Editor’s Introduction: In honour of grilling season, I've invited Chef Michael P. Clive of the Weber Grill Academy to share his best tips for charcoal grilling. I met Chef Clive back in 2015 when I attended a cooking lesson at the Weber Grill Academy, and asked him to share his best tips. I hope you enjoy this article!
For many, this is the season of grilling! Perhaps you’re already a backyard hero, but have you tried the back-to-basics approach to grilling?
I’m talking about the smell of nostalgia. I’m talking about the art of charcoal grilling!
Charcoal Grilling for Old-School Flavour
I grew up in a family that loved to cook, and when it came to the great outdoors that cooking was grilling! Whether it was on camping trips, or weekends spent at the beach, we would pack for a culinary adventure.
When we grilled on-the-go we often used charcoal as our fuel choice, and our foods would then take on the aromatics of smoked woods.
I teach the simplicity of lighting charcoal, and cooking food over it, everyday and what I discover each and every time is that people often assume it is more difficult than it really is!
With THREE simple steps you too can get grilling with charcoal and start enjoying the taste of the old way of grilling foods.
Step one: Lighting charcoal
Using a Rapidfire Chimney Starter is going to help this process quite a bit. It’s an upright metal cylinder with a handle, that has various small holes throughout it, and a wire rack inside for air to travel through.
Pour your desired amount of charcoal into the chimney and get ready to ignite!
I always recommend you use some Weber lighter cubes, NEVER lighter fluid, to ignite your coals! Lighter cubes are not toxic or dangerous like lighter fluid!
Light the cubes on the charcoal grate of your kettle grill and then simply place the filled chimney starter over top. After about 15 minutes you will see that your coals have become white-hot and ashy. It is only then that you should disperse your lit charcoal into your kettle, always using some insulated BBQ gloves to do so!"
Step two: Decide on direct or indirect heat
What you plan to cook will ultimately determine what style of cooking zone you will require.
First, let's define what both direct and indirect means when it comes to charcoal grilling.
Direct heat is what you get when you are grilling your food directly over top of a bed of lit charcoal.
To set up your charcoal grill for direct cooking simply spread the lit charcoal in a single layer all the way across the charcoal grate. This creates a wide zone of heat to grill your food over. If you’re concerned about the potential of a flare up, it’s helpful to keep a small part of the charcoal free from other charcoal as an area of indirect heat.
When the fire is off to the side of the food, or the food is somehow shielded from direct heat, you are using the power of indirect heat.
When you are using a charcoal grill for indirect cooking it is important to spread the lit charcoal apart on opposite sides of the food. This creates one zone of indirect heat in the middle. You can always use some charcoal baskets to hold your lit charcoal as this makes moving your heat source from direct to indirect so easy and safe!
Step three: Figure out your cooking time
Are you preparing something that takes 20 minutes or less to grill? Or is it something that may take over 20 minutes to grill?
Rule of thumb for me is if it’s going to take more than 20 minutes to grill, I’m likely going to be using some indirect heat at some point!
Burgers, steaks, pork chops, chicken breasts are only a few examples that can be beautifully prepared by use of the direct heat method.
Foods like whole chicken, baked goods, roasts of beef, pork, lamb etc…will normally call for indirect heat, while perhaps using some direct heat to colour the meat either at the beginning or nearing the end of your cook.
Harnessing these easy steps should take your charcoal grilling game to the next level. And remember, whatever you prepare in your oven you can prepare over your backyard grill!
Just keep the lid on…
Because Looking isn’t Cooking!
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I invited Expert Chef Michael P. Clive from the Weber Grill Academy to write this article about charcoal grilling. No money (or product) was exchanged.
Images of Chef Clive were provided by Weber-Stephen Canada Co.