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​Flame on: Charcoal Grilling Tips for Beginners

Posted by Heather Jabornik on

You just got a new charcoal grill and are already daydreaming about competing in a national grill off—or like, at least impressing your dad. Whatever your grilling goals, we’ve got tips for first-timers to slowly but surely master the craft.

EQUIPMENT MATTERS

You don’t want to face the flame armed with a mere table fork. That’s a good way to drop the meat in the dirt. Having the right set of grilling tools puts you in total control. These should be your weapons of choice:

  • Grill cleaning brush – Wire is the most common, but new alternatives are gaining popularity.
  • Grill tongs – Keeps your hands a safe distance from the heat.
  • Grill fork – Ideal for piercing food without shredding.
  • Long-handled spatula – Flip your burgers safely and effortlessly.
  • Basting brush – Easily spread oil, butter and marinades over your meats.
  • Instant-read thermometer – Essential for checking the internal temperature of carnivore dishes
  • Hinged wire basket – Makes your life much easier for veggies and fish.

HEATING THE GRILL

Before you slap that steak on your grill in a blaze of glory, you need an even, flameless heat to cover the surface of your grill. Preheat your grill for 15 to 40 minutes to hit your primo temp and kill any bacteria. This totally depends on your fuel type—for charcoal grills, it’s ready when the coals are covered in fine ash.

400-450°F is your high
350-400°F is medium-high
250-300°F is low

Heating your grill like a boss will sear your grub on impact. Searing doesn’t seal in juices, but it DOES boost flavors because of a little something called caramelization. If you find you still need to adjust your temperature when cooking with charcoal, spread your coals to cool them and pile them to heat ‘em up. Try to resist the temptation to cook with higher heat. For best results, let the slow heat work its magic.

CHOOSING CHARCOAL

You’ve basically got two options: briquettes or lump charcoal. You can pick based on your preferences. Briquettes burn longer and are cheaper, but they contain additives like sawdust, borax and lighter fluid that can obviously affect the flavor you’re going for. They absolutely work, so if you’re looking to save a little dough, you can’t go wrong. Lump charcoal, on the other hand, burns cleaner, hotter, produces less ash and is easier to light. It’s also the au natural approach most long-time grillers take.

DIRECT VS. INDIRECT HEAT

This is next-level stuff right here. When you shove all your coals to one side of the grill and leave an open space on the other side, you effectively get hot and cool sections of your grill that act like a frying pan over high heat for searing steaks and an oven for fish and chicken. What a grilling boss.

KEEP THE GRILL CLOSED

Repeat: “I do not have to open the lid more than once. Once to flip is enough. ENOUGH.” Of course you want to check your masterful progress, but trust us, opening the lid lets heat escape and can lead to dry meat. You are not grilling for dry meat. Trust your timer and leave it.

TIMING MEAT

There’s no exact science to this. Your degree of heat, cut of meat and personal preference reign here. Experience is the best teacher. A one-inch steak will typically grill rare in eight minutes and medium in 10-12. This is where your meat thermometer will become your best friend.

Remember to cut yourself some slack as you embark on your grilling journey. Just like everything else, a learning curve is only natural. So is your hair. Do yourself and the fire department a favor and tie it back if it’s long. That was free.