Cooking with Fire Part 1: Grilling with Charcoal

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grilling with charcoal

Photo by Skitterphoto licensed under CC0

Ketchup vs mustard.  Cats vs dogs.  Morning person vs night person.  Coffee vs wine.  Well okay, maybe that isn’t an either/or kind of deal but you get the point, which is that life is full of tough choices.  While these particular “compare and contrasts” may not have you up in arms, we guarantee that as a steak love there is one topic sure to light your fire every time.  Grilling with charcoal vs a gas BBQ.

Long a great source of contention among BBQ lovers young and old, cooking with charcoal as opposed to gas is the classic method for grilling up a few tender, juicy gourmet steaks.  Purists will argue that there is nothing like the smoky, astringent flavors added by grilling with charcoal while modern grillers appreciate the cleanliness and less noticeable flavors imparted by grilling over propane.  At Steak University, we’re here to settle the debate once and for all, or at least give you some talking points the next time cousin Willy tries to tell you your method is wrong.  And while this article is devoted to the briquette goodness that is charcoal, part 2 will commit our full resources to that bright blue flame of gas grilling.  So, sit on back as we give you all the tips, tricks and hints for how to cook with charcoal.

What is Charcoal Anyways

Before we discuss the ins and outs of how to grill on a charcoal grill, we need to get into the nitty gritty of our chosen medium of heat delivery.  Charcoal is an age old (like lots and lots and lots of ages) method of slowly burning or charring wood without oxygen.  The result is a slow burning, hot and clean heat that doesn’t impart flavor via smoke to your food.  This is in contrast to cooking with hardwoods that haven’t been reduced to charcoal, which you often do in smoking to add additional flavor to your meat.

Benefits of Grilling with Charcoal

As mentioned above, cooking with charcoal has been long the preferred method for outdoor enthusiasts.  The heat produced by grilling on a charcoal grill can be intense and is long lasting and even.  Unlike hard woods or gas, little to no flavor is imparted by smoke, since charcoal cooks food via its consistent radiant heat and not actual flame.  When grilling with charcoal you achieve precision heating and cooking results, with a little bit of practice of course.

How to Cook with Charcoal

When it comes to how to grill on a charcoal grill, pitmasters the world over each have their own special recipe or method for success.  At Steak University, we like to start with the fundamentals and think simplicity often is the best compliment for a high quality, gourmet USDA Prime steak.  If you’ve been wanting to try charcoal grilling on for size, below are the step by step instructions for how to cook with charcoal.

What You’ll Need:

  • High quality natural lump charcoal or charcoal briquettes
  • Newspaper for lighting
  • Charcoal chimney (optional)
  • Oven proof gloves
  • BBQ grill with grate and assorted tongs
  • Vegetable or other high quality oil
  • Meat, preferably Chicago Steak Company gourmet steaks (we like a NY strip for your first couple of attempts)

How to Grill on a Charcoal Grill:

  • Stuff newspaper in the bottom of your charcoal chimney. If you don’t have a chimney, remove grill grate and place newspaper loosely balled at the bottom of your BBQ grill
  • Fill your chimney with charcoal or loosely place charcoal on top of newspaper in grill.
  • Lite newspaper and let charcoal burn until it is covered with white-grey ash. This should take approximately 5 minutes for your coals to reach high heat and 25-30 to reach a medium heat.
  • Once charcoal is ready, dump from chimney into BBQ. If using a BBQ to heat your coals, you are also ready at this point.
  • Prep grate by lightly oiling with vegetable, avocado or olive oil. Butter isn’t a great option here since it burns at high heat or when exposed to flame.
  • Once grate is back in place, grill steaks for 3-4 minutes per side, flipping once, until medium rare or other temperature of your choice. Covering the grill with the lid at this point will speed up the process, so be sure to account for this in your actual grill time.
  • After cooking, allow the meat to rest for at least 5 minutes prior to consuming. A rack or table next to the grill will help keep your meat warm during this process.  Be sure to cover lightly with foil, especially if cooking outdoors, to prevent infiltration from any critters (and to deter rover from sampling)

Now that we’ve imparted all the knowledge in our “how to grill on a charcoal grill” arsenal, there’s only one thing left to do…get to grilling.  Well, you can also check out part two of our series in the continuous debate of charcoal vs propane or gas grilling.  Whichever method you decide, our tips, tricks and high quality steaks will be sure to have you up and running like a grilling pro in no time.