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Cooking with Charcoal

May is National BBQ Month, so what better time to consider making the switch to cooking with charcoal! I know, charcoal can be intimidating, but trust me – it’s easy! Here are some pointers that we think you should know before you make the switch.

Types of Charcoal

There is probably no greater debate in the world of barbecue than “Lump vs. Briquettes”. They are two different sources of charcoal that ultimately can be used to create similar results on the grill.


Made by burning wood in a low oxygen environment, lump charcoal is the choice of purists around the world. Lump burns hotter than briquettes and creates less ash. The downside is that it burns quicker and is usually more expensive than briquettes.


Made from wood by-products like sawdust that is compressed together using glue and other binders, briquettes certainly don’t sound as nice as lump charcoal. Their benefits are that they are cheaper than lump and burn longer.

Use a Chimney Starter

Stop! Slowly and carefully put the bottle of lighter fluid down. There’s a safer and easier way to light your charcoal; it’s called a Chimney Starter.  There’s several on the market, but many consider the Weber Rapidfire Chimney Starter to be the gold standard.

A chimney starter can be used to light charcoal quickly and easily. Simply dump some charcoal into it and light some combustible material underneath it (something like newsprint, or a fire starter cube – available at any hardware store). After about 15 – 20 minutes, your charcoal will be completely ashed over and ready to cook with!

Two-Zone Setup with Charcoal

Once your charcoal is lit you simply dump the charcoal into your grill and prepare to grill on it. We’ve already learned the importance of a two-zone setup – with a “hot” side and a “cool” side, and that still applies with charcoal.

Simply pile your charcoal to one side of your grill to create the “hot” side, and the side of the grill without charcoal will be your “cool” side. It’s great to have a spare set of tongs around to help you stack and move the lit charcoal inside your grill. Just don’t use it to cook your food until you’ve cleaned it.

By using a two-zone setup, you are able to quickly sear food like steaks over direct heat, and then move them to the indirect side to finish coming up in temp. You can also add wood chips or chunks to your charcoal and smoke food on the indirect side.

How to Adjust Temp

One downside to using a charcoal grill is that it is a bit more complicated to lower or raise the cooking temp of your grill.

Most grills will have vents on the top and bottom of their grill. These vents are designed to allow air in and out of the grill. Since we’re cooking with fire the rules are simple: less air = less fire = less heat. If you need to increase the temperature simply open the vents to allow max air in and out of your grill, and if you need to lower the temp simply close the vents to allow less air in and out.

Bottom line: this is one area where you are going to have to practice using your grill to learn what works best for you.

Clean Up

While your grill is still hot, use your Juniper BBQ Scraper to clean your hot grill grates. When you are done cooking, simply close all the vents to restrict air flow and allow your charcoal fire to slowly choke itself out. Do not throw out any charcoal ash for at least 48 hours to ensure the fire is completely out.

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