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How to Use a Charcoal Grill

Charcoal grills were the original backyard BBQ grills, and they’re still many people’s favorite way to grill. That’s especially true now that kamado ceramic grills like the Grilla Grills Kong have hit the market, encouraging more pitmasters to explore this old-school (and incredibly delicious) cooking method. If you’re venturing into charcoal grilling for the first time, we’ve made it easy for you! This simple six-step process will help you get started with your charcoal grill.

a grilla grill on the patio

1. Get your grilling supplies together.

Our number one recommendation for those starting out with charcoal grilling: Use high-quality lump charcoal. This minimally processed form of charcoal is easier to light, leaves less ash behind and avoids the chemical taste that processed briquettes can bring. Other than your charcoal, the only true must-haves are a quality set of grilling tools, some fire starters, and whatever spices, sauces and rubs you want to use. Keep the lighter fluid out of it — it can damage the ceramic lining of a kamado grill, and it’ll leave your food tasting like a chemical factory. 

2. Arrange your charcoal and light it.

Lighting your charcoal is the most challenging part of charcoal grilling for many people, and there are different ways to do it. Here’s the easiest way to get started:

  1. Arrange your lump charcoal in two to three layers, evenly spaced throughout the grill’s firebox.
  2. Place some bits of newspaper or natural firestarters in with the charcoal and light them.
  3. Keep the lid and the bottom damper fully open to ensure the coals are getting enough oxygen to build a hot fire.

For more charcoal lighting tips, see our guide to lighting lump charcoal.

3. Prepare the grill by scrubbing the grates and adjusting the temperature. 

Once the fire is going and the grill has gotten warm, give the grates a scrub with a quality grill brush. This helps clear out any stuck-on gunk that can cause your food to stick to the grill and/or affect the taste. Using a natural grill cleaner can help if your grates have serious caked-on gunk. Avoid getting any kind of cleaner on the ceramic lining of a kamado grill. 

Watch the temperature gauge built into the grill’s lid. It will fluctuate at first, so wait until the fire has been at a steady temperature for a few minutes. When the temperature has settled, check our temperature chart to make sure you’ve got approximately the right temperature for the food you’re cooking. If you need to bring the temp up or down, use the dampers to adjust the airflow

several kebabs on a grill

4. Place your food on the grill grates and start cooking.

Time for the fun part. Place your food on the grill and enjoy the delicious smells headed your way! Generally, you want the lid closed when you’re cooking thicker foods like steak and big burgers. Thinner foods, like hot dogs and smaller burgers, can be cooked with the lid open or closed. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, so experiment and figure out which you prefer. Similarly, flipping your food is a matter of preference — some say burgers should only be flipped once, while others maintain that frequent flipping will give you juicier and more evenly cooked meat.

5. Watch the temperature gauge and adjust the dampers if you need to.

Continue to keep an eye on your grill’s temperature gauge, keeping it at a consistent temperature while your food is cooking. If your temps are falling, open the main damper on the bottom a bit; if they’re getting too hot, close the damper more. Note that you should keep the top damper open at all times unless you’re shutting the grill down. 

6. Test your food temperature with an instant-read thermometer and serve!

Save yourself the trouble of trying to eyeball when your food is done and get an instant-read grill thermometer! With practice, you can learn to identify when food is done, but a thermometer is way easier, especially for beginners. Once your food has hit the right temperature, remove it from the grill and add whatever sauces, toppings or other tasty extras suit your tastes! 

7. Close the dampers completely when you’re done with it.

If you’re done cooking, close both dampers and the lid to cut off the grill’s oxygen and shut it down. It’s a good idea to give your grates another scrub with the brush while they’re still warm to prevent gunk from building up on them. When the ash is completely cool and extinguished (and not before!), place a grill cover on your grill to protect it from the elements. 

Discover the Power of a Kamado Ceramic Grill

a couple of steaks on a charcoal grill

Our Grilla Grills blog is packed with even more awesome resources for anybody who wants to master their grill skills. Check out our guide to charcoal grilling vs. gas if you’re curious about which one is right for you, or explore our huge library of scrumptious pellet grill recipes for ideas that will light a fire in you!

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