How to use your charcoal BBQ (without setting your hair on fire):

  1. Remember to season and marinate your food at least one hour prior to grilling, to allow your meat, seafood and vegetables absorb the spices for a more flavorful meal.
  2. Make sure you use proper grilling tools! The right BBQ accessories make a big difference, and more importantly, they are designed for your own safety.
  3. Once your food is on the grill, flare-ups can happen. Caused by too much fat and too much heat, tame flare-ups by moving your food, especially any meat that is dripping fat into the flare-up, to a warming rack or entirely off the grill, until the grease has burned off. Dousing a flare-up with water is your last resort.
  4. If your recipes call for sugary sauces and marinades, cook your food first, and wait until towards the end of cooking to glaze with your sauce or marinade. Many sauces, such as BBQ sauce, contain sugar, which burns easily and can cause flare-ups when used liberally.

How to “turn off” your charcoal BBQ

Without a temperature control valve like a gas grill, it’s important to shut down your grill properly.

  1. Close your BBQ’s lid and the vents to prevent oxygen from reaching the coals. Allow your coals to burn out completely; a tiny ember can ignite a fire, so be sure to extinguish your coals thoroughly.
  2. Once your charcoal has cooled—wait at least 24 hours—empty the ashes.

How to maintain your charcoal BBQ

Grilling can be messy business but maintaining a clean BBQ after every use will not only make your next outdoor cookout a breeze, but your food will also taste better. Here are a few tips to help you maintain your charcoal BBQ like a pro:

  1. Begin by brushing your grill grates before and after grilling. Loose bits of food are easier to remove when the grates are hot. Give your grill grates a thorough brush before and after your cookout to maintain clean grates!
  2. Before each BBQ, use canola or grapeseed oil to lightly coat the grate to prevent your food from sticking.
  3. Make sure your coal ashes don’t build up! If your BBQ has an ashtray, be sure to check the tray before each cookout. Ideally, you should empty your BBQ and tray after every use.