BBQ enthusiasts have been using charcoal grills for a long time to achieve their outdoor cooking tasks in an authentic and traditional way.
If you are also interested in cooking your favorite food on this grill and are looking forward to bringing it into your backyard, you’re at the right spot.
In this article, I will guide you about what is a charcoal grill, how you use it, its different types, what food to cook on it, its cleaning method, and its pros and cons.
Let’s commence our discussion!
Charcoal Grill – A Quick Overview
As the name suggests, it is an outdoor cooking appliance that uses charcoal as a heat source. The charcoal produces heat and smoke through which you can grill and smoke your favorite food items.
The greater the effort, the sweeter the reward is how I define charcoal grills.
They require experience, more effort in the ignition of charcoal, and temperature-controlling skills but promise delicious and smoky-flavored foods and meats as a reward.
Charcoal grills are also popular among BBQ lovers for their cooking versatility. You can confidently use them for different kinds of cooking, including grilling, smoking, roasting, etc.
Ultimately, there will be plenty of small, big, thick, and thin foods and meats that you can cook to perfection on the same cooking device.
But to accomplish this task, you will need to learn about achieving direct heat for grilling, indirect heat for smoking, and the art of maintaining consistent temperatures for roasting.
Another great thing about these outdoor grills is that they come in various shapes and sizes (discovered below in this article).
Some are portable and perfect for picnics, some offer authentic smoking results, and some are more suitable for cooking for larger gatherings.
In short, the wide range of these grills available ensures that everybody can find their ideal outdoor cooking appliance without any hassle.
How Does A Charcoal Grill Work Or How To Use It?
The design of a charcoal grill can be simple, depending on its type, but using it can be a little more difficult than cooking on a gas or pellet grill. Let’s explain how.
Typically, its main components are a charcoal grate or chamber, a cooking area with grates inside, top and bottom vents, an ash collector, and a lid. Their location can be different depending on the shape and module of the grill.
Also, you might see extra components in a charcoal grill if it is a more advanced model. These additional parts can include built-in thermometers, side tables, adjustable cooking and charcoal grates, etc.
So, to use a charcoal grill, you first need to burn the charcoal, which has multiple ways. The most common yet effective technique is to ignite them inside a chimney starter using lighter fluid or a newspaper, which can take 10-15 minutes.
But ensure that you are using the right amount of charcoal, as burning too much coal will generate excessive heat, and using too less will not provide enough heat.
Anyhow, once the coals start burning and become red, they go on to the charcoal grate or a chamber specified for the coals. Make sure to spread them evenly for consistent heat and cooking.
The burning charcoals should remain inside for 10-15 minutes to let the cooking grates reach the desired temperature. It is also called preheating and prevents your foods from sticking.
If you are looking forward to smoking thick meat like brisket on your charcoal grill, make sure you set the burning coals on one side of the grill while placing the meat on the opposite side.
It is also called the indirect heat method, which allows for slow and even cooking, creating the perfect conditions for achieving tender and flavorful smoked meats.
For grilling your meats, especially thinner cuts like steaks or chicken wings, you’ll want to use the direct heat method. This involves placing the meat directly over the hot coals.
However, place your meal on the preheated cooking grates, and depending on how you’ve set up the grill, you are ready for grilling, smoking, baking, roasting, or whatever you want.
Unlike gas, pellet, or any other grill, the temperature control of a charcoal one is a bit tricky and requires some time to learn its mechanism.
Usually, you get vents and dampers on the top and bottom of the grill to maintain the heat instead of knobs and PID controllers.
When you keep the vents closed, less oxygen enters the firebox, allowing the fire to burn slower. In contrast, more oxygen will enter the firebox when the vents are open, and the charcoal burns hotter and faster.
Moreover, the positioning of the vents and dampers also decides whether the charcoal inside the firebox will stay lit for a long time or not.
Charcoal grills often come with a temperature gauge on the lid that tells you the internal temperature and allows you to change the cooking temperature per your requirements.
The lid of the grill is either open or closed depending on the type of food you are cooking. When preparing vegetables or thin meat cuts like wings, you can cook with an open lid.
But when it comes to larger and thicker meats like brisket and ribs, close the lid to keep the heat and smoke inside for a delicious smoky-flavored taste.
