The Ultimate Beginners Guide To Charcoal Grills

Posted by Doug Sanicola on Mon, Feb 24, 2014 @ 12:00 PM

Trying to find the right grill for your backyard?

Charcoal grills are a favorite among outdoor BBQ enthusiasts because of the unique flavor and the cooking experience you can only get from cooking with charcoal.

This guide will cover everything you need to know about charcoal grills.

We will breakdown everything from how charcoal grills work, to the different fuel choices and some questions you should ask yourself to help you find your perfect fit.

Take a look and see what has made charcoal grilling a staple in American grilling.

Big Green Egg Kitchen

How Does A Charcoal Grill Work?

Cooking with a charcoal grill takes time and attention to detail.

Charcoal is loaded in the chamber just under the grill grate and is the fuel source. When burned, the charcoal will transform into embers radiating heat up toward the top vent.

Temperature is controlled by adjusting the top or bottom vents allowing more oxygen in or less. More results in a higher temperature and less oxygen to cool it down.


How Charcoal Works

 

Types Of Charcoal Grills

There are a few types of charcoal grills. Some grills are square, round, or rectangular, some have lids while others do not, and some may or may not have a venting system for heat control.

The majority of charcoal grills fit into these categories.

Ceramic

The ceramic grill is the most versatile and effective type of charcoal grill because the ceramic chamber retains heat and moisture more efficiently than any other charcoal grill option.

Not only can these charcoal grills be used for grilling and smoking, but for baking pizza at 500 degrees as well. This is made possible by the excellent heat retention properties of the ceramic shell that can produce temperatures of up to 750 °F.

The top and bottom air vent control the temperature. Careful attention to the vent system and understanding that adjusting the airflow is key to controlling the temperature. These high quality charcoal grills can be used to cook anything that fits with perfectly even heat distribution.  

Ceramic

 

Barrel

Barrel grills are the kind of grill that look like someone sliced a steel barrel in half lengthwise. It's hinges are attached so the top half forms the lid and the bottom half forms the charcoal holding chamber.

The vents that control airflow and temperature are cut into the top and bottom of the barrel. A chimney to control smoke from escaping attaches to the lid.

With the lid closed, heat can then be controlled with vents. Other designs may contain other features such as a smoke box, but the same basic barrel design does not change.

Barrel Grill

 

Kettle 

The kettle grill is composed of a lid, cooking grid, charcoal grid, lower chamber, venting system, and legs. Some models include an ash catcher pan and wheels. The lower chamber that holds the charcoal is shaped like a kettle, giving the grill its name. 

The key to the kettle grills' cooking abilities is its shape. The kettle design is meant to distribute heat evenly.

When the hood is down on the grill, it prevents flare-ups from dripping grease by controlling oxygen intake, and allows heat to circulate around the food as it cooks. It also holds in flavor-enhancing smoke produced by the dripping grease and smoldering charcoals.

 

Fuel Choices

There is widely known disagreement among grilling enthusiasts on what type of charcoal is best for grilling. Lump Charcoal or Charcoal Briquettes? 

Lump Charcoal

Lump is charcoal in its most natural form. Lump charcoal is easy to light, produces less ash than standard briquettes and gives you natural smoke flavor when you cook with it.  

Lump Charcoal also is very responsive to oxygen, making it easier to control temperatures. Lump contains no chemicals or fillers to help light up or burn longer.

In the end, lump charcoal is easier to light, burns hotter and is a cleaner option than other standard charcoal briquettes.

Big Green Egg Lump Charcoal

 

Charcoal Briquettes

Charcoal briquettes have been compared to by users as the fast food of charcoal.

Briquettes emphasizes uniformity in size, burn length, and light up easy. However, some of the chemicals used to create those characteristics are hazardous to your health during the early burning stages.

It is important to wait until you see ash on the top of the briquettes before placing any food on the grill. 

Charcoal Briquettes

 

Why People Love Cooking With Charcoal

Considering a charcoal grill is a smart idea for five reasons

1. Flavor

When you slow smoke a piece of meat you want to give it plenty of time on the grill so it can absorb all the smoke flavored aromas. Lump charcoal emits stronger smoke aromas and flavors that penetrate the food from every angle. 

2. Portability

Many charcoal grills come pre-equipped with wheel nests or carts and are can be easily lifted of the ground by two people. A bag of charcoal bag thrown in the back of a truck and your off to the game!

3. Temperature Range

Charcoal grills allow you to increase the cooking temperature by adjusting the air vents on the top and bottom of the grill. You can slowly cook a rack of ribs at 225 degrees for four hours or bake a pizza at 500 degrees for 20 minutes! 

4. Easy Maintenance

Charcoal grills are easy to maintain because the mechanisms are not complex. There is a grill grate, a compartment where charcoal is placed and a chamber bellow that collects excess ash. Ash can be easily removed by a shop vacuum, the grill scraped clean and Bam! Clean up is over. 

