If you are anything like me, you didn’t grow up watching your mom or dad do a lot of grilling and may not be aware of some of the details that go into preparing great tasting BBQ.
That being the case, you may have no idea how to set up your coals, figure out when the grill is hot enough, or even control the temperature once you’ve gotten it just right. Well, this article is just for you, then, because I’ll be going over all of that.
How to Arrange Your Coals
First things first: there are a few different ways you can arrange your coals, and the different arrangements are used for different methods of grilling your food. The first method is the most basic and the one with which most people are familiar. That would be having your charcoal spread in one even layer. This type of set-up is used for all of your typical direct-heat cooking, such as burgers, steaks, etc.
The next option is a two-zone, direct-heat lay-out. In this method of cooking, the majority of coals are piled on one side of your grill while the other side has one thin layer.
This set-up would be used for something like a really thick steak (even a lesser-known steak cut) or pork chop. In this way, you would be able to get a really good sear on the meat from the side with more heat, and then you would finish cooking on the side with less coals to avoid over-cooking the outside of the meat.
Another way to layout your fuel gives you two-zone, indirect heat. In this arrangement, all the fuel supply is banked on one side of your charcoal barbecue grill. You will use this method for cooking large roasts or whole birds. The meat goes on the side of the grate with no fuel directly under it.
Utilizing this preparation, you will be able to fully cook the inside of the meat without burning the outside.
Finally, you can also make a three-zone fire and arrange the charcoal along both sides, leaving the middle section clear. This type of set-up is perfect for smaller roasts, pork loins, quails, small chickens, etc.
A Note on Portable Charcoal Grills
Make sure that you choose one with adequate space to arrange you coals. Many of these models do not have deep wells which make placement difficult. See Foodal’s Portable Charcoal Grill Buying Guide for assistance.
Is It Hot Enough Yet???
So, you have your charcoal arranged just right for what you intend to cook, and you have the fire going. Now, how do you determine when the heat level is correct? That, my friends, is as easy as holding out your hand.
Placing your hand directly over the grates, approximately 4-5 inches from the smoldering coals, simply count the seconds it takes before it feels like your hand will start smoldering itself.
If you can only hold your hand there for a second or two, this is too hot to cook anything, but it’s a great time to stick your hand in an oven mitt and grab your stiff-bristled brush to scrape those grates clean.
Are you able to hold your hand above the heat for 2-3 seconds? This puts the temperature at around 450°F (high), which is still too hot for anything other than a really thin pork chop or maybe a tuna steak.
If you can last 4-5 seconds, you’re looking at anywhere from 375-450°F, or a medium=high heat, which is the optimum temperature for cooking your generic burgers and steaks. This is also when you want to cook any fish or veggies.
Keep in mind that your barbecue grill will go from high to medium-high in only 5-10 minutes, so you’ll want to have everything prepped and ready to go. Once you’re cooking, the grill will only stay at this heat level for 10-15 minutes, if left uncovered.
About Ashley Martell
Ashley has enjoyed creative writing since she was six years old, when she wrote her first short story. She majored in English literature at the University of Montevallo. After years of professional work, she is now a stay-at-home mom of three, who uses her craft to write about her life and adventures in and out of the kitchen.