How to use a charcoal grill to get the best results for your cookout

There's nothing like smell of a charcoal grill being fired up to get us salivating and ready to celebrate summer. Here, Adam Rapoport, editor-in-chief of Bon Appetit, shares the basics for charcoal grilling.

BBQ Chicken Legs Roasted On The Hot Flaming Charcoal Grill, Top View Close Up

How to start a charcoal grill:

Traditional briquettes are inexpensive, light easily, and burn long and steady. If you want a more intense, smoky flavor, go with hardwood charcoal (aka lump charcoal). These are blazingly hot, but burn out faster.

Start your grill with a charcoal chimney; this is the easiest way to get your charcoal going. You do NOT need lighter fluid.

Stuff newspaper loosely in the bottom of the chimney (there is a space for it under the wire rack), then fill the chimney with charcoal. Remove top grate from grill, place chimney inside, and light the newspaper.

Let the charcoal burn until it is covered with white-gray ash (it takes about 5-10 minutes for the coals to get to high heat and 25-30 minutes to get to medium heat).

Take the top grate of your grill off, and, wearing protective grill gloves, hold chimney by handles and pour charcoal into the grill.

Then, take a paper towel soaked in vegetable oil, and spread it over grate with tongs. This is the trick to keep food from sticking to the grill.

What to grill on high heat:

It takes about 5-10 minutes for the coals to get to high heat. Steaks, burgers, and dense vegetables like corn on the cobb and onions.

Grilling on high heat is the best hack to get that perfect sear on the outside, but keep inside juicy. When grilling on high heat, create a two-fire zone: stack more coals on one side of the grill for higher-temperature cooking, and the other side of the grill should have less charcoal for lower-temperature cooking. When grilling, sear foods on hot zone, then move over to cooler zone to cook through without burning.

After grilling, let the meat rest for five minutes on a cutting board. A board with a groove running around the perimeter is the perfect board since it collects all the juices the steak releases.

What to cook on medium heat:

It takes about 25-30 minutes to get to grill to medium heat temperature. Proteins that need to cook through like pork chops, chicken (breast, wings, etc.), fish, hot dogs, sausages, and also more delicate fruits and vegetables like scallions, pineapple and eggplant

Lots of medium heat proteins use marinades (they will burn off on high heat). Marinate foods in a ziptop bag overnight — it fits easily in the fridge and fully envelops the meat. If you are short on time (you can't do it overnight), increase the amount of salt (things like soy sauce) and acid (things like citrus) to more quickly penetrate the meat, cutting down on time significantly.

How to clean a charcoal grill

Clean the grill right after cooking, while it’s still hot, using a stiff-wire grill brush. Use it every time you grill to remove food particles from the cooking surface.