Food that has been prepared on a charcoal grill has a distinctive and easily identifiable taste to it…provided, of course, that the food has been prepared correctly. When a charcoal grill has been used incorrectly, food can burn or take too long to cook and it may taste like lighter fluid. Cooking meat incorrectly can make it extremely unsafe – not to mention gross – to eat.
Lighting the Charcoals
Cover the bottom of the grill pan with charcoals, generally the briquettes should extend a bit beyond the area that you will be using to cook the meat. For every pound of meat you are planning to cook, use about 30 briquettes. You can either use lighter fluid or place balled up newspaper underneath the charcoals and light the newspaper from below. Never, ever use gasoline in place of lighter fluid, this is incredibly dangerous! If you use lighter fluid, make sure that you do not have a heavy hand. If you use too much fluid, your food will taste like lighter fluid rather than meat!
Make sure that the bottom vent is open before lighting the charcoals. Let the coals burn for about 10 minutes until the fire dies down. Arrange the coals so that they are in a single layer and make sure that the hot coals are touching the ones that are not. Wait about 20 minutes until the coals are covered in white ash and begin cooking.
Cooking on a Charcoal Grill
If you wish to cook at a higher temperature, start grilling when some of the coals are still red. If you wish to cook at a lower temperature, wait until the coals are covered with gray ash. Avoid sticking forks into your food while cooking. This releases juices and causes the meat to become dry. Use tongs to handle the food instead of a fork.
Make sure that the meat has been cooked enough and at a high enough temperature to kill all bacteria before serving. The best and most reliable method is to use a food thermometer. Move the food around the grill to cook more evenly.
Keep in mind that weather will affect the temperature of the grill. Cold temperatures will require more coals to reach a temperature hot enough to cook meat. Humid weather will make coals burn slower where wind will cause them to burn hotter. Maintaining an even temperature when grilling is a skill that must be mastered over time.