The Pros and Cons of Grilling With Charcoal
A few days ago, I posted an article about grilling with gas, so today, I want to talk about grilling with charcoal. If you follow my website or this blog, you know I enjoy both.
What some grilling connoisseurs believe is the art of grilling with charcoal results in not only better skills but also in a better meal. Although the purists will tell you the only way to grill is with charcoal, there are times when cooking with gas is more efficient.
Nights when I'm cooking pork tenderloin medallions that take a minute or two to cook or a boneless, skinless chicken breast because it is too hot to cook in the house, I don't want to spend 25 minutes waiting for the charcoal grill to get hot.
But when it comes to cooking a thick steak, ribs, or a whole bunch of bone-in barbecued chicken, I'm going to take the time to light my charcoal grill so I can have a very hot fire and control the heat by moving the charcoal around my Weber grill.
Please be sure to check out my 8 Grilling Tips To Grill Like A Pro
Pros of a Charcoal Grill
Charcoal grilling has a long history and for a good reason. It is easy to find a charcoal grill, and you can purchase briquettes just about anywhere. Grocery stores, convenience stores, and fuel are easy to access.
Not only this, but the grill and the charcoal are significantly less expensive than the investment you could make in a gas grill. By spending less on the equipment, you can afford to spend more on what counts, the food.
Don't let the price fool you, however. Sometimes you can save money while getting better results, and charcoal grilling is one of those times.
We all have memories of burgers grilled over the coals, and there is no question that no matter your culinary training, charcoal tastes better than gas. The only exception is when too much lighter fluid is used; worse yet, my dad would sometimes use gasoline if he ran out of lighter fluid.
Unfortunately, the overzealous fluid application has given the true taste of charcoal a bad name. Do yourself a favor, and skip it entirely if you can. I am a big fan of the charcoal chimney.
You load the top up with gas, add a little newspaper to the bottom and lite it up. The confined charcoal starts quickly and effortlessly, and when the coals are hot, dump them into the grill.
The Smell of the Grill
Do you know that glorious smell of a barbecue in the neighborhood? It's not a gas grill you smell; it's the charcoal. Getting the coals to light takes some effort, but with some time and forethought, you can get them glowing.
It will take a while to get them to the perfect temperature, but once they reach it, there is nothing like that, even heat to grill meat perfectly. When the coals are white, you know they are glowing red hot within.
The coals get amazingly hot but are still far safer than a gas grill. With any cooking, you want to remember to protect yourself from the heat.
The charcoal, however, isn't pressurized and could never cause an explosion. Grill safety is relatively easy if you are grilling on a safe surface and taking precautions against the flames and hot coals.
Charcoal grilling is also one of those things most people want to share with friends. Fortunately, a charcoal grill is very portable.
Most of them are sized so that they can easily fit in a vehicle, meaning they can travel to a neighbor or beach with equal ease. Since the briquettes are also compact and easy to manage, bringing along some fuel is also super easy.
Cons of a Charcoal Grill
Charcoal grilling does have a few disadvantages, but they are something that you can work around. The coals may take longer to heat up, but the even heat they produce when lit correctly is well worth their time.
The coals take longer to cool down, requiring more supervision of the equipment once the meal has been cooked.
Once the coals have cooled, you will be left with quite a bit of ash to dispose of. This can go in the trash or even be buried in the garden, but removing the ash can be messy. Following the instructions for the specific grill will minimize any spilling and prepare your grill for the next meal in no time.
Charcoal grills are simple in construction and don't require a cooking school to operate them. The downside is that you get a grill surface to cook on rather than a side burner for heating liquids.
Any charcoal griller worth their salt knows how to grill corn or heat up beans on the grill, so the lack of a burner can easily be worked around with ingenuity.
Enjoying Your New Charcoal Grill
Charcoal grilling may be a little messy and require a bit more skill, but there is no question that the result is worth it. With better-tasting meat and that glorious smell, some creative culinary flair will get you terrific results.
One of the best features is that charcoal grilling is wider than home, so you can take your cooking show on the road, producing meal after meal with equipment that fits your vehicle. Just be sure to wait for the coals and to dispose of them properly, and you'll be the master of the charcoal grill.
I charcoal grill and I have a question I need answered. All I have ever grilled were quick ten to 15 minute items like rib steak or hamburgers but I have wanted to do more the problem is my lack of knowledge in the following area:
How long will the coals last and how do I know when to add more ie. I want to cook 'chicken on a beer can'...it takes at least an hour to an hour and a half...so how do I know when to add more coals to keep the heat hot?
Great question - I can't tell you how long the charcoal will last because it depends on the charcoal and how hot your fire is but you add more as needed. If the fire is loosing heat because the coals have diminished, you add some more coals but remember, when you are cooking something for a longer time like beer can chicken, you are going to keep the cover on the grill so you don't need a tremendous about of heat like you might when searing a steak. - RG
well that's the thing....how do i know when to add more? is it when the lump charcoal has burned very small or do I assume that after 45 minutes I should automatically add more? I guess I need to know how to take the temperature of the coals/heat
I don't think there is too much that is automatic in cooking. Everything has variables. However, if you keep your eye on you fire you will be able to tell when you need to add more charcoal. - RG
I get my coals to last longer by using a mixture of charcoal briquettes and lump charcoal/seasoned hardwood. This does produce a high heat but the adjustable grill takes care of that.
Great tip Ric, thanks - RG