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How to start a charcoal grill

Charcoal grills are revered for their high, frosty temperatures, the smoky taste they give to grilling, and the flexibility they offer – they can use it to grill and smoke meat.

At the same time there is a learning curve with a charcoal grill. Unlike gas grills which have buttons and buttons to get started, you have to manually commission a charcoal grill.

But do not be intimidated by the effort. Set it up with the steps below and you will be rewarded with delicious grilled food that is cooked to perfection.

Read more: CNET's guide to grilling smarter this summer .

Clean old ash and open the vents

When the ashes and charcoal from your last grill are in the grill, you need to clean them. Make it a habit, because if you leave ashes in the grill, it can collect moisture and cause harmful rust.

Next, open the openings in your grill, both at the bottom and in the lid. When grilling, the coal needs oxygen to continue burning. Fully opened vents feed more oxygen to the coals, but also allow them to burn faster. Consult the barbecue manual for its breather recommendations.


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Should I use a coal chimney starter?

Yes! You should always start your charcoal grill with a chimney starter. It's a metal cylinder with a handle that you fill with charcoal briquettes or charcoal, and it's ideal for heating up coals quickly.

  Harvested hands of a man cooking coals in the garden grill

Use a chimney starter to heat your charcoal faster and more evenly.

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How it works:

  • Put some newspaper or scrap paper in the lower compartment of the chimney and place it on the bottom grill of your grill.
  • Fill with charcoal and then light the paper with a long lighter or match.
  • Let the coal burn until the briquettes look mostly white or gray, about 15-20 minutes.
  • For specific instructions, refer to your chimney owner's manual.

More about Chowhound: How much charcoal to use when grilling

Oh, and forgive the lighter liquid – it can give your food a funky chemical taste that's the opposite of yummy. You will not need it with a chimney.

If you do not have a chimney starter, you can use lighter fluid to light the coals in the grill, but I implore you to get a chimney. They are cheap and you will not regret it.

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Once your coals start to turn gray they are ready to to go to the grill.

Marlin Seigman / EyeEm

Spread the Coals

Once the coal is hot and forms ashes, it's time to throw the hot coals on the bottom grill in your grill. Be sure to use a heat resistant glove or oven mitt to grasp the handle and fill in the coals.

Probably the best way to grill is to make a thick layer of coals on one side of the grill, leaving a few coals in the middle and no coals on the other side. This creates three heat zones and you can cook both indirect and direct heat.

  • Direct Heat is ideal for quick-cooking foods such as shrimp, salmon (and all other seafood), hot dogs, vegetables and burgers.
  • Indirect Heat makes cooking slower and gentler than direct, which is great for chicken, ribs, and large pieces of meat.

More about Chowhound: When should you use the lid on your grill?

With the three heat zones you get the best of both worlds. You can get these beautiful grill marks by placing a chicken breast over the direct heat and then bringing it indirectly to a boil.

Preheat the grills

Once your coals are hot and placed in the grill, allow them to preheat the grills for a few minutes. This is a good time to brush off charred food and debris on the grate and apply a thin layer of cooking oil (or rub a potato on it!).

Now your grill is ready to prepare burgers, chicken, vegetables, and whatever else is on the menu for your next barbeque.

Master Your Grill CNET Guide to Everything You Need to Know About Barbecues

CNET's Guide to Smart Living is a guide to tips, tricks and guides that will make your life smarter.

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