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Best Barbecue Charcoal: Guide To Charcoal

When it comes to grilling on a charcoal BBQ, one thing that can take your game to the next level is knowing the best charcoal options.

The flame war between charcoal and gas BBQs still rages to this day. But when talking about authentic and smokey flavour, most barbecue experts will agree that charcoal grills remain superior.

The smoke and the flavour are the main highlights of charcoal BBQs. These also are the reasons why charcoal grills are a popular choice in the UK and all over the world.

But behind that good smoke and smoky flavour, there’s one unsung hero: the charcoal itself. Meat fat dripping onto the flameless coals creates the flavour-packed steam, aroma, and smokier flavour.

But it’s the charcoal that’s the real deal here, and knowing the best charcoal and charcoal barbecues can make a difference. If you want to get more serious about your passion for outdoor cookouts, this guide is an excellent place to start.

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Key takeaways:

  • Not all charcoal is created equal. For charcoal grills enthusiasts, including you, it’s important to learn about the different types of charcoal. This also includes how each type can affect your grilling experience.
  • The cooking process of a barbecue grill involves a lot of techniques, particularly when choosing fuel sources.
  • Do you go for charcoal briquettes? Lumpwood charcoal? Or bamboo charcoal? The more choices you have, the more decisions.
  • In our previous article, we talked about BBQ briquettes and BBQ wood. It’s a great read that can answer your question, ‘what is the best wood for barbecuing?’

A well-lit charcoal on the grill

Charcoal Barbecues: Here’s What to Know

There’s nothing like the smell of a charcoal barbecue grill being fired up, especially in the summertime.

But charcoal grilling can be intimidating, mainly when talking about the fuel source. Unlike a gas grill with only tank propane, you have more options with a charcoal barbecue grill.

Do you go for charcoal briquettes? Lumpwood charcoal? Or bamboo charcoal?

To make the most of your charcoal grilling and get the best result, here are the things you need to consider:

  • Know the ideal way to start a charcoal grill
  • Look for the best type of charcoal for your cooking needs
  • Be mindful of the rules: dos and don’ts
  • Find the perfect charcoal grill on the market

Let’s begin with lighting up a charcoal barbecue grill.

Uniform grey coals

How to start a charcoal grill?

First things first, know what type of charcoal you plan to use. The most common options are traditional briquettes and lumpwood charcoal/lump charcoal.

Briquettes are inexpensive, light easily and burn long and steady. But if you want something more intense smoky flavour, go with lumpwood charcoal.

Before you light your grill, make sure the vents are opened. The fire will require oxygen to keep it going, so take note of this one.

Then, once the charcoal is placed in the grill, you control the temperature gauge, which is usually installed on the vent. Wider vents mean hotter flames and more oxygen. Meanwhile, smaller vents imply the opposite: a cooler cooking temperature.

Top tip: Don’t close the vent, or else the flames will go out.

Prepping the charcoal briquettes for BBQ grilling

Grilling with wood pellet and charcoal briquettes

Charcoal is divided into two main categories, and these are:

  • Briquettes
  • Lumpwood charcoal

Charcoal briquettes are a combination of charcoal and other ingredients moulded into easy-to-light lumps. These elements include:

  • Binding agent (e.g. starch made from corn or wheat)
  • Nitrate as an accelerant
  • Lime as an ash-whitening agent

In short, they aren’t actual charcoal. BBQ briquettes offer an even and long-burning heat, making them an ideal fuel for grilling large cuts of meat.

Lumpwood charcoal, in contrast, is made from chunks of natural hardwood. There are no fillers to burn down, meaning lump charcoal produces less ash than charcoal briquettes.

What’s more, lumpwood charcoal burns for about 20 minutes and a lot faster than its briquette alternative. Different kinds of hardwood lump include mesquite, apple, and pecan woods.

Lump charcoal is excellent for a quick, hot-and-fast grilling/smoking process.

As for a wood pellet, it gives off more intense smoke than other wood flavour enhancers. This unique form of natural wood is especially ideal for pellet grills.

Pellets are usually made into long, pencil-thick rods, broken into chunks. They’re also made from highly-concentrated wood fibre, dried and compressed with heat.

To pick the best type of wood pellet for your smoking, use the meat you’re cooking as your starting point. Then decide how intense you want the flavour to pair with that meat.

For instance, a mesquite pellet gives off a strong flavour and produces an intense aroma and a savoury, spicy flavour. It pairs well with beef and other strong-flavoured meats.

Whereas, applewood offers a strong yet sweet flavour. Like pecan and cherry, it pairs well with pork, chicken, and wildfowl.

The bottom line: Charcoal, be it briquettes or lumpwood charcoal, and pellets can allow you to experiment with different flavours. From strong, spicy flavours to smooth, sweet flavours and everything in between.

Direct heat grilling

Two types of grilling

There are two main types of grilling:

  • Direct cooking (direct heat)
  • Indirect cooking (indirect heat)

Direct grilling (direct heat) is cooking directly on the coals or heat source. Because of this high heat it can involve turning food continuously (with consistent heat) to prevent overcooking.

Indirect grilling (indirect heat), in contrast, is cooking off to the side of the heat source or (for example, with gas BBQs with burners on around the meat). This is far more stable but can take longer. For one, the coals are kept at a more moderate temperature, and the food is cooked using convection. Note: Convection occurs when the heat is transferred to the food that’s being cooked.

A variety of Skewers on the grill

What to do and not to do: charcoal grills dos and don’ts

We’ve boiled down the essentials to the rules of grilling below so you can make the best use of your barbecue grill no matter what the season. Let’s start with the dos.

#1 Bring on the seasonings

Never underestimate the power of seasonings. Salt, garlic, chillies, and a squeeze of lemon can stand up your grilled foods to a much bolder flavour!

#2 Prepare the cooking grates (cooking surface)

Keep the grill clean and hot. Cleaning and oiling the grate well before the cooking time will help prevent your food from sticking.

What’s more, this will also help you achieve that perfect grilled mark. You can use a stiff wire brush to clean the grill before and after cooking.

For oiling the grill, dip a cloth in vegetable oil and run it over the grate with tongs.

#3 Prioritise safety

Grilling with charcoal or wood chips means you’re playing with fire. Set up your grill in an open space, make sure there’s a fire extinguisher nearby, and watch out for the kids.

And for the don’ts:

#1 Skimp on the charcoal

You wouldn’t want to experience having visitors arrive for a barbecue lunch with unlit charcoal, let alone no cooked food, would you? So, when it comes to charcoal grilling, the rule of thumb is to light the BBQ early enough.

Normally, it takes about 25 minutes for the charcoal to reach optimum cooking temperatures, or 40 minutes for briquettes. Lighting the grill before lunchtime is a good way to impress your hungry guests!

Another common mistake is not waiting until the coals are a uniform grey or white before slapping on the grub. If you start too early, you run the risk of scorching everything.

#2 Spray water on flare-ups

If you spray the coal during a flare-up, the ash will land all over your lamb or meat chips. Flare-ups are especially common when grilling on a barbecue grill.

While squirting water isn’t recommended, you can still control them. Just move your food to the cool part of the grill until the flames calm.

BillyOh Kentucky Smoker BBQ - Charcoal American Grill Outdoor Barbecue

Our Best Selling Barbecue Charcoal Grill

Are you preparing to become a pro-level backyard pitmaster? Here, we present to you our best pick: the BillyOh Kentucky Smoker BBQ.

Ideal for cooking up feasts, the Kentucky can provide the original BBQ taste that you may find in the best BBQ restaurants in your town. Who knows? It can be your next outdoor cookout companion!

This charcoal BBQ lets you experiment with hot coals and wood to achieve the smokey flavour that everyone holds in high regard. It’s also designed for ease of use with an accessible front door for pellets, briquettes, and wood refilling.

Thanks to the removable ashtray, this smoker BBQ is pretty easy to maintain. Keep an eye on your cooking temperature with the external thermometer (built-in thermometers).

Other design insights include:

  • Stainless steel construction for a sturdy build. The model also features a black powder-coated finish for a premium, stylish look.
  • Wheels for portability and easy to move.
  • The charcoal tray can be raised or lowered using a crank, so you can increase or decrease the heat.
  • Built-in side trays and extra storage below for utensils and staying organised.
  • Vents beside the grill and coal for easy airflow control.

For only £149.00, you can get yourself a high-quality modern smoker and get your food on the table on time. Plus, without the fear of your food being overcooked or under-cooked.

Available in kettle barbecue, oil drum BBQ, and barrel designs, our charcoal BBQs collection marry traditional flame-grilled cooking and modern BBQ build. Each of our models guarantees you to bring aromatic grilled meals straight to your plate.

Shop online now for the best BillyOh BBQs on offer!

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FAQ

Grilling foods can be a healthy alternative when prepared right. This includes those cooked on a charcoal barbecue grill (e.g. indirect cooking and direct grilling).

 

Grilled foods tend to have fewer fats than foods cooked in a pan. For one, the meat drips the fats away, especially on the slow cooking route.

The best time to use a charcoal barbecue grill is during the hot summer season. Most importantly, when you want to achieve that strong, authentic, smokey flavour to your meat.

The unique taste that instant charcoal briquettes or binchotan charcoal offers are something that isn’t present when cooked indoors.

Nothing beats the aroma and smokey flavour that a charcoal BBQ grill provides. But there’s no denying how convenient gas barbecues are.

 

Depending on your needs, both can be beneficial. With each having its own sets of pros and cons.

 

In this quick article, we’ll help you make a well-informed decision on which BBQ to buy for your next cookout.

When your charcoal (e.g. lumpwood charcoal/lump charcoal) has burned to an even temperature, it’s time to place your meat on the cooking grates.

The charcoal should turn at least two thirds white. This indicates that it’s hot inside and out.

Listed below are the basic approach to charcoal grilling:

 

  • Choosing the types of charcoal you want to use (e.g. instant charcoal briquettes, lumpwood charcoal or lump charcoal)
  • Lighting the charcoal
  • Decide on direct or indirect heat
  • Figure out your cooking time
  • Wait for the food to be cooked
  • Then serve!
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