Despite the myth, it’s usually pretty easy to use a charcoal grill. In my opinion, it’s also kind of more fun than cooking on the gas all the time. But that is assuming you do know the nifty tricks on how to keep a charcoal grill hot from the start till the end.
The tricks are nothing complex, for sure. But that doesn’t mean things can’t go wrong, especially for someone new to cooking on charcoal (or wood).
As you know, charcoal grills, except for sophisticated designs like Masterbuilt 800 or 1050, usually don’t have knobs to regulate the cooking heat (temperature). So, you have to be very keen on your grill to make sure the food cooks to perfection.
It’s a Concern If You Can’t Keep Your Charcoal Grill Hot
Indeed, it can be an issue if you don’t know how to keep a charcoal grill hot. Some of these issues you can experience include:
- A hassle to cook as the cookbox may struggle to achieve the desired heat (temperature) level of your recipe at hand. It will be even more frustrating if the coals are struggling to burn in the initial lighting stage- where you prepare a hot bed for your charcoal fire.
- Longer cooking hours than it should be if the charcoal grill is still struggling to get the cookbox as hot as required. Even low-and-slow cook like when you want to smoke baby back ribs may take longer than expected.
- Under-cooked food is also probable if you can’t keep your charcoal grill hot enough and don’t have the time to wait. It will be even worse when you have inferior equipment that dissipates the heat as fast as it enters the cooking chamber.
- Can’t do certain cooking methods, like searing the food or making nicely charred meat. It might even be a hassle to use the griddle- say for tasks like frying or making pancakes.
- The risk of the grill going off is also imminent if you’re unable to keep the charcoal coals hot enough at certain levels. And that will end up interrupting your cooking session, then will have to light up the cooker right from the scratch again.
Tips & Hacks on How to Keep a Charcoal Grill Hot
Well, there are a number of ways on how to keep a charcoal grill hot. But each of these solutions varies with the reason your grill might not be getting hot in the first place. And that’s what we’ll be looking at in this section.
Part One: How to Keep a Charcoal Grill Hot During Lighting
When using a charcoal grill to barbecue, the most intimidating process for a lot of people is lighting it up. If done right and with the appropriate tools, you can get a nice bed of hot coals within 10-15 minutes. But do it wrong, an hour may pass without any success.
The six ways you can keep a charcoal grill hot in the initial lighting stage include:
- Start with a Good Grill
Ever heard of the phrase “you need the best, to be the best”? Well, the phrase does perfectly fit into our topic at hand. A good, or rather a high-quality grill is the first step to ensuring the coals get hot and stay lit.
But that doesn’t mean you spend all your savings to get a high-end brand. We have some pretty decent charcoal grills under $200, including top brands like Weber. You can even find a few portable designs selling for under a hundred bucks.
However, do make sure the grill you choose has nice ventilation to keep the coals burning throughout the whole process. “Nice” being the keyword here means the vents must be able to deliver enough airflow. Otherwise, starving the fire of air will be hard to keep the charcoal hot, and it will eventually die out.
In addition to good airflow, your charcoal grill should have great insulating properties. The idea here will be to make sure the cookbox will stay hot enough even when the charcoal starts to burn low.
One of the best insulating materials on charcoal grills is ceramic as with Primo and Kamado Joe. Sturdy metal can also deliver pretty decent heat retention. But you’ll notice the retention is much better when the metal has a porcelain coating like that of Weber Go Anywhere or Smokey Joe.
- Choose the right Charcoal Coals
Good-quality charcoal coals are also crucial if you want to keep your charcoal grill hot during lighting and even when cooking. If you use lower-quality brands, either from a poor choice of wood or preparation, they are likely to have a harder time burning or staying lit.
As you light your charcoal grill, you’ll also want to make sure the coals are not damp. Otherwise, they’ll also struggle to get hot and stay lit, which could have you spend up to an hour without a working fire bed.
Furthermore, reusing partially burnt charcoal (from the last grilling session) can have a hard time getting hot enough in some cases. The same is also possible when using very old charcoal. So, you might want to use fresh charcoal every time you start your grill fire.
It’s also worth mentioning the type of charcoal you choose to work with also does determine how hot your grill gets. Lump charcoal is usually the best if you want your grill to reach high temperatures fast, perhaps to cook or sear your steak.
On the other hand, you’ll need the best charcoal briquettes to keep your grill hot longer and more consistently.
- Grab some extra accessories
At this point, lighting a charcoal grill is way easier than before. If a chimney starter is available, you can have a red hot bed of coals ready for use in 10-15 minutes. The process will be even quicker with an electric charcoal lighter, whereby you can have hot coals within five minutes.
If neither of the two is available, you can go old school with twigs or crumbled newspaper, though, it will take longer to light up. You can dip the newspaper in vegetable oil to get a good fire going, but avoid lighter fluid/ kerosene. Why so?
While pouring the lighter fluid on your charcoal coals can help start the fire, it’s a bad idea when grilling. It can leave a nasty, chemical flavor on your food that won’t be pleasurable at any bit.
- Clean Out the Previous (Old) Ashes
As mentioned earlier, your grill will need good airflow to keep the coals hot and lit. But even with enough vents on the top and bottom, your cooker might have difficulty burning if the charcoal grate perforations are blocked.
So, clean out all the burnt ash from the previous grilling session before you pour your fresh charcoal.
It’s worth noting ash tends to speed up the corrosion of metal parts when it comes into contact with moisture. And for that, I’d recommend clearing it (ashes) after you’re done with cooking.
- Arrange your Charcoal in the Grill Well
A lot of people usually dump the coals into the firebox of the charcoal grill right from the bag. But in my experience, you should do it carefully while making sure those small charcoal pieces don’t block the (charcoal) grate holes.
As we’ve just seen, it’ll be harder to keep the grill hot and lit if these holes are blocked and the firebox starved of air.
Part Two: How to Keep a Charcoal Grill Hot During Cooking
After lighting your charcoal grill, you still have a role to keep it hot throughout the entire cooking process. Thus:
- Keep the Dampers/ Vents Open
Whether you’re searing a steak or want to smoke a pork shoulder or ribs, your charcoal grill must have enough airflow. It’s a sure way to keep the coals hot and lit throughout the grilling session.
At first, when the charcoal grill is still lighting up, you want to keep the bottom and top dampers (vents) open all the way. Then when the desired heat level is achieved, close the top vent to leave the bottom one for the rest of the control.
- Add More Fuel When Needed
Well, the fuel meter is yet another solution on how to keep a charcoal grill hot when cooking your meals. The idea is to monitor and add fresh charcoal lumps or briquettes when the already lit coals start to burn out and the temperature drop.
If the lit coals were almost out when adding the fresh charcoal, you might want to open all the vents again. It will ensure the firebox gets a healthy supply of oxygen and your grill will recover the desired heat level faster.
- Stoke the Fire A Little Bit
When you add more fuel to your grill, it simply means the previous charcoal lumps and briquettes have already burned into ash. So, you might want to stoke the fire a bit to release the burnt ashes collected on the charcoal grate.
Ps. you can still stoke your fire with a wooden stick or metal rod if a dedicated poker is unavailable.
You Might Want to Avoid Frozen Food
The eight are all ways you can keep a charcoal grill hot in the lighting stage or during cooking. And as we said in the beginning, it’s a crucial process if you want to enjoy a smooth grilling season, plus a perfect and delicious meal.
Out of these points, though, I’d like to emphasize more on investing in a good charcoal grill and high-quality coals. If the two are okay, the rest of the hacks will be easy to manage for the needed cooking temperature.
Speaking of cooking, I’d highly recommend using food at room temperature when working with a charcoal grill. If you use frozen food, it might take a while to keep the cookbox hot enough to the desired level. And with the extended grilling time, you’ll also end up requiring additional charcoal to complete the task.