Select Page
Hot Coals In A Charcoal Chimney Starter

Hot Coals In A Charcoal Chimney Starter

What greater way is there to celebrate summer than using a charcoal grill?  The smell of searing steak, the feeling of heat radiating off the grill, and the salivating crowd of friends around you all make a charcoal grill essential for summer days.  To make sure you are the king of the grill, you need to know the best charcoal grilling tips.  I’ll give you the run down on how to set up, light, and use your grill perfectly, so you can just worry about the delicious food to come.

It is important to keep in mind that everyone has their slight differences when it comes to charcoal grilling tips and techniques.  When using a charcoal grill there are your base skills, and there are the personalized details.  Everyone has their own little charcoal grill tips that they’ve picked up over the years.  Let’s start with the basics, then we can move into some preference based techniques later.

Fundamental Charcoal Grilling Tips and Techniques

Types of Charcoal

Being the king of using a charcoal grill starts long before flipping meat.  The first question you need to ask yourself is which type of charcoal to use.  You can find a vast selection of charcoal, but there are three main types to take into consideration when you are making this ever-important initial decision.  You have self-starting briquettes, original briquettes, and the ever-popular lump charcoal.

Charcoal Grilling Tips And Techniques, Original Charcoal Briquettes

Original Charcoal Briquettes

Original briquettes are the most common, and you’ve probably seen plenty of people lighting them up. They are compressed byproducts of wood and have additives that allow them to burn consistently.  While they take a bit to start burning, when original briquettes get going, they burn for quite a long time. This allows you to focus on the task at hand, cooking some flesh.

Charcoal Grilling Tips And Techniques, Kingsford Self Starting Briquettes

Kingsford Self Starting Briquettes

Self-starting briquettes are an easy answer to lighting a charcoal grill. If you don’t want to play with lighter fluid, and you don’t own a charcoal chimney, consider buying a bag of these bad boys to get your grill burning.  Keep in mind, these coals burn quicker than their original counterparts, and if you need to add more coals to keep cooking, you will have to add original coals instead.

Charcoal Grilling Tips And Techniques, Lump Charcoal

Lump Charcoal

Lump charcoal is the answer to purist dreams. A less processed alternative to briquettes, they offer a nice and natural option for grillers.  It is not compressed and doesn’t have additives, meaning the pieces of charcoal can vary in size.  Lump charcoal burns hotter and faster.  On the plus side, it lights easily and it responds well to temperature adjustments. Some drawbacks include its cost (more expensive) and its lack of consistency.

Charcoal Grilling Tips And Techniques, Cowboy Brand Lump Charcoal

Cowboy Brand Lump Charcoal In A Charcoal Chimney

It is worth playing around with the different types of charcoal.  Your choice of charcoal can be a defining piece in your overall grilling experience.


Light your grill with either a charcoal chimney, lighter fluid, or the self-starting briquettes mentioned above.

You can also check out several alternate Charcoal Lighting Techniques here.

Charcoal Grilling Tips And Techniques, Char-Griller Charcoal Chimney Starter

Char-Griller Charcoal Chimney Starter

To use a charcoal chimney, start by placing crumpled newspaper in the bottom, underneath the wire rack. Next, fill the chimney with your charcoal. Place the chimney on the bottom grate of your grill and light the newspaper.  Allow the charcoal to burn until it is white and ashy. That is the tell-tale sign of ready-to-go charcoal.  Carefully dump the charcoal into the grill.

Charcoal Grilling Tips And Techniques, White and Ashy Ready To Use Charcoal

White and Ashy Ready To Use Charcoal

You can see a list of My Top Charcoal Chimney Starter Recommendations here.

If you would rather use lighter fluid, make sure to form a neat pile with your charcoal before lighting it.  The more your charcoal briquettes touch each other the quicker they will light.  Follow the instructions on your lighter fluid for the amount to use, and light the charcoal immediately after spraying it onto the charcoal.  Never spray lighter fluid onto a flame or hot coals.

Charcoal Grilling Tips And Techniques, Charcoal Lighter Fluid

Charcoal Lighter Fluid

To use self-starter briquettes, build a neat pile to increase your overall coal contact.  Light a few of the coals on their edges. The flame will spread over the rest of the coals.  After they have settled down and turned ashy, it is time to spread them out and start cooking.

Preparing the Grill: The Kingpin of Charcoal Grilling Tips and Techniques

Make sure you don’t overlook the importance of a well-prepared grill.  Follow these charcoal grilling tips to ensure you get the best quality possible.

  • Always scrape the grate off before you drop any food onto your grill.  This makes sure you don’t get any left-over bits of burnt food and grease on your meal.
  • Dip a paper towel in vegetable oil and use your tongs to wipe it over the hot grate.  That way you won’t get your food stuck to the grate.
  • Not all foods are created equal. Use a Two zone fire to make distinct areas to cook different foods.  After your coals are lit, spread them out to cover about ½ of the charcoal grate.  Placing food directly over the charcoal will cook fast and hot.  Over the coals is perfect for food that needs a brief time to cook; steak, corn on the cob, zucchini.  You can utilize the side without charcoal to thoroughly cook food after searing it over coals and make sure you don’t end up burning it.  The side that is empty of charcoal is also great for slow-cooked foods; like full chickens, pork tenderloin, potatoes.

Now that you are using a charcoal grill that is well prepped, let’s go over some basic temperature controls.

Temperature Controls

Oxygen is a charcoal grill’s best friend. Fire needs oxygen in order to burn. The vents on the top and bottom of your grill allow you to control how much air can circulate throughout.  You can utilize these vents to control the temperature.

Opening the vents allows more air in, feeding the fire, and raising the temperature.  Closing the vents takes away the oxygen and lowers the temperature. Find a good temperature for your grilling needs by testing this function out.  Make sure not to completely close the vents though. Without enough oxygen, the coals will extinguish, leaving you fruitless in your search for grilled goodies.

Compare grilling to pan frying for a second. You don’t want to always put your stove on high when cooking. There is a delicacy to knowing what temperatures are needed for what foods.  The vents are your grill’s version of the temperature knob on your stove; use it accordingly!

A pro charcoal grilling tip is to be aware of how often you open the grill’s lid.  When you open the lid, you allow plenty of air in and heat out.  Keep your temperature consistent by only opening the lid when necessary. Flip and check your food, then shut it to keep the temperature at your desired level. 

Make it your own

These are fundamental charcoal grilling tips and techniques. They are the necessities of grilling.  But notice that there is some wiggle room in your personal choices when grilling. Deciding between lump coal and briquettes, for one thing, can make a significant difference in how your food comes out.  Your ability to choose and change, experiment and play, alternate and innovate, is a part of what makes grilling so enjoyable.

Take time to try new techniques.  With so many variables, it’s a shame to confine yourself to the first one you try out! It will be worth it in the long run.  I hope these charcoal grilling tips are helpful for you.

What are your personal charcoal grilling tips and techniques?  Let us know by commenting below!

Click Here to read my article on The Best Charcoal Grills for 2017 With Reviews And Ratings!