Charcoal grilling 101: How to consistently achieve the perfect sear

Master grilling over charcoal with this step-by-step guide
The Process Of Cooking Barbecue From Vegetables, Mushrooms And Chicken

Marