Charcoal Grilling 101

charcoal grilling 101, little life bytes, eat at joe's, s2r studios

First off, no gas! No one wants to eat propane! Charcoal is the way to go! You can’t beat the smoky flavor that a charcoal grill gives your food. There are some very basic, but necessary steps to follow when grilling with charcoal, starting with how to light the thing:

You’ll need some pieces of paper (4 or so) rolled up in logs. Put these under the charcoal grate at the bottom of your grill (make sure you leave some sticking out far enough so you’ll be able to actually light it after you put your coals down (see below). Now, dowse the paper logs with lighter fluid. Oh, and make sure your vents are open, otherwise, no fire.



  • Stack about 3 layers of briquettes in a pyramid form as big as the surface of your grill, making sure that you have some gaps for air….fire breathes dammit. You may want to add a little more lighter fluid onto the coals depending on what brand of charcoal you’re using. Read the bag instructions.
  • Light the paper.
  • Now here’s the “genius” part: you HAVE TO let the charcoal burn for 20-40 minutes. Why? Because if you don’t burn off the lighter fluid (that’s not only in the paper but also in the coals), your food will taste like shit…I mean- lighter fluid. You’ll know when your coals are ready when there’s no black left on the coals. They will be gray and glowing. Also, you should be able to hold your hand 3” over the food grate for about 3 seconds. Don’t be a tough guy, it should only feel hot, not burn you. This results in medium heat. So, if your recipe calls for little life bytes, eat at joe's. grilling basics 101, s2r studiosmedium heat (and most do), you are good to go.
  • A good tip is to have a spray bottle with water in it on hand to spray the fire when it flares up. Fatty, yet delicious, Ribeye tends to catch fire and that’ll ruin your $25 steak!


FOR INDIRECT HEAT- There’s two types of “indirect heat”:

  1. Stack the 3 layers of briquettes to one side of the grill. Have no coals on the other side of the grill. This lets you to get direct heat on one side and indirect heat on the other. If your recipe calls for cooking on indirect heat, cook on the side where there are no coals. Most likely, you’ll be cooking with the grill closed.
  2. Use the steps in #1 (above) EXCEPT use a drip pan on the side with no coals. Put it underneath the food grate. The reason? Any food that’s going to drip (like a chicken thigh) will cause flare ups. Having the drip pan will prevent this.

little life bytes, eat at joe's, grilling basics 101, drip pan in the middle, s2r studiosPersonally, I don’t like this method, although it’s technically the “correct” way. I would rather put my drip pan in the center and surround it with coals, so the food gets heat from all sides and still drips into the pan. I know, always bucking the system.




High Heat- Remember when we talked about getting your coals to gray and glowing?  High heat will usually happen when the coals have been burning for about 20 minutes. They’ll also be a little bit of flame going…no black though. Just gray and a little flame.

Medium Heat- Burn the coals down a little longer (about 30 minutes versus 20 minutes). The coals should look gray and glowing…no fire, and you should be able to also do the 3″/3 second hand routine.

These rules are for run of the mill, cheapo, charcoal grills.
You don’t have a smoker or a lighter basket or any fancy shit.
It’s just you, your metal bucket, the coals and your meat.


Let’s build a fire!



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