There's nothing quite like sitting outside on a long summer day, cooking on your charcoal grill with a cool drink in your hand. The traditional charcoal grill will allow you to sear and slow cook your favorite meats for a mouthwatering, crusty exterior and a juicy, tender interior that has been infused with a delicious and smoky flavor. At Overstock, you can explore a wide variety of outdoor charcoal grills at great prices from trusted brands like Weber, Char-Broil, Big Green Egg, and Dyna-Glo. Whether you're looking for a portable grill to haul to the beach or a sweet kettle set up to enjoy in your backyard, you'll be able to find what you need to grill the perfect barbecue feast.
How to Cook on Your Charcoal Grill
Why cook on a charcoal grill?
Your first decision when planning the ultimate BBQ is figuring out if you should choose a charcoal or gas grill.
The main advantage of picking a charcoal grill is simple: taste. Many times charcoal is preferred for providing that mouth-watering, smokey flavor that's inherent in all the best BBQ grill feasts. When the charcoal gets heated up (reaching temperatures of 500-700 degrees F), it provides a quick sear on the outside of your food that sometimes takes on a caramelized texture. If you don't have a standalone smoker, you can use a charcoal grill to achieve a similar effect.
Since it's portable, a charcoal grill a great choice for camping, beach days, and any outdoor activity that's not in your backyard. Upfront, charcoal grills have a lower price point than gas grills. However, you will need to budget for buying charcoal for your BBQ throughout grilling season.
One last thing to keep in mind when outdoor grilling over charcoal: charcoal grills require just as much (if not more) attention than a natural or propane gas grill, which has simple temperature knob to help with temperature control. However, gas grills are more prone to flare-ups from open flames, whereas with a charcoal BBQ, you're just cooking with lava rock and smoke. With any grill, make sure your camping or backyard cooking area is open and well-ventilated — no one wants a BBQ disaster when they're trying to enjoy a burger.
Features of a charcoal grill
Let's start with a little tour of your charcoal grill. Whether it's portable or has a larger capacity, every charcoal grill has a few key features.
The model you're probably most familiar with is the kettle. A kettle grill has a stainless steel lid and it looks like a large, oval ball on legs. A typical kettle grill is comprised of a lid, a cooking grate, a charcoal grid, a lower chamber (or kettle), a vent, and legs. Some kettle models may also include an ash catcher (or the ash catcher may be sold separate as an accessory) to make outdoor clean-up a breeze.
Your charcoal BBQ grill has a cooking grid that can be made from stainless steel, porcelain-enameled steel, or porcelain-enameled cast iron. These materials all have their specific advantages for your charcoal BBQ, but in general, they're all easy to clean, durable, and of course, leave those coveted grill marks on your burgers. Porcelain enamel cast iron or steel usually holds heat longer and better, while stainless steel grates are super affordable. For less maintenance work, splurge on a high quality porcelain cast iron grate for your BBQ grill.
Depending on the size of your charcoal grill, there may only be enough cooking space for direct grilling if it is portable. If you prefer the versatility of the indirect grilling method, look for a kettle grill with a wide cooking area. For a lower price, you can even get a portable grill that can sit on a tabletop.
Lighting your charcoal grill
First things first: you have to light your charcoal BBQ grill.
Experts recommend using a charcoal chimney for your BBQ which uses newspaper instead of lighter fluid to ignite the fire. It's a little safer; plus, lighter fluid may leave unwanted flavors in your food. To use a charcoal chimney, place a few sheets of newspaper in the bottom of the chimney and add charcoal on top of it. Light it and enjoy a beer for ten minutes — your charcoal will be good to go by then.
Another option is an electric charcoal fire starter, which you use by simply placing it in your grill alongside the charcoal. Once the starter has heated up the coals enough, you can (carefully!) remove it and let the temperature continue to rise.
And if you have a propane grill that's run out of gas, don't even think about adding charcoal to it. It won't work and may be a safety hazard. Just ask someone to leave the tailgate and restock the propane tank.
Preparing your charcoal grill
Just a few more items to take care of before you can start thawing the burgers:
Anytime you grill out, you need to clean your charcoal BBQ grill. You'll need the right accessories remove any ash or grease that has built up and prepare the grates so that food doesn't stick to them.
Once your barbecue grill has preheated, use a stiff bristle brush to scrape the grates clean of residue. You'll also need to oil the grates. Fold a paper towel a few times, dip it in olive or vegetable oil, and use a pair of tongs to rub the bars of the grate. Repeat both the brushing and the oiling after cooking to set yourself up for success at the next tailgate.
Cleaning your charcoal barbecue grill
At the end of the season, your charcoal grill needs a deep clean. After your last steak of the summer, make sure all the ashes are cooled down completely. Dispose of them in a safe container.
Contrary to popular belief, you shouldn't clean the grease off the grates before you cover up the charcoal grill for the winter. Leaving the grease on the cooking grid will prevent rust on the metal, so the next time you open your barbecue grill, you're ready to go.
Cooking methods on a charcoal barbecue grill
Sure, you can just throw a burger down on the grill and hope for the best — or, you can learn a little more about the different cooking methods for your charcoal barbecue.
Direct grilling is exactly what it sounds like: placing the food to be grilled directly over the heat source. Direct grilling is ideal for foods that can be cooked in twenty minutes or less like chicken fillets, prawns, meat patties, steaks, and small cuts. To achieve this method, spread the charcoal briquettes out across the entire charcoal grate.
Indirect grilling is a little more nuanced but offers great versatility, especially if you want to cook something (like a whole chicken) low and slow. To grill indirectly on a charcoal barbecue, place the charcoal briquettes on both sides of the charcoal grate (but not in the middle). Place your food directly in the middle of the cooking grid and add an aluminum drip pan in the middle of the briquettes to catch juices. You can also cook leg of lamb, whole fish, beef tenderloin, and entire roasts with this method —basically, anything that would take more than twenty minutes to cook.
Ever heard of grilled pizza? Yes, it can be done with the circular method of grilling, which is also ideal for quiche, bread, cakes, and turkey. If you're interested in using the circular method, spread the charcoal briquettes in an even circle around the edge of the charcoal grate. Again, place the aluminum drip pan in the middle to catch drips.
Finally, if you just can't make up your mind, use the fifty-fifty method, which is similar to indirect grilling. Place all the briquettes on one side of the charcoal grid, with the drip pan on the other side. Place your food directly above the drip pan. In addition to collecting drips, the pan will also prevent unnecessary smoke. The fifty-fifty method is perfect when you're trying to grill a bunch of things at once: you can grill directly on one side of the grill with high-heat while utilizing the other side for indirect grilling. It's the best of both worlds!