You’ve marinated the meat, whipped up some sensational side dishes and checked the weather forecast repeatedly for the merest suggestion of rain. On the face of it, you’re all set to grill your way to a blaze of barbecue glory. Until, that is, the time comes to light the darn thing.
If you’ve found yourself fumbling with firelighters as your guests arrive one too many times, our guide to becoming a charcoal grill lighting champion is essential reading for a summer of fuss-free al fresco feasting. Just follow our step-by-step guide.
STEP 1: Make sure your barbecue is stable
For obvious safety reasons, always check your barbecue is standing sturdily on a flat surface and has no wobbly legs, before you fire it up.
STEP 2: Give some thought to your fuel
The best type of fuel to use on your barbecue will depend on what you're cooking and how long you want to cook for.
Charcoal briquettes are uniform in size and burn at an even temperature for longer periods so they’re perfect if you’re cooking for large crowds or roasting a whole joint of meat,' explained an expert from Weber, which makes the highest scoring barbecue in our most recent tests. Lumpwood charcoal, on the other hand, lights quicker, burns hotter and and delivers a subtle smoky flavor. You'll get up to one hour of cooking time from lump charcoal so it's suited to grilling smaller cuts of meat or vegetables that take no longer than 15-20 minutes to cook.'
STEP 3: Get the timing right
Allow plenty of time before you plan to start cooking to get your barbecue to the correct temperature. If there are still flames licking the charcoal, you risk burning the outside of your food while the inside remains dangerously under cooked. You'll know when the barbecue is ready to cook on because the flames will have died down and the charcoal will be glowing red with an ashy grey coating.
Don't forget to allow 10-15 minutes to pre-heat the grill before you start cooking on it.
STEP 4: Consider using a chimney fire starter
You can do things the traditional way, by placing scrunched up newspaper balls in the bottom of the barbecue, then topping this with charcoal on top.
However, using a chimney barbecue starter to light and burn your charcoal can help get things going faster.
The cylindrical shape of the starter means the charcoal lights quickly and evenly as the flames funnel up due to the chimney effect. Once the flames start licking through the top - usually in around 20 minutes - they’re ready to pour into your barbecue.
Using a chimney starter can also help measure out the correct amount of charcoal for what you're cooking. We recommend filling 1/3 of a chimney starter with charcoal for a low heat, filling half a chimney starter for an ideal roasting temperature, or using a full chimney starter for a high heat if you want to sear steaks.
STEP 5: Place your charcoal carefully
If your barbecue doesn't have a lid and you want an even temperature across the cooking surface of the barbecue grill, spread out your coals. If you want a hotter area in the middle for searing, but a cooler temperature around the edges for slower cooking right through your food, leave the charcoal piled up in the center of the barbecue.
If your barbecue has a lid, this will help regulate the temperature inside anyway, so where your charcoal ends up is less of an issue.
For more information on charcoal grills, contact The Fireplace & Grill Center at West Sport.