When it comes to authentic BBQ flavor, nothing beats cooking with charcoal. It adds a rich, smoky layer of flavor you just don’t get with gas grills. Yet despite the fact that many people prefer charcoal flavor, they've been turned off to grilling with it by the misconception that it’s difficult to light and hard to use. However, if you’re using high-quality charcoal and follow a few simple steps, it takes only a little more effort than grilling with gas.
Choosing the Best Charcoal: Lump Charcoal vs. Briquettes
Using pure hardwood charcoal not only adds to the flavor of your food, it’s more efficient. We recommend using all-natural lump charcoal. Unlike briquettes, which are uniform in appearance, lump charcoal is irregular in size and shape. That’s because you're actually getting chunks of real wood that's been kilned to remove moisture and sap. Pure and all-natural, there are no chemicals, additives, or fillers. Great for use in kamado grills, lump burns hotter than briquettes and produces less ash. If there’s a drawback to lump charcoal, it’s that it can take longer to light and it burns unevenly, causing hot spots.
While we love lump charcoal, there are advantages to using briquettes. Because lump gets so hot, it can be hard to control, especially when you want to maintain low-and-slow temperatures. Because of their uniform size and shape, briquettes provide a consistent and predictable heat. They also light easier and burn longer. If you opt to cook with briquettes, use high-quality ones like Humphrey’s Hardwood Charcoal Briquettes, which are 100% all-natural and contain no chemicals, additives, or fillers. Stay away from briquettes that have been presoaked in lighter fluid, which can leave a chemical residue on food and affect its flavor.
Ways to Light Charcoal
If you’re using lighter fluid to start your charcoal or wood fire, stop immediately! Lighter fluid is dangerous to use, leaves a chemical residue, and changes the flavor of food. There are other, better, ways to quickly and easily start your charcoal without resorting to chemicals.
Made of paraffin, lighter cubes are non-toxic, smokeless, flavorless, and odorless. They ignite instantly with a simple match and burn with a consistent flame that lights the charcoal for you. If you’re going to be smoking and only need to achieve a low temperature, you can just bury a cube into the top of your charcoal pile and light it. After several minutes, a few coals should be burning, enough to get you climbing toward 250°F. If you need to get your grill really hot for direct grilling, you can let the fire continued to build or, instead start off by placing 2 or 3 cubes in your charcoal to get more burning and raise the temperature quicker. Inexpensive and easy to use, lighter cubes should be in every griller’s stockpile.
How to Use a Charcoal Chimney
If you’re grilling steak and burgers and want to build a hot fire quickly, you can use lighter cubes with a charcoal chimney. Safe and easy to use, they utilize natural airflow and rising heat to light all your charcoal quickly. To use a charcoal chimney, just follow these simple steps:
- Place 1 or 2 lighter cubes underneath the chimney (there is a small space in the bottom of the chimney designed for this). You can also use balled up newspaper instead of fire-starters.
- Place the chimney on your grill's charcoal grate.
- Load the chimney with charcoal so that it's crowning out of the top.
- Light the lighter cubes through the holes in the side/bottom of the chimney using a lighter or long match.
- Once the top crown of charcoal is glowing and you cannot see any black pieces of charcoal, pour the charcoal onto the charcoal grate using a fireproof mitt.
- Put the chimney in a safe place where children or pets cannot touch it until it has cooled.
Electric Charcoal Starter
For those grillers who want their charcoal lit even faster, electric charcoal starters are a convenient option that make it as easy as pressing a button. Both the Looftlighter and Bison Airlighter use a super-hot flame to ignite charcoal in as little as two minutes. Another electric starter that doesn’t light quite as quickly, but is a little more affordable and just as effective is the Charcoal Companion Electric Charcoal Starter