Learn the best way to light your charcoal grill… it is simple and easy with the right tools and a few simple steps!!!!
Hey folks! Brian – the husband to the best home cook in the world and Mamma Rocks the Kitchen food blog resident griller and BBQ freak and geek here… Yea, I am not ashamed to admit it – I LOVE TO GRILL AND BBQ and yes there is a difference between the two:
Grilling is a high-heat method of cooking, whereby the food is cooked directly over hot coals or flames at temperatures in excess of 600 degrees. This method is perfect for burgers, hot dogs, steaks, fish and vegetables.
BBQ is cooking with indirect heat using wood or charcoal, typically low and slow for hours at temperatures that are 225 to 250 degrees. This method of cooking is perfect for pulled pork, brisket, ribs and other thick cuts of meat or chicken.
Today we are going to discuss how to set up and light a grill for grilling, because lately we have been getting a number of emails from people asking how I set up my grill for our “Perfect” Backyard Bacon Cheese Burger, Asian Style Sticky Wings, Grilled Spicy Buffalo Wings and other grilling recipes.
Now, truth be told this is sooooo much easier to do than people think… with a few simple tools and a couple ridiculously easy steps you will be well on your way to making some of the most delicious food on your favorite charcoal grill. I don’t use anything fancy or expensive, and as you will see from the pictures I am about to show you I use my grill and tools till they are just about to fall apart saving me even more money. So if you are just getting started, don’t fret or freak out about the cost… most of these tools will last for years and are relatively inexpensive (I have had my Weber charcoal grill for 7 years now and it is still going strong – albeit not looking brand new, even in the slightest)!
So let’s get down to business! Below are 4 tips on grill, tool and supply selections for you to check out before I show you how to light your grill step by step.
Tip #1: Choosing the Right Grill:
If you already own a grill and are reading this post to learn how to light it up without the use of lighter fluid then you can skip this section. But, if you are new to grilling or want to check out what gear I use keep reading.
So what is the best grill? Well, it all depends on your situation, how much storage you have and what your budget is. But for me a kettle grill is the hands down best way to go.
There are a couple reason why I think they are the best option:
Shape – The rounded off base keeps the coals far enough away from the coals and provides more control over manipulating the coals to create hot and safe zones. The rounded lid gives greater cooking options and room to cook not only think chops and steaks but whole chickens and other larger cuts of meat… not to mention is allows for more air flow.
Venting – Whatever grill you choose make sure it has vents both in the base of the grill as well as the lid. These provide good airflow and can be opened or closed to control the temperature of the grill by reducing or supplying more air to fuel the coals.
Cost – A quality kettle grill that has a 22″ cooking surface starts at $99 or so. An inexpensive entrance into charcoal grilling that will get you well on your way to enjoying some great grilled flavor!
Perhaps the most famous kettle grill maker is Weber. Born in the 1950’s, the iconic grills we know today were first fashioned out of buoys manufactured for the Coast Guard and through the imagination of George Stephen who worked at Weber Brothers Metal Works have now become an American icon.
I use a 22″ Weber Charcoal grill for all the recipes on the Mamma Rocks the Kitchen food blog… and have owned my current grill for over 7 years now after having paid less than $100 for it on Amazon. Well worth every penny! And truth be told the grill I have now has the distinction of being the 5th Weber grill I have owned.
Tip #2: Choosing the Right Charcoal:
If the only thing you walk away with after reading this post is one thing I want it to be this, “never use Match Light or lighter fluid when stating your charcoal grill”. It will ruin the flavor of your food and is dangerous. Nothing is worse than perfectly seasoning a steak or working hard to make the perfect burger only to have it taste like chemicals.
OK, I am done preaching now… So, what is the best charcoal? Again it all depends on your personal preference, but for me it is Kingsford Original Charcoal Briquets. But, no matter what charcoal you choose make sure that it is a solid hardwood charcoal briquet. You would be surprised to learn that a lot of the cheaper, store brand versions and the like, use fillers so they don’t burn as long or as hot, forcing you to add more coals to keep the fire going and the temperature of your grill hot enough for proper cooking. This means any money you might have saved buying a cheaper brand is out the window or literally burned up, since you wind up using more coals for the same result of a quality brand charcoal.
Tip #3: Buy a Charcoal Chimney:
The safest, easiest and the ONLY way in my opinion to light a charcoal grill is to use a charcoal chimney. They can easily be found at most grocery stores or on Amazon.com. I like to use the Weber Rapidfire Chimney Starter because of the hand handles it has so that you can use both hands. For the cost of about $15 a chimney will last you for about 2 seasons and is well worth the price… later in the picture I will show you will see how beat up and “run through the mill” mine is, but don’t worry just use the chimney till it falls apart and you will for sure get your monies worth (but be careful – check your chimney before using to make sure it is not a danger to use).
Tip #4: Fire Starters:
Since we are not using Match Light or lighter fluid you may be asking yourself, “How do you light the coals?”… simple you can use plain old newspaper or a fire starter. I personally use a fire starter. After years of using newspaper I made the switch because of the mess that newspaper can cause and the fly aways that poof out of the chimney when you dump it. Nothing is worse than getting a mouth full of chard paper in your mouth when you are starting up your grill.
There are a number of fire starters for cooking purposes on the market. The basic of which are shown below:
Now if you haven’t noticed I am a big Weber fan, but it is here that I deviate. In the pictures above on the right is Weber’s fire starter and on the left is my preferred fire starter which is a biodegradable, made from recycled paper and does not let off ANY chemical smell fire starter. Which of course is the whole reason why we are not using lighter fluid and are using a charcoal chimney! We want our food to taste great, not like a science experiment.
I use Midwest Hearth 100% Natural Charcoal Starters for BBQ Grill and Barbecue Smokers fire starters. My local grocery store also sells an alternate brand that is all natural that I buy when I am in a pinch.
Tip #5: Accessories:
There are a few other minor tools and accessories you will want to have on hand… not only to light the grill but also for grilling in general. These are pretty basic and don’t need too much explanation so I will just list them below with a very brief description.
Heavy Grilling Gloves – Nothing will ruin a party or grilling for your family faster than a 3rd degree burn. When lighting the grill, dumping the coals from the chimney or working over the grill I like to wear some heavy grilling gloves to not only protect my hands but also to make it more comfortable for me. After all the grill is going to be 600 degrees or hotter! Every year for fathers day my wife buys me a pair of my favorite grilling gloves (yep, I grill soooo much that I destroy my gloves by the end of the season), if your looking for a good quality glove for grilling check these out for about $17: Steven Raichlen Best of Barbecue Extra Long Suede Gloves.
Long Tongs – A simple pair of long tongs can be your best friend when grilling. You don’t need anything fancy, and you certainly don’t need to buy some kit or grilling specific set. I use basic long metal cooking tongs and have about 4 pairs of them, check out GrillPro 20-Inch Professional Extra Long Tong for about $15.
Small Hand Shovel – Next time you are at Home Depot or the hardware store pick yourself up a good metal hand shovel to use to mix around the coals and bank lit charcoals. Or check this one out if you are an Amazon fan: Fiskars Big Grip Trowel.
Grill Brush – Get yourself a quality grill brush but don’t pay too much for it as this is an expendable tool that you will through out and have to re-buy once or twice in a season. Check out RubberMaid BBQ Grill Brush for a good one under $7.
OK… now that you are all set up with your grill, necessary tools and charcoal lets go through the steps on how to light your grill. Grab a beer and put on some music and let’s get started:
The first step is the messy part… as we want to remove all of the old burnt coals and soot from the grill so that we can start fresh. If you are using a new grill you can skip this step. Otherwise, remove the grill grate and bottom coal grate from the grill (bang the bottom grate against the side of the grill to get all the coals and ash off) and set them aside.
Using the bottom vent lever of the grill empty the old ash by moving it back and forth to allow the soot to collect in the bottom tray. Dump the bottom tray into a bag to be discarded. WARNING (read the following with your father’s or some authoritative voice in your head) – Never put hot coals or ash in a bag or in your garbage can… not only can you hurt yourself but you can start a fire and possibly burn your house down. When you disturb coals the fresh oxygen can sometimes re-light old coals so please be careful and check the coals before discarding.
Place the bottom grill grate in the bottom of the grill and make sure that the bottom grill vent is wide open.
Place 2 fire starters on top of each other and light with a lighter.
Place chimney over the fire starters and fill with charcoal… A Chimney will hold approximately 15 to 20 briquets depending on the size of the chimney.
Allow the coals to get lit and turn slightly white on the edges as in the picture below:
Dump the coals to one side of the grill creating your, “hot side”.
Add more briquets on top of the lit coals, about 10 or so, banking the coals to one side with a small hand shovel.
Place the top grill grate back on the grill and let burn off for a minute or 2 and then scrape down the grill with a grill brush.
After the briquets you added to the lit briquets start turning white on the edges take a couple paper towels soaked in canola oil and using tongs wipe down the grill grate (I have an old coffe mug I use for the canola oil and paper towels and keep it next to my grill when I am cooking to reapply as needed for good sear).
You will be surprised at how much grim comes off when you do this and it is great for getting a good sear.
So there you have it… an easy way to light your grill, set up a safe and hot zone and a great way to lube up your grill grates.