Affiliate disclosure: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. All opinions remain my own. You can learn more about our editorial policies here.
Setting up a charcoal grill can be a daunting task if you’ve never done it before. But with this complete guide, we will show you how to set up your charcoal grill and you’ll be able to do it like a pro in no time! So gather your supplies and get ready to start cooking.
Gather your supplies
If you’re planning on grilling out this weekend, make sure you have all the supplies you need before you start cooking. First, you’ll need to set up your charcoal grill. You’ll need a fireproof surface on which to place the grill, as well as enough charcoal to get a good fire going.
When choosing charcoal, you will need to decide between natural lump vs briquettes. Once the charcoal is lit, you’ll need to wait until it’s evenly heated before placing your food on the grill.
In addition to the grill and charcoal, you’ll also need some basic supplies for cooking. This includes a pair of tongs for flipping burgers and hot dogs, as well as a long-handled spatula for flipping fish or chicken. You’ll also need a basting brush to apply BBQ sauce or marinade, and some aluminum foil to wrap up food when it’s done cooking. Finally, don’t forget the paper plates and plastic utensils! With all these supplies in hand, you’re ready to start grilling.
Types of Heat for Charcoal Grills
There are two distinct heating methods you can use when grilling with charcoal: direct and indirect. In addition, we will cover split-zone heat methods for charcoal grills. Each of these methods has its own benefits and drawbacks, so it’s important to understand how each one works before you start cooking.
Direct heat is when the coals are placed directly underneath the food. This is best for thin cuts of meat that cook quickly, such as burgers, hot dogs, and chicken breasts.
To set up a grill for direct heat, start by lighting the charcoal in a chimney starter. Once the coals are lit, dump them into one side of the grill. Then, use a long-handled brush to spread them out evenly. Place the grill grate on top of the coals, and let it preheat for 10-15 minutes before cooking.
Indirect heat is when the coals are placed off to the side, underneath only part of the grill grate. This is best for thick cuts of meat that need to be cooked slowly, such as ribs or a whole chicken.
Other great ways to grill, Guide to Cold Smoker Generators
To set up a grill for indirect heat, start by lighting the charcoal in a chimney starter. Once the coals are lit, dump them into one side of the grill. Then, use a long-handled brush to spread them out evenly. Place the grill grate on top of the coals, and let it preheat for 10-15 minutes before cooking.
You’ll also need to place a drip pan on the other side of the grill, underneath where the food will be cooking. This will catch any drippings and prevent them from flare-ups.
Two-zone split heat
For those who like a more moderate temperature, two-zone fires are ideal. Use a chimney starter to light your charcoal before constructing this set-up. To use the bottom grate, spread the coals out evenly over only one half of the grate. On one side, you have your heated zone and on the other, you have your cold zone.
It’s possible that some recipes need you to begin cooking food in the cool zone (think whole chickens and ribs) before moving it to the hot zone. Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to begin some recipes by searing your food in the hot zone before switching to the cool zone to finish cooking. Using indirect heat and a two-zone configuration, you can turn your charcoal barbecue into an oven and bake brownies and bread.
How’s that for versatility!
Now that you know the different types of heat for charcoal grills, it’s time to learn how to cook with them.
Cooking with Direct Heat
As we mentioned before, direct heat is best for thin cuts of meat that cook quickly, such as burgers, hot dogs, and chicken breasts.
To cook with direct heat, start by lighting the charcoal in a chimney starter. Once the coals are lit, dump them into one side of the grill. Then, use a long-handled brush to spread them out evenly. Place the grill grate on top of the coals, and let it preheat for 10-15 minutes before cooking.
Looking to improve your bottled sauce? see our post How To Improve Store Bought BBQ Sauce
Once the grill is preheated, it’s time to start cooking! Place your food on the grill grate, and use a long-handled spatula to flip it every few minutes. Depending on what you’re cooking, it should be ready in 5-10 minutes.
When the food is cooked through, remove it from the grill and let it rest for a few minutes before serving. This will help to prevent any juices from escaping when you cut into it.
Cooking with Indirect Heat
Indirect heat is best for slow-cooking thick cuts of meat, such as ribs or a whole chicken.
To cook with indirect heat, place your charcoal on one side of the grill, leaving the other side empty. Once your coals are lit, wait until they’re covered in gray ash before adding your food to the grill.
This setup will give you a hot zone and a cool zone. The hot zone is directly over the coals, while the cool zone is further away from the heat source.
Then, cook your food on the empty side of the grill, with the lid closed, for the amount of time specified in your recipe.
You can use the cool zone to move your food around if it’s cooking too quickly or to rest your meat after it’s done cooking.
To adjust the temperature of your grill, simply add or remove coals as needed.
Additional Tips for Charcoal Grilling
Below are a few additional tips to keep in mind when grilling with charcoal:
If you want to add smoke flavor to your food, you can do so by adding wood chips to the coals before cooking. Soak the wood chips in water for 30 minutes before adding them to the grill. This will prevent them from burning too quickly.
Don’t let rain ruin your day, see our picks for the Best Indoor Smokeless Grills
Place the wood chips in a foil pouch, and poke a few holes in the top of the pouch. Then, place the pouch on the coals and close the lid of the grill. The wood chips will start to smoke, and you’ll be able to taste the flavor in your food.
If you need to add or remove coals from the grill, be sure to use long-handled tongs. This will prevent you from getting burned by the hot coals.
If you don’t have a built-in thermometer in your grill, it’s a good idea to invest in an oven thermometer. This will help you to keep track of the temperature inside the grill, so you can ensure that your food is cooking evenly.
Start with a clean grill
Before you start cooking, be sure to give your grill a good cleaning. This will help to prevent any unwanted flavors from being transferred to your food.
To clean your grill, start by removing the grill grate and brushing it with a wire brush. Then, use a putty knife to scrape any built-up grease and food from the inside of the grill.
Once the grill is clean, replace the grate and brush it with oil before cooking. This will help to prevent your food from sticking to the grate.
Do Not Dump Water On Charcoal to Put It Out
It may seem like a good idea to dump water on the coals to put them out. However, this can cause the grill to rust and could potentially be dangerous.
If you need to put out a charcoal grill, use a long-handled tongs to remove the coals from the grill and place them in a metal container. Once the coals are cool, you can dispose of them in the trash.
Never leave your grill unattended
It’s important to never leave your grill unattended, even for a few minutes. This is because a fire can start very quickly and spread quickly as well.
Wrapping Up How to Set Up Your Charcoal Grill
That’s everything you need to know about how to set up your charcoal grill for the first time. By following the tips in this guide, you’ll be sure to have a successful cookout this summer!