How to Set up a Charcoal Grill

Stock Yards USDA Choice Steak Burgers

Before you begin barbecuing those juicy steaks at the just the right temperature, you’ll first have to properly set up your charcoal grill. Starting off your grilling project with a few simple arrangements allows you to cook your food to perfection, ensuring that all of its delicious flavors are in full swing. To help you get off on the right foot, we’ve put together an easy-to-follow guide to setting up your charcoal grill. Don’t worry if you’re not a BBQ expert; just follow these basic steps and you’ll be ready to fire it up in no time.

How to Light Charcoal

The best way to light charcoals is to use a chimney starter. This steel cylinder has two compartments: an upper compartment where the unlit coals are placed, and a lower compartment where you start the fire that will burn the coals. When lighting the charcoal, do not use lighter fluid. The chemical and its odor can be absorbed by your food while it’s cooking, and no one wants to eat toxic-flavored burgers!

Instead of using lighter fluid, crumple up a few sheets of newspaper and place them inside the bottom compartment of the chimney starter, leaving some empty space in the middle of the compartment to allow the air to circulate. Then, fill the upper compartment with enough charcoal to make one layer across two-thirds of the bottom of your grill.

To start burning the coals, light the newspaper in the bottom compartment using a long-reach butane lighter or a long match. In about 15-20 minutes, the charcoal will look ashy and white; this means it’s ready. Pour the hot coals across the bottom grate of your grill. Don’t leave the charcoal in the chimney too long, because this will burn out the bottom briquettes.

Once you’re done with the chimney starter, make sure to put it in a safe place. It will still be hot after you’ve poured the coals out, so give it some time to cool off before you store it away. Now that your charcoal is ready, they’ll last about 45-60 minutes before you have to start replenishing it.

How to Prepare Grates for Grilling

Before you place the food on the grates, you’ll have to make sure they’re nice and clean. To remove all of the food residue from grilling parties past, heat up the grate for 10 minutes and then scrub it with a wire-bristled brush to loosen all the gunk. Create a nonstick surface by soaking a paper towel with vegetable oil and wiping it onto the grate. Don’t leave the oiled grate over the heat too long; if you don’t put the food on the grate right after you oil it, the oil will burn. Set the grate aside so that you can prepare your grill for one of two grilling methods: direct grilling or indirect grilling.

Stock Yards Skinless Chicken Breasts

How to Set up Your Grill for Direct Grilling

Direct grilling is the preferred technique for smaller amounts of food that don’t need to be cooked for a long period of time, like chicken breasts, burgers, pork chops or steak. For direct grilling, evenly distribute the hot charcoals in one layer across two-thirds of the bottom grate. One-third of the grate will stay cool; this is a “safe zone” where you can place your food in case it flares up. Then, put the top grate into place and put your food directly above the hot charcoal.

To grill your food evenly, make sure the coals below it extend at least 4 inches past each piece of food. Cook the food, uncovered, until it’s reached your desired internal temperature. Tip: Lump charcoal is better to use for direct grilling because it burns quicker and creates more heat than briquettes.

Stock Yards Baby Back Pork RibsHow to Set up Your Grill for Indirect Grilling

Indirect grilling is the ideal method for cooking large cuts of meat, whole chicken, ribs brisket, and any other types of meat that require a long cooking time. Instead of placing the food right over the fire, you place it next to the fire. Once you’ve poured the hot coals onto the bottom grate, rake them into two equal piles: one on the left side of the grill and one on the right side. If you prefer, you can use two charcoal baskets to separate the coals.

Fill a disposable aluminum pan with about 1 inch of water and place the pan in between the two piles of charcoal. This will catch all the drippings from the food and prevent them from burning. Cover the grill while the food is cooking, and open the grill’s vents to allow the air to circulate. Tip: Briquettes are better to use for indirect grilling because they have a much longer burning time than lump charcoal.

And that’s it! Now that you’re all geared up and ready to go, it’s time to create your BBQ masterpiece. Check out our Guide to Proper Grilling Temperatures for even more barbequing tips.

Got some great grilling pointers of your own? Share them with us by leaving a comment below!


Categories: Prep & Cooking Instructions


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  1. How to Plan the Ultimate Backyard Barbecue | STOCK YARDS - May 24, 2013

    […] up the grill. Set up your grill and start cookin’! Keep an eye on the meats and ensure they’re being grilled at the proper […]

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