How to BBQ With Charcoal

by Philip Powe

Grilling could be America's national pastime.

charcoal on fire image by jedphoto from Fotolia.com

During the summer months, grilling is a common feature of American life. The smell of food being grilled wafts through the neighborhoods and suburbs of nearly every town. There is, however, one bone of contention among these outdoor cooks: the use of gas or charcoal. Charcoal requires a little effort but is still relatively simple to cook with, and many believe it gives a better flavor than gas.

Pour the charcoal into the grill and form it into a pyramid. Spray a small amount of starter fluid. Light with a match and allow to burn until the coals are glowing red--at least 10 minutes.

Spread the charcoal out on the bottom of the grill. The type of meat you are cooking will establish how you distribute the charcoal. If you are cooking steaks, rake the charcoal in a flat, even bed so the heat is distributed evenly. If you are cooking chicken, move the coals to one side and place the chicken on the other side. If you are cooking pork, move the coals to one side, place the pork over the coals and sear both sides, then move to the side without coals.

Wipe the grill with oil and place the grill over the coals. Oiling the grill will help keep the meat from sticking when cooking.

Place your chosen meat on the grill, following the guidelines in Step 2. The cooking time depends on the food you are cooking. If you are cooking steak and you want it to be medium, usually allow it to cook about five minutes on each side. This can vary depending on the heat in your grill. If you are cooking chicken, cover the grill with the top, allowing it to smoke. Do the same thing for pork. Covering will increase the smoke flavor and helps assure thorough cooking.


  • Always consult a cookbook when trying to cook a new food. Keep a water bottle handy to stop flare-ups.

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  • Weber's Charcoal Grilling: The Art of Cooking with Live Fire, Jamie Purviance, 2007
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  • Mastering the Grill Deck, Andrew Schloss and David Joachim, 2009

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About the Author

Philip Powe started writing in 1987 for St. Louis area newspapers. He has since written for "St. Clair County Historical Society Journal" and the "American Association of State and Local Historians Journal." Concentrations are in home and garden, philosophy and history. Powe holds a Master of Arts in intellectual history from Southern Illinois University.