IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Charcoal grilling 101: Here's how to get that perfect sear every time

There's nothing like smell of a charcoal grill being fired up! Adam Rapoport, editor-in-chief of Bon Appetit, shares his tips for success.
/ Source: TODAY

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.

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.

Before you even light your grill, make sure to open to vents. The fire will need oxygen to keep going. After the charcoals are placed in the barbecue, you can control the internal cooking temperature by adjusting the vents: wider vents means hotter flames and more oxygen, while smaller vents means a cooler cooking temperature. Never close them all the way or the flames will go out.

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.

But how long should you let the coals burn? Let the charcoal or briquettes burn until they're 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 cob and onions can handle high heat.

Grilling on high heat is the best hack to get that perfect sear on the outside, but keep inside juicy. To increase the temperature, open the vents to let in more oxygen. To decrease the temperature, close the vents — but not completely, or the fire will go out!

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.

Natalie Morales' Easy Grilled Chimichurri Soy Steak

What to cook on medium heat

It takes about 25-30 minutes to get to grill to medium heat temperature. Proteins that need to be thoroughly cooked through like pork chops, chicken (breast, wings, etc.), fish, uncooked hot dogs and sausages, along with denser fruits and vegetables like pineapple and eggplant, should be cooked on medium-heat.

Lots of medium heat proteins use marinades (they will burn off on high heat). Marinate foods in a zip-top 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.

This post was originally published on May 25, 2016.