To conclude, start by igniting the charcoal, let the grill reach the desired cooking temperature, and place the meat on the grates.
Next, keep monitoring the meat’s and grill’s internal temperature, adjust the vents as needed to maintain heat, and stop cooking when the meat has reached its optimal internal temp.
Types of Charcoal Grills
As mentioned earlier in this article, various types of charcoal grills are available in the market, and each has quite different design and working functionalities.
Allow me to briefly highlight the most popular types to help you understand which one is more suitable in which scenario.
It is the most prominent charcoal grill that uses charcoal as the heat source. It has a cylindrical or round shape and is divided into two major parts.
The upper part is where you can place your food items and cook them to perfection. The lower part is where the burning charcoal goes to produce heat and smoke to cook meals.
So, in short, the heat or smoke from the bottom part travels above to cook the food placed on the grates in the upper part.
To regulate the temperature, you need to use vents or dampers at the bottom and top of the lid. You can also keep the lid closed or open according to your cooking preferences.
One of the most prominent features of kettle grills is that they can reach around 600 °F to 650 °F, which means you can confidently rely on them for searing your meats and other food items.
Last but not least, they usually weigh less, have handles on the sides, and come with wheels on the legs, which means they can be a good option for picnic and camping use.
The name says it all: it is a barrel-shaped cooking appliance manufactured through a metal or steel barrel and cooks food through charcoal.
Unlike kettle grills, they can come up in vertical and horizontal shapes in which the upper part is for cooking food, and the below one is for placing and burning charcoal.
They tend to be heavy and oversized, which can make their portability a bit difficult.
One of the major differences between a kettle and a barrel grill is that a barrel one usually has more cooking space than a kettle one because it has a barrel shape that allows for a larger cooking area.
Also, they are a more suitable option for low and slow smoking as, most of the time, they follow the indirect cooking method.
Although the temperature range varies from model to model, they can cook between 300 °F to 700 °F. Ultimately, within this range, you can cook multiple types of food like steak, hamburgers, hot dogs, ribs, fish, chicken, brisket, etc.
Lastly, it also follows the same temperature-controlling system as the other charcoal grills in which you have to adjust its vents or dampers while cooking to maintain the desired heat.
The popularity of this type of charcoal grill is increasing enormously among BBQ enthusiasts. It is an egg-shaped outdoor cooking device that also uses charcoal as a heat source to cook food.
Like the previous two charcoal grills, it ignites the fuel source at the bottom part and cooks at the upper section.
Due to its ceramic construction and super tight lid, it can retain heat and smoke inside to maintain a consistent temperature for a long time. As a result, you get evenly cooked food with a delicious taste and delightful smoky flavors.
They have a more comprehensive temperature range (300 °F to 750 °F), allowing you to prepare your meal with different methods, like low and slow smoking, searing, roasting, grilling, and baking.
Again, you need to control the temperature and amount of oxygen that enters the firebox through the vents. Monitoring the internal temperature isn’t a big deal, as many kamado grills have a built-in thermometer.
They use high-quality materials for construction and last longer. Therefore, they are more expensive than the other types of charcoal grills.
What kind of Charcoals is available to use?
Charcoal is an outstanding fuel source when the goal is to impart unique smoky flavors to the food. But it is also important to know which charcoal and how much charcoal you should use to achieve reasonable smoke and heat.
Among the best charcoals, you will usually come across lump charcoal, charcoal briquettes, and hardwood briquettes. Let’s shed light on each option to see how good they are.
Lump Charcoal: It is made by burning pure and natural wood, and till the end of this process, there is no sap, moisture, or chemicals left. This process goes on for weeks and is also known as carbonization.
Most BBQ lovers use lump charcoals to enhance their grilling experience because they burn hotter, longer, and cleaner. Their ignition is comparatively quicker than the other types. The smoke flavors depend on the wood used for its creation.
Charcoal Briquettes: It is another most-liked and used type of charcoal. Unlike lump charcoals, they are made from leftover bits and by compressing materials like sawdust, charcoal powder, paraffin, and other binders.
They are available in different types of additives, allowing you to choose one that completes your grilling needs.
Compared to lump charcoal, briquettes are inexpensive, burn longer, and keep a stable temperature. Moreover, they may not be as hot as lump coals and can take more time to ignite properly.
