Monday, June 18, 2012

How to grill with charcoal

How to bbq with charcoal
By: Chef Cristian Feher

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Although many of you are BBQ wizards, there are those who find charcoal a little intimidating.  If you remember the last time you had really good BBQ it's likely that it was cooked over coals. And it's also likely that you followed the trail of smoke to find the place!

Using charcoal to grill your meats can take longer than using propane or electric grills, but the results are far superior. In this article I will be providing you with some helpful tips on using charcoal in hopes of converting you from a Propane Peter to a Charcoal Charlie.  

How to choose a charcoal grill - People have been grilling with charcoal for hundreds of years, and it's only until recently that Man has begun to manufacture metal grills with lids and shiny handles - which means that even the most rudimentary charcoal should do the job. However, since you live in an age of modern technology and nice things, you might as well look for the following attributes when choosing your grill: 1) It should have a lid. 2) It should have an intake air vent, and an exhaust vent to allow you to control the flow of air. 3) You should be able to move the cooking grill, or charcoal pan, up and down to control the heat.

Once you have found a grill that has these three attributes, your only other deciding factor will be how much you want to spend. If you spent all your money on a ring for your sweetheart, you may consider buying a $30 grill at your local bargain shop. Or, you can cancel Christmas, and spend several hundred dollars on a Big Green Egg grill. Keep in mind that, although the more expensive ones will have some advantages, they will both do pretty much the same thing - cook food over hot coals.

I currently use the Char-Griller 5050, which offers me a gas grill and a charcoal grill in one convenient package. It''s not the longest lasting grill, but the replacement parts are reasonably priced, and it was really fun to put together.

Briquettes or Lump Coal? Call me a purist, but I prefer to use lump coal when it's available. Briquettes are often - but not always - combined with other materials, and some are even soaked in flammable chemicals (or fire retardants for a slower burn). The bottom line is that I don't want chemicals in my meat - just natural smoke. So I prefer lump coal.

How do I light it?  Because a charcoal BBQ can take longer to prepare than a gas or electric one, many people have adopted what I consider the bad habit of throwing down some charcoal briquettes, dousing them in lighter fluid and throwing in a match. You might as well cook your steak in your car's muffler or on top of the engine block. I can always taste lighter fluid when someone started their charcoal this way and I don't like it.

I like to use balled-up newspaper and kindling wood (sticks and twigs) to make my fire. I then put the lump charcoal into the fire and start it up - this way the addition of natural wood will give your food an amazing smoky taste that is lacking when using charcoal only. If you're in a big hurry you want to use an electric charcoal starter. You will miss out on the wood smoke, but at least you won't have to soak your steak in gasoline to light it up!

Smoke is good for you! Did you know that smoke not only tastes good, but it can make your leftover grilled foods last a lot longer than gas-grilled foods? Smoke is an antimicrobial (kills germs), and an antioxidant (a word used to market cheap fruit juice to health-fanatics).  It coats your foods in compounds which make it hard for bacteria to thrive, and it slows down the rate at which fats become rancid.  Smoke also has a tendency to dry out foods, which makes it hard for bacteria - basically, bacteria hate smoke. It's like the plague to them.

I wish you happy grilling! Do you have any grilling tips of your own? You can always email me at 

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