How to Use a Charcoal Grill

Charcoal grills, when used correctly, can give food a distinct and flavorful smoky grilled taste.

Using a charcoal grill does not require advanced cooking skills or expertise, and is quite an easy way to prepare delicious food with little preparation.

You will need

  • Charcoal Grill
  • Meat or other food to cook on it
  • Poker
  • Charcoal to cover an area of the grill pan a few inches larger than the area of the grill rack used to grill the food.
  • A lighter, matches, chimney starter or an electrical lighter.
  • Lighter fluid if matches or lighter is being used to start the fire.


Starting a fire

  1. If using a chimney or electrical lighter, follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
  2. To use a match or lighter, arrange the charcoal in a pyramid shape.
  3. Cover them with approximately half a cup of lighter fluid.
  4. Wait a few minutes and then light the fire.
  5. When the coal starts turning into ashes, rearrange it into a flat shape using a poker.

Waiting time

  1. Wait until the charcoal is hot enough, but not too hot, for the food you are preparing. To test the hotness of the charcoal hold the palm of your hand flat above the grill to see how long you can hold it there till you feel the heat’s radiation. Two seconds indicate a high heat, and five seconds indicate a low heat.
  2. Typical wait time is between 20-30 minutes; most of the coal should be covered with grey ash before you start grilling, though a red glow might still be visible.
  3. For a high cooking temperature, start grilling early when some coal is still red. For a lower cooking temperature, ensure most of the coal is covered with thick ashes.


  1. Raise the rack for a low cooking temperature and lower it for a higher one.
  2. Cooking time will be dependent on the type of food, its thickness, the weather, and the temperature of the food when initially placed on the grill, amongst other factors.
  3. Move food around on the grill for a more even grilling.


  • Follow the food safety recommendations when considering if food is completely cooked. For the safest results, use a food thermometer. Eating undercooked food can cause foodborne illness.
  • Use crumpled newspapers instead of lighter fluid if you have an aversion to lighter fluid.
  • Soak alder, mesquite, hickory, or pecan wood chips for an hour and then scatter them over the hot coals to give food a wonderful flavor.


  • Add lighter fluid after the charcoal has heated up.
  • Stick forks into the food; it will release juices, making the cooked food dryer. Use a grilling tong instead.
  • Leave the grill unattended.
  • Pour gasoline on charcoal.