Hardwood Briquettes: It is a famous heat source among grillers and is made from wood shavings and compressed sawdust. Charcoal briquettes and hardwood briquettes are somehow similar to each other.
You can rely on them for prolonged smoking and grilling sessions as they supply consistent heat for a long time. Moreover, they impart a mild smoky flavor to the meats you are smoking.
What to cook on Charcoal Grills?
So, you now have an idea that the temperature range of these grills is somewhere between 200 °F to 750 °F. It means that you can cook a variety of food on it.
Let me share some dishes you must try cooking on charcoal grills for a delicious taste and an authentic smoky flavor.
A charcoal grill is capable of both grilling and smoking. Beef brisket, turkey, and ribs are excellent for low and slow smoking. On the other hand, steaks, lamb chops, and chicken wings are great for grilling.
If you are a seafood lover, you can prepare salmon, shrimp, and scallops on a kettle, barrel, or kamado grill. Seafood gets cooked comparatively faster, so you must keep an eye to avoid overheating and burning your food.
Fast food like pizzas, burgers, hot dogs, and chicken sandwiches can be suitable for a random cooking session. Last but not least, you can grill several vegetables, such as bell peppers, corn, mushrooms, etc.
What I Like About Charcoal Grills?
- These grills use different types of charcoal as a heat source, which means you have the flexibility to choose the desired one, as each offers a unique flavor to enhance your smoking and grilling experience.
- Charcoal grills come with an extensive temperature range. It allows you to smoke, grill, bake, roast, and even sear a variety of foods.
- Because of their simplicity, most of the charcoal grills are inexpensive compared to pellet grills. Kamado grills are a bit expensive due to their ceramic material. For an in-depth comparison, visit pellet grill vs charcoal grill.
- You can quickly move kettle and kamado grills from one place to another because they usually have legs and wheels in their structure, and they also weigh less.
What I don’t Like About them?
- They can consume more charcoals, which can create more mess. Also, cleaning a charcoal grill can be annoying and time-consuming.
- The temperature control of these grills requires more expertise as you need to regular the heat through vents and dampers.
- Igniting the charcoals and preheating takes more time than gas and pellet grills.
How to Clean a Charcoal Grill?
As mentioned before, cleaning charcoal grills could be annoying and time-consuming. Allow me to suggest the most common and beneficial method, but before that, I would like to mention the supplies you will need.
- Cleaning gloves
- Wire brush, sponge, or scrapper
- A piece of cloth
- Soapy water
Let’s begin cleaning!
Starting from the exterior, take a sponge, dip it in the soapy water, and start rinsing the outer part of your grill. To make it shinier, spray the cleaner and wash it with a cloth.
The interior of the lid obtains carbonized grease, which looks similar to the paint. You need to use the wire brush to scrap off the grease. When done, wash it with soapy water using a sponge.
Cleaning grill grates require more attention as most food debris is stuck there. Without removing the grates from their location, scrap them with the brush till satisfaction.
Detach the grates and clean them with soapy water and a sponge. Dry them with the cloth, and your grates are ready again to cook food.
The charcoal grate and the bottom part contain the entire mess. Their cleaning remains the same.
But for the bottom section, we suggest you use the three-blade system, which throws all the mess and residue into the detachable ash pan.
A charcoal grill is an outdoor cooking appliance that uses charcoal as the fuel source to cook your food items. It can have different shapes and sizes, depending on its type.
If you are interested in buying one or cooking on it, go through this guide, in which you will get enough information regarding what is a charcoal grill and if it is the right choice for you and your outdoor cooking needs.
Frequently Asked Questions
How does a charcoal grill’s heat distribution differ from a gas grill?
The heat distribution of gas grills is more even and consistent than the charcoal ones. The heat coming from charcoal is uneven and rises randomly, whereas gas comes from burners that provide even and consistent heat.
How to prevent the charcoal grill from rusting?
To prevent it from rusting, make sure you clean your grills after every use. After cleaning, apply a bit of oil to the cooking grate. Another optional tip is to cover your grill when not using it.
Caspian James, the Founder and Chief Editor at FaveGrills, is passionate about sharing his knowledge and expertise on the latest Smokers and Grilling Products along with mouth-watering barbecue recipes. He constantly researches new gear with a sharp eye for detail, providing the FaveGrills community with in-depth reviews.