Charcoal Grill Tips for Beginners

Grilling Tips for Beginners

Clear skies, shining sun and a backyard barbeque with mouth-watering food sizzling on the grill… Can you picture it? Summer is officially here!

If you’re worried your grill skills (or lack thereof!) will have your friends calling for the fire department instead of seconds, you’re not alone! Getting behind a charcoal grill can be intimidating. Never fear! Follow our grill guide to wow your friends and family with the perfectly grilled dish — you’ll be a master in no time.

Step One: Get the Charcoal Burning Bright

This may sound obvious, but a lot of people think they can start grilling as soon as they light the charcoal. Not so fast! You want your coals to be nice and hot before grilling.

The easiest way to get the charcoal burning is to use a nifty little tool called a chimney starter. Place the chimney on top of your grill, fill the bottom with a little newspaper, pack the chimney with coals (check your grill’s manual to find the necessary amount), light the paper through the vents and wait! 

Patience is key. You want to wait until most of the coals are white, then pour them (carefully!) into the bottom of your grill. We recommend using gloves to protect yourself from the heat. 

Step Two: Decide What Type of Heat to Use

When grilling, you can use direct or indirect heat. This decision comes down to what’s on the menu. If you’re preparing single sized servings or relatively small foods, direct heat is probably for you. But, if you’re cooking a whole chicken for this year’s family reunion, indirect heat might be your best bet. 

Direct Heat

This method involves putting the food on the grill directly over where you have the coals placed. It will give your food a perfectly seared, charred outside — think hamburgers and hot dogs with grill marks.

When most people think about grilling, they think of direct heat. It’s the most common choice, but might not always be the best one!

Indirect Heat

This method involves pushing the coals to the side of the grill so food isn’t placed right above them, or otherwise shielding food from the heat — by wrapping it in aluminum foil, for example. This technique is ideal to use with thick foods (think briskets, whole turkeys and potatoes) that require a long cook time. Otherwise, you run the risk of burning the outside and being left with a raw middle. Blech!

Step Three: Determine Your Temperature and Cook Time

Nothing spoils a summer barbecue like food poisoning, so be sure you cook meat to a safe internal temperature. Don’t just go by the outside color. You’ll want a meat thermometer to be sure you’ve cooked everything through (see “raw middle” above!). Cook meat as follows:

  • Steak and lamb: at least 130°F (for medium-rare)
  • Pork: 145°F 
  • Hamburgers: 155°F
  • Chicken and turkey: 165°F

Another barbecue spoiler: Making your guests wait too long to eat. No one wants hangry guests! Plan your timing according to what you’re serving. For approximate cook times for each type of meat, check out this handy guide.

Veggies (which can be safely eaten at any temperature) are usually cooked to perfection in about four to six minutes on the grill. 

Step Four: Season and Transfer

To bring out its best flavors, season your food! But before seasoning, pat your food dry. This small step helps ensure a beautiful sear and prevents excess liquid from steaming it.

For those with a simpler, no-nonsense palette, a little salt and pepper on both sides of anything you’re grilling is a great choice. If you want a bolder flavor, try a chipotle rub or whatever spices you fancy. With extra time, you can even do a marinade.

Using tongs, place the food onto the grill.

Keep a close eye on the prize. It’s important to cook your food to a safe temperature, but it’s also important to pull things off before they burn to a crisp.

Step Five: Remove and Enjoy

If you’re cooking meat, remember to use a food thermometer to take the internal temperature and make sure it’s ready.

Grab those tongs one last time, remove the food from the grill and you’re ready to serve your lucky guests! 

This summer, take the grill by the charcoals and wow everyone with your mouth watering dishes! With a little practice, you’ll come into your own and feel right at home. 

Grill Recipes for Inspiration