Section 1: Introduction
Grilling on a charcoal grill can be a bit more complicated than grilling on a gas grill. The amount of charcoal to use, the initial charcoal formation and the additional amount of charcoal to add to the grill are all important factors to consider. For grilling, charcoal has an advantage over burning wood because it’s anhydrous. The lack of water in charcoal allows it to burn at higher temperatures and give off less smoke than other types of grilling materials. The soot produced by wood, from organic volatile compounds and unconsumed carbon, is nonexistent with the use of charcoal.
Because it burns hot and steady, charcoal needs to be put into a grill in an intentional manner. You can easily figure out the best way to organize your charcoal once you know the required cooking temperature of your meat. There is a wide variety of meat that go well with charcoal barbecue techniques, because charcoal remains one of the most versatile barbecue heating components.
Section 2: Charcoal and BBQ
Charcoal flavoring pairs nicely with many popular barbecue meats, including baby back ribs, rotisserie ribs, pork chops, burgers, smoked turkey and flank steak. Because charcoal burns at a high heat and gives off little smoke plume, it is a popular choice for families because it doesn’t produce a strong, pungent smoke flavor. Hardwoods used in other recipes often produce too much smoke and the smoke flavor can overpower the flavor of the meat. With charcoal, the flavor of the meat and seasonings shows through.
Alternatively, gas grills produce absolutely no smoke flavor. The balanced flavor produced by charcoal grilling gives another level of experience to your barbecued meats. While gas grills can cook food very quickly and over even heat, many prefer the high amount of heat produced by charcoal grills in combination with the unique smoky flavor produced by the grilling process.
In order to maximize the efficiency of your grilling, create a good barbecue environment for your cut of meat, and produce a great flavor profile at the end, knowing how much charcoal to add to your grill is essential.
Section 3: How Much Charcoal to Use for Your BBQ?
Need to know how much charcoal you actually need? This can be a bit of a tricky thing to figure out because it depends on a few key factors. The amount you need depends on the size of your meat, desired texture, and the amount of heat your cut requires. Taking these factors into consideration, charcoal grilling for beginners can be easy if you follow the guidelines below.
For thin cuts of meat, high-heat cooking is an ideal way to create a good flavor profile and lock in moisture. A direct-heat grilling is ideal for this type of cooking, and involves laying out a single layer of charcoal across the bottom of the cooking grate. The amount of charcoal you’ll need for direct-heat grilling is about 100 briquettes.
If you’re cooking multiple cuts of meat that require different temperatures, a two-zone fire is the best. This configuration requires that the charcoal briquettes are spread out over half of the grill, leaving the other half without. The side that contains charcoal is ideal for high-heat, direct grilling. It is a great place to put your cut of meat during the final stages, because direct heat sears the outside and creates a flavorful crust. Two-zone fires are best for cuts of steak, pork chops and bone-in chicken cuts. The heat is medium to high heat, and works well for thin cuts of meat. The amount needed for a two-zone fire spread is between 50 and 100 briquettes.
Another variation of the two-zone fire can be made by placing the empty space in the middle of the grill area. The parallel configuration of charcoal briquettes on each side of the grill plate creates hot zones that heat the grill continuously. This technique is ideal for smoking at low temperatures. Two-zone fire with a parallel configuration is also great for large cuts of meat, like roasts and whole chickens. This low heat method of charcoal cooking requires 100 briquettes to start. As you cook on low heat, you may need to add more charcoal later to maintain the temperature.
A fun configuration is the charcoal snake, which is ideal for cooking at low temperatures. This layout of coals requires 100 briquettes be arranged in a circle around the inside edge of the grill. These unlit coals create pockets of high heat and pockets of low heat, increasing circulation through the cooking chamber. To light this configuration, place lit coals on one end of the snake. The coals will burn slowly around the snake, creating lasting heat for several hours. This is a great coal layout for cuts of meat that will become tender with prolonged cooking times, like brisket.
Adding wood chips to your grill enhance a smoky flavor in your meat. Smoking is a popular avenue to flavor, utilizing the benefits of indirect heat applied over a long period of time. Popular woods used in conjunction with charcoal grilling include hardwoods, like cherry wood or apple wood. The sweet and smoky flavors delivered by these woods enhance the flavor profile of your meat over the length of the entire cooking process.
Before tossing wood chips on your charcoal, ensure you soak them in water. This allows the steam from the wood to penetrate the meat and aids in delivering smoke aromas to the meat. Make sure to add wood chips to the area of the grill that produces the lowest amount of heat. Also ensure that the charcoal is burning strong already, because wet wood chips can hinder the burning rate of weakly lit coals. For a stronger wood flavor, put your wood chips on early in the charcoal grilling process. For a light and smoky flavor, put them on during the last two hours.
- Light your grill with a chimney starter. This handy tool is an elongated lighter that can light up to 100 charcoal briquettes at a time. Other popular tools used to light a fire, like newspaper, don’t have nearly the amount of lighting power as a chimney starter. Lighter fluid and traditional lighters can produce harmful fumes and an exploding lighter hazard. The best and quickest way to light your grill is with a chimney starter. You can find them at your local hardware or camping store.
- Preheat your grill and prepare the cooking grate. Preheating your grill is important because it eliminates the possibility of accidentally overcooking your meal. When you put a cut of meat on a cold grill, you run the risk of leaving it on the grill too long and overcooking the meat. If you preheat your grill, then you’ll get the desired cook and texture, as well as grill marks, on your cut of meat. Preparing the cooking grate is an important step to ensure your meat won’t stick. Make sure to oil your cooking grate before placing it on the hot fire. The oil will make sure the grate is heated evenly and accepts the cut of meat effortlessly.
- Master the problematic grill “flare up.” One of the most common problems with grill cooking occurs when fat from your cut of meat falls on the coals and causes a small grease fire. With a classic direct-heat grill set up, this issue cannot be avoided. The most you can do is spray the small grease fire with a water bottle and hope for the best. Where the flareups occur, you can try to move your cut of meat to a different area of the grill. Using a two-zone fire will help you with the “flare up” issue. You can simply move your cut of meat to an indirect heat zone, with no charcoal underneath. This way, the flare up can’t affect your cut of meat.
Section 4: Conclusion
Keeping a charcoal grill going for hours can be a challenge if you don’t take into consideration the formation of your charcoal, venting techniques, and the amount you use. For this reason, grilling for beginners can take a bit of planning beforehand. Knowing the cut of meat you want to cook, your desired cooking temperature and how tender you’d like your meat to be are all considerations when looking into how much charcoal you need on your grill.
The charcoal grill layouts mentioned above are beneficial to different cuts of meats and produce different amounts of heat. A parallel two-zone fire is a great configuration for producing medium heat over a long period of time, and requires 100 briquettes of charcoal to get started. The snake configuration, on the other hand, produces a low heat source for a long period of time and requires about 100 charcoal briquettes to get started. As always, remember to consider the necessary temperature requirements and burn time before deciding on how much charcoal to use for your barbecue.