How to cook on a charcoal BBQ

Cooking on a charcoal BBQ

Summer is nearly here so it’s time to brush up on your BBQ skills! Learn how to cook on a charcoal BBQ effectively and avoid cremating your burgers & sausages with these expert tips.

Gas barbecues may be convenient, but nothing beats the smoky flavour you get from an authentic charcoal grill. We’ve gathered together some of the best advice we could find from BBQ experts around the world. Read on and you’ll be cooking up delicious charcoal grilled food in no time!

Lighting the charcoals

Don’t spread out the coals too thinly. Arrange your briquettes or logs into a pyramid-shaped pile. This increases the contact area between the coals and helps them catch fire more quickly. Insert a few fire lighters at the bottom and light each one with a match. Alternatively you can use lighter fluid or a specially designed chimney starter.

A bbq chimney starter

Photo from

After around 20–30 minutes the flames and smoke should have died down and the coals will be covered in a layer of light grey ash. Once this has happened, spread the coals out so that they cover about two thirds of the cooking area (we’ll explain why in a moment).

Do not start cooking too early or your food will end up burnt and unevenly cooked. Always make sure the coals are grey before you put any food on the grill.

Top tip: Place a layer of foil below the coals. This will direct more heat towards the food and make it easier to clean up when you’re done.

Start cooking

Once your coals are ready you can place your meat on the grill and start cooking! Turn it over regularly to avoid the meat getting charred. It’s better to use tongs instead of a fork as a fork will pierce the meat, causing fat to drip onto the coals. Avoid the temptation to press down on your meat with a spatula too — it will squeeze the juices out and make your food dry.

If a lot fat starts to drip off a piece of meat it can cause flames to flare up. If this happens, move the meat over to the empty ‘cool’ area mentioned earlier.

Top tip: Brush your grill lightly with vegetable oil before cooking. It will stop food sticking to the grill and make it easier to clean later.

Temperature control

Most charcoal BBQs will have a cover and adjustable vents on the top and bottom. These vents are used to control the temperature by increasing or decreasing the amount of air that can flow around the coals. More air = higher temperature and quicker cooking time. Less air = lower temperature and longer cooking time.

Things like fish, chicken and thinly cut steaks need to be cooked hot and fast. If you were to cook these food ‘slow and low’ they would lose all their juices and dry out.

On the other hand, large food items such as a leg of lamb or a rack of ribs, need to be cooked slowly — otherwise the outside will begin to burn before the inside gets a chance to fully cook. Which leads to our next point…

Invest in a meat thermometer

Photo of a bbq meat thermometer

Don’t try and guess how ‘done’ your food is simply by looking at it. A meat thermometer can be used to accurately measure the internal temperature of your food. This not only prevents potential food poisoning but it makes sure your meat it cooked perfectly. You can buy a meat thermometer for as little as £5 and it’s well worth the investment. There’s a list of safe cooking temperatures here.

Be adventurous

BBQs aren’t just for burgers and sausages — be brave and experiment! Why not try steaks, vegetable kebabs, fish, poultry, pork chops, ribs or anything else you can think of.

Have any other ideas? Tell us about it in the comments section below!