If you’re a novice to BBQ grilling, you might have some questions about how to set up and light your charcoal grill. Even experienced barbecue masters have problems lighting a charcoal grill at times, because doing so is part technical knowhow and part art and experience. Charcoal grills are the preferred type of grill for most grilling aficionados. Proponents of the charcoal grill insist that the flavor of charcoal is superior to that of a gas grill and that the charcoal grill can achieve higher grilling temperatures, which helps to lock in the juices and create a nice crust on meats. Knowing a few methods and tips for lighting your charcoal grill will make you look like an expert griller in no time.
First of all, before you begin cooking, you need to consider the amount of food that you will be grilling. The more food that you will be cooking over the fire, the more charcoal you will need. A good rule of thumb is that you will need approximately 1/3 of a 5 pound bag of charcoal briquettes to cook 1 pound of meat. If you are using hardwood charcoal, you will need more since the pieces burn more quickly than briquettes. The amount of charcoal that you need will also depend on the size of your grill. For a normal size kettle grill, this should be a sufficient amount to give you a single layer of hot coals that covers the middle of the grill grate. Also, the weather may influence the amount of briquettes or pieces of hardwood charcoal that you need. On cold, windy days, you will need to use more charcoal to maintain the temperature of the grill in the conditions.
When buying charcoal, you have three options. The first option is to buy instant lighting charcoal briquettes. These charcoal briquettes have been pretreated with lighter fluid in the factory, making them easy to light. The next kind of charcoal that you will find is untreated charcoal briquettes. These are the same as the treated briquettes, except that they have not been doused with lighter fluid at the factory. Finally, you can purchase natural, hardwood charcoal, large pieces of charcoal that resembles charred pieces of wood. This kind of charcoal burns hotter, but shorter than briquettes. Grilling fanatics insist that natural, hardwood charcoal produces superior results to either type of briquette, because using lighter fluid to aid in starting a fire can give foods an off, chemical-like taste.
The easiest type of charcoal to light is instant briquettes. Some manufacturers instruct cooks to place the bag inside the grill and set fire to the bag, which will ignite the coals inside. Others recommend that you stack your briquettes in the shape of a small pyramid and then light the base with matches. After the coals have turned light gray, you can spread them out to distribute the heat.
If you choose to use normal briquettes or hardwood charcoal that has not been pretreated to light instantly, arrange your briquettes into the shape of a small pyramid. Next, liberally douse the pile of coals with lighter fluid, using approximately 1/2 of a cup. Allow the charcoal to sit for 15 to 20 minutes so that the briquettes have a chance to soak up the lighter fluid. Next, light the pile of coals with a long match or by throwing a lit match onto the stack. Once the coals have come to temperature, spread them out on the bottom of the grill.
A better option for lighting untreated briquettes or hardwood charcoal is to use a chimney charcoal starter. To use one of these tools, fill the top of the chimney starter with the charcoal of your choice. Next, crumple up one or two pieces of newspaper and stuff it into the bottom section of the charcoal chimney. Place the whole chimney into the grill and then light the paper. The paper will catch fire, which will be funneled into the chimney, lighting the charcoal. After about 20 minutes, your charcoal should be ready. Carefully empty out the charcoal chimney into the grill using gloves.
Finally, you can choose to buy an electric starter. These devices are similar to the heating elements found on electric stoves. All that you have to do is to stack your charcoal into a pyramid, place the electric starter on top, and then plug it in. After 10 minutes or so, the briquettes will be ready for grilling.