The Seven Most Common Mistakes People Make When Lighting a Charcoal Grill. When I was young, lighting a charcoal grill was a non-issue. That’s because it was always someone else’s job: my father or some other adult. I had little interest in the grill beyond it being a vessel that produced delicious goods: hot dogs, hamburgers, and if someone was feeling adventurous, perhaps even grilled fruit or pound cake.
As I got older, I didn’t lose a taste for grilled food, but suddenly it seemed that nobody was ready and willing to accept grill master duties. So I did the hard thing: I learned how to light and operate a charcoal grill. Learning to grill is a valuable skill to have in life; if you master it, you’ll be a valued BBQ guest for life. But how do you master the art of lighting a charcoal grill?
The seven most common mistakes while grilling
On the road to grilling perfection, you’re bound to hit a few potholes. There are some common mistakes and issues that seem to crop up over and over with the would-be griller. These are some of the common mistakes that people make when lighting their charcoal grills. Some of them might seem like quick fixes, but they are not. Let’s explore these issues and some easy remedies.
1. You don’t use actual charcoal. Burning hardwood charcoal is…well, hard. It can be harder to ignite, and trickier still to keep it evenly hot, than pre-packaged, perfectly shaped briquettes. Those briquettes can be quite tempting: they ignite easily, and burn for a long time. But what you gain in convenience, you will lose in flavor.
Briquettes are loaded with chemicals and fillers, so not only are they not imparting much flavor on your food, but they might be harmful to your health. Brands labeled “natural” charcoal are made with pure wood, meaning it will impart a smoky flavor and no chemical products on your food.
2. You’re heavy-handed with lighter fluid. Ah, lighter fluid. It’s so tempting to use this quick-fix to get the fire started or get it going again once if it has fizzled out. But think about this: with every squirt of lighter fluid, you are robbing yourself of flavor. Lighter fluid can impart an unpleasant flavor on your food. Ask yourself: is it worth it.
3. You don’t use a chimney starter. If you are guilty of the above mistake, your heavy handedness could be the result of not using and embracing the chimney starter.
A chimney starter is a cylindrical device with a handle on the outside and a small rack on the inside in which you place wadded-up newspaper and set it alight. The cylinder helps funnel the heat so that it can light the charcoal. Don’t light the newsprint and walk away, though: make sure you’ve set the coals alight. Once you see smoke and heat ripples in the air, you can be sure that the charcoal is actually burning.
4. You’re scared to get too close to the grill. This might sound like a silly “mistake”, but some are literally scared to get close to the grill. They’ll try to hurl charcoal on from a distance; they’ll light newspaper and try to toss it into the chimney starter like a basketball, hoping to make the hoop but too scared to get close.
Well, it’s understandable to be nervous, your grill is going to get awfully hot, and nobody likes to inhale lungfuls of smoke. But certain things can only be done up close and personal on a grill to get it started right. The fire isn’t going to start right away, so don’t be scared to be next to the grill to light the newsprint on fire.
Keep yourself feeling safe by having oven mitts or kitchen towels on hand if things get too hot, and do use good quality grilling tools. But don’t be afraid of a little heat!
5. You don’t plan out the quantities of charcoal you need for the amount you’ll be grilling. You wouldn’t just guess how many burgers would be necessary for an outdoor party (or if you would, we should discuss your hosting skills). You’d take an inventory of the number of guests expected and plan accordingly. Do the same with your charcoal. Consider how much you’ll be grilling, how long the charcoal will have to burn, and how hot it will need to be.
Usually charcoal packaging will advise, or you can ask an employee wherever you’re purchasing your charcoal. They should be able to give you an educated estimate as to how much you’ll need. Remember, it’s always better to have too much than too little charcoal.
6. You don’t clean the grill. Your laziness at the end of a given grilling session could equal grilling failure next time. Ashy and crispy bits from grilling remnants, as well as bits of charcoal, can clog up your grill, blocking oxygen, which is necessary for fueling the fire. Be sure to clean the grill after every use. Consider it a gift to yourself to ensure grilling success in the future, whether your next session is going to be tomorrow or a few weeks ahead.
7. You don’t place the charcoal evenly on the grill. When you’re ready to grill, you just scatter the charcoal wherever in the grill pit. It’s all the same, right? Well, not really. Pile the coals evenly over the grill, so that you won’t have “cool” spots in your grilling.
Unevenly paced charcoal can mean that even burgers cooked the same amount of time on different sections of the grill might turn out differently. A burger on the “hot” part of the grill might be very well done, whereas another burger on a different section of the grill might still be raw inside.
Can you handle the heat? Working at the grill can be intimidating, but it’s a worthwhile pursuit to learn how to properly light a charcoal grill. Not only will you be rewarded with delicious grilled goods as a result of your know-how, but you might just impress your friends and save the party on occasion. Sometimes it might seem like the grill can smell your fear, but the more practice you get, the easier it will be to overcome these common grilling obstacles.
Who is the grill master in your family?