Mistakes to Avoid When Cooking on a Charcoal Grill

Mistakes to Avoid When Cooking on a Charcoal Grill

We talked in this previous blog about why using cooking charcoal to do your grilling can produce much tastier food – but to be successful at it, you need to do it right.

If you’re new to charcoal grilling, it can be easy to make simple mistakes that could have a significant negative impact on the way your food turns out. 

This article will examine five common mistakes you should try to avoid when cooking on a charcoal grill.

  • Not preparing properly

Cooking outside on a charcoal grill is not the same as cooking in your kitchen. For starters, the tools and accessories you use won’t be to hand unless you’re organised enough to get them out and put them somewhere sensible beforehand. The last thing you want to do is have to rush off to the kitchen to get the tongs/spatula/baster/meat thermometer you need when your food can go from nearly cooked to overcooked quicker than you expect (see point 3 below). Other things you’ll need include fire and heat-resistant gloves, because you’re almost certainly going to be handling very hot bits of metal, such as chimney starters and grill grates.

The other key thing to remember is that the grill can take time to reach optimum cooking temperature – it’s not just a case of lighting your charcoal and starting cooking. Medium-sized grills can take as long as 15 to 30 minutes to reach the right temperature, so make sure you allow enough time for yours to heat up.

  • Using liquid fuel to get your fire going

Impatience can be the enemy of good charcoal grilling, and never more so than when it comes to getting the coals lit in the first place. The temptation can be to use lighter fluid to speed things up, but doing that is likely to leave your food with an unpleasant extra taste of gasoline rather than the mouth-watering smoky flavour you’re looking for.

Using a chimney starter – basically a hollow metal cylinder with a grate – is a far more effective and efficient way of getting your charcoal alight and ready to cook. Place paper (or other kindling) under the grate and layer charcoal on top – once the coals are glowing, just raise the chimney to leave your hot charcoal in the grill. 

  • Forgetting that charcoal cooks hotter than gas

There may not be a flame as such, but cooking with charcoal still produces considerably more heat than you get on a gas hob. That means that you don’t need to cook your food for as long to get the results you want. Of course, that also means – as we alluded to earlier – that getting distracted could mean running the risk of the outside of whatever you’re cooking getting burnt.

barbecue grilling

As it happens, there is another way of dealing with this situation, which leads us nicely onto our next common mistake. 

  • Thinking you can’t control the heat

When you’re used to the simple controls on the cooker in your kitchen, it’s easy to think that the heat you have to work with on a charcoal grill is what it is and there’s not a lot you can do about it. But you probably don’t want to cook everything over the same level of heat – for example, the amount you’ll need to cook your veg is going to be less than you need to sear the outside of a steak.

Fortunately, it’s easier to control your heat than you might imagine.

The best way to do it is to create zones, and the simplest way to do this is to have most of your charcoal on one side of the grill. That will, naturally, form the hottest part of your cooking area. Other zones can have no or little charcoal for slower cooking and resting food that’s already cooked and can be kept warm while you’re finishing off everything else.

  • Opening the lid too often

Another thing that demonstrates how impatience can be a major barrier to good charcoal grilling. With normal cooking, raising the lid on a pan or opening the oven door lets heat out and can slow down the cooking process. With cooking charcoal, on the other hand, opening the lid lets air and oxygen in – and that actually causes your coals to burn even hotter. That could mean burnt food or using your charcoal up much quicker than would otherwise be the case.

Of course, you’re going to have to open the lid occasionally to see how your food is doing or flip it over – especially if you’re still new to grilling and aren’t sure how long your food needs – but try to resist the urge to do it more than you really need to. 


Enjoy better grilling by ordering your cooking charcoal from KG Smith & Son. As leading suppliers of restaurant-grade BBQ charcoal to professional chefs across the country, we can provide charcoal that adds an extra layer of taste, aroma and quality to your food. With fast and free delivery always available, we don’t just supply great products, we do it with exceptional levels of customer service designed around your convenience.

Find out more by calling our helpful team today or place your order online now.



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