Grilling enthusiasts know that charcoal enhances more flavors in grilled foods than gas grilling. Charcoal can also be more time consuming and challenging to cook with, but charcoal fans agree that the flavor is worth the effort. With a little practice, anyone can master the art of grilling with charcoal.
Choosing Your Charcoal
Charcoal comes in two forms: formed briquettes and natural lump charcoal. Briquettes burn more evenly. Some briquettes contain filler and binders that can affect the burning quality, and many contain petroleum products that help them ignite but can produce vapors that affect flavor.
Partially burning wood at high temperatures creates natural lump charcoal. Water, gas vapors and tars burn away, leaving behind the carbon charcoal. Professional grillers prefer natural lump charcoal to briquettes. It has no residual vapors and burns hotter than briquettes.
Lighting the Charcoal
The easiest way to start a charcoal fire is to use lighter fluid, but many charcoal grillers prefer to avoid the fumes and flavors caused by using lighter fluid. An electric starter does a good job, but a simple chimney starter is very effective at lighting a charcoal fire.
A chimney starter has two compartments. Place crumpled newspaper in the bottom compartment and place the starter in the grill. Fill the top compartment with charcoal and light the newspaper with a long match. The burning newspaper will light the charcoal. Allow 20 to 30 minutes for the charcoal to light and come up to grilling temperature.
Briquettes are ready when covered with grey ash. Natural lump charcoal is ready when small flames burn on the ends of each lump. Protect your hands with an insulated oven mitt and dump the charcoal onto the grate in the bottom of the grill. Spread the charcoal into an even layer on the grate. If you desire a hot and cool zone, concentrate more coals on one side of the grill.
Controlling the Heat
You can control the grill's heat in several ways. To increase the heat, move the coals closer together, add more coals or lower the grill grate. Open the vents at the bottom of the grill to improve air flow to the coals. You can also fan the coals to increase the heat.
To decrease the heat, move the coals apart so that they just touch or raise the grate. Partially close the vents to limit oxygen to the fire. Be careful, If you close the vents completely with the lid on, the fire can go out due to lack of oxygen.
Remember to add more coals when the fire begins to burn low. Add them before they are needed, as they will take 20 to 30 minutes to fully ignite.
Maintaining Your Grill
Clean the grill before and after cooking with a stiff wire grill brush. Wipe the lid and any side tables with hot, soapy water. When cold, remove the grill grate and fire grate and empty the ashes from the bottom of the grill. Check the grill for rust and corrosion. Remove white spots or corrosion with equal parts of vinegar and water. Store the grill out of the weather to prevent rust.