Setting Up the Charcoal Grill

Summer and cookout season will unerringly and unendingly lead to debates about the best way to grill: wood, charcoal, or gas? If you are one of the fortunate few who have already decided and have picked charcoal for that unforgettable smoky effect, you will no doubt have a successful and satisfying cookout season, with just a few tips to see you along the way.

The very first thing to watch out for is to have the right amount of charcoal for your grill. If you are a beginner, you will need to check the manufacturer’s instructions for the recommended level of charcoal for your particular grill. Equally important is the choice of charcoal itself. You can either buy formed briquettes or natural lump charcoal. Natural lump charcoal has an advantage: it has no residual vapors and burns hotter than briquettes.

Place the charcoal in a pyramid shape about half an hour prior to cooking time. The reason for this is that the pyramid provides ventilation for the coals to catch fire. Now to light the coals. If you are using lighter fluid, use about half a cup of lighter fluid to soak the coals. Wait for the liquid to soak in and then light with a match. Remember, gasoline and kerosene may cause an explosion and must be avoided at all costs.

If you prefer an electric starter, place it in the center of the pyramid and plug it in. Once the ash starts forming, unplug and remove the starter. Be sure to store the starter in a safe, cool place to avoid burns.

Those using a chimney starter will have to remove the cooking grid and place the starter in the grill. You will need to place some sheets of crumpled newspaper at the bottom of the starter. Fill the top part of the starter with coals. Then ignite the newspaper through the holes at the bottom of the starter. The fire will draw up through the starter, lighting the charcoal. After the coals are ready (this usually takes 20-30 minutes) use an oven mitt to empty the coals into the grill pan. Then arrange the coals into an even layer using tongs, and carefully remove the hot starter.

While cooking, move the coals closer together or place more coals to increase the heat. Open the vents or fan the coals to give them more air. To decrease the heat, move the coals apart or raise the grate. Limit the oxygen supply to lower the heat. With these small but significant tips in mind, you are bound to have an unmistakable grilling experience.