5. The Culture

This might seem silly to some but not for people who love loading up the charcoal grill to kill a few hours on a hot Saturday afternoon. 

There is an art to fine smoking and grilling that takes experience to understand. Ask any BBQ lover if they regretted any time spent on a perfectly seasoned, seared, smoked and juicy steak.

 

Features For Charcoal Grills

Consider these features for you charcoal grill. Each one adds convience to you grilling experience and makes your cook out just a little but easier.

Features

Mobile or Mounted

Do you want your charcoal grill mounted near your outdoor kitchen or do you prefer to hide it when you are not using it? Many charcoal grills will come with a set of wheels that may be taken off if needed. 

Plate Setter

Plate setters are a flat piece of ceramic made by Big Green Egg that is placed inside the grill just above the charcoal fire. It keeps direct flames off your food creating a more consistent temperature throughout the interior of the grill. Plate Setter's also allow you to place pizza plates or racks on top to hold ribs.

Plate Setter for Big Green Egg

Lights

Cooking in the dark is a recipe for burnt BBQ! A grill light, either attached or free standing, is key for grilling at night. Invest in one and you will thank yourself over and over.

Cast Iron Cook Grids

Cooking grids made of cast iron are extremely durable, easy to clean and also leave that perfect sear mark on your steaks!

V-Racks

V-Racks are used to hold racks of ribs when upright. Flip the rack upside down and it holds roasts or poultry upright.  

V-Rack Ribs Big Green Egg Big Green Egg V-Rack

 See more accessories for the Big Green Egg Charcoal Grill here!

Handy Accessories To Consider

Charcoal grill accessories upgrade your grills performance and improve your overall barbecue experience. These additions include thermometers, charcoal starters, covers and much more.

Grill Accessories

Starters

Fire starters that you break off work best so you can strategically place your hot spots evenly. Three evenly spaced, two inch square cubes are enough to get a solid base heat. These fiber blocks burn clean and can get your grill started quickly and safely.

Thermometers

Traditional and digital thermometers can lend a helpful hand to ensure your food is cooked just right to your liking. Click to see a meat and poultry temperature guide.

Cooking tools that make your life easier!

There are many cooking tools that make grilling more convenient and fun.

Many creative tools to consider include, meat claws to shred meat, flavor injectors to add extra flavor inside your food, grid lifters to keep your hands clean, basting brushes, magnetic grill lights, sauce mops, grill rings for jalapeno poppers, artichokes, onions, and more on the grill. 

Covers & Drawers

Protect your grill.  When you are not using it, a grill cover is a necessity to sheild your grill from the elements.

Having a place to keep all your tools protected and conveniently close to the action is important as well. Storage drawers keep your grilling, marinating and cleaning tools right were they need to be, saving you the trip running into the house

 

3 Questions You Should Ask Yourself

1. What size grill do I want?  

It all depends on what your style of cooking is. The bigger the grill you have, the more flexibility you have to cook more items at the same time.

If you like to show off your skills by feeding the whole neighborhood and are a fan of big roasts and racks of ribs bigger is always better! 

Charcoal grills normally range from 120 square inches all the way to 700 square inches.

If you want something to fit for smaller patios or balconies and is able to prepare four burgers or chicken breasts at a time, 177 square inches is a standard size that would suit your needs.

But if you are looking serve up fourteen racks of ribs, twenty-four burgers or a couple of holiday turkeys, you will probably need about 600+ square inches of grill surface space. 

2. Charcoal Briquettes or Lump Charcoal?

If your going for most economical then charcoal briquettes such as Kingsford are the better option. They offer a long and hot burn. 

However, lump charcoal is the overall better choice when you see for yourself how fast it starts up, reacts to oxygen and changes temperature and most of all adds great smoke flavors!

3. What type of Charcoal Grill is the best?

Once again this comes down to personal grilling style. Personally, I prefer a ceramic charcoal grill for a couple reasons. I rarely cook for more than five people so size isn't and issue and the ceramic material is the best at keeping heat in and cold air out giving me better temperature control.

However, if you are love cooking multiple racks of ribs at one time then a barrel grill offers huge surface space. Some people make their own extra large barrel grills specially made for smoking large amounts of meat. 

 

What Did You Learn

•Why charcoal grills have been a staple for backyard grilling in America for a hundred years. 

 Overall flavor, heat control and quality is what sets charcoal grills apart from competing grills and gives you a great BBQ experience. 

 What features are important when building your charcoal BBQ space.

 Tons of creative tools that can make grilling with charcoal more convenient and fun

  

Download your free copy of The BBQ Grill Buying Guide! Learn even more about top outdoor grills!

 

BBQ Grill Guide

Tags: Outdoor Spaces, Outdoor Kitchens, Cooking Outside, Grilling & BBQ