There’s nothing better than grilling out on the deck, no matter what season it is. And there’s nothing more satisfying than grilling on a charcoal fire. Cooking over a charcoal fire is much more eco-friendly than a gas grill and it’s very easy to create a charcoal fire.
Charcoal (no lighter fluid required)
Chimney starter (very inexpensive, available at most hardware stores)
Two sheets of newspaper
Matches or lighter
Gloves (chimney starter will get very hot)
Garden hose or fire extinguisher, in case of emergency
You are ready to begin.
Step 1: Take two sheets of newspaper and roll them into two long strips. Make them into the form of two rings by tucking one end of the newspaper into the other end. Insert the rings into the bottom of the chimney starter. Remember to leave a hole in the middle of the newspaper rings for air to flow through. Fire needs air flow in order to burn.
Step 2: Load the top of the chimney starter with charcoal. Not the kind pretreated with lighter fluid. Lighter fluid will give your food an unpleasant flavor. Just use plain old charcoal.
Step 3: Remove the grate of the charcoal grill and set the chimney starter filled with charcoal in the grill.
Step 4: Light the newspaper in several spots around the chimney starter. Heat rising will cause the flame to fill up the chimney starter and will light all of the charcoal.
Step 5: Wait approximately 20 minutes for the flame to die down and most of the coals to appear gray with ash. At this point, the coals are extremely hot. Be careful not to drop them on your feet, patio, or deck.
Step 6: Using gloves, carefully pick up the starter and tip the coals into the base of your charcoal grill. (The chimney starter will be red hot. Do NOT set it on a non-fire-safe surface.) Now you have a pile of hot coals. They might flame up a little bit but that’s normal.
Step 7: Put the grate back on and close the lid for a few minutes to allow the whole unit to get hot before cooking.
Step 8: You can do a couple of things here:
a): You can create heat zones by banking, or piling, the hot coals to one side of your grill. This gives you the option of direct heat and indirect heat, depending on what you are grilling. If you’re cooking steak, you can sear it over the direct heat, then move it to the indirect heat to finish cooking it.
b): You can also spread the coals out flat in the grill for an even cooking area in the whole grill.
You’re ready to start grilling, but a couple of things to keep in mind:
1) To test the temperature of the coals, place your palm down directly over the heat. If you can hold your hand there for 5 seconds, you have a low heat; 3 to 4 seconds, a moderate heat; and 1 to 2 seconds, your fire is hot.
2) Grills have 2 sets of vents: top and bottom. Remember that fire needs air to burn. The vents will allow for air flow and will control how long and how hot the coals will burn. If you want to lower the heat a bit for a slower cooking time, then close the vents about half way. If you want to keep the coals at their highest temperature for maximum heat, leave the vents open. If it’s a windy day, you might have to close the top vents just a little.
Charcoal grilling is a little more challenging than gas, but it is well worth the effort. Also remember, practice makes perfect. The more you use your charcoal grill, the more familiar you become with your grill and the environment in which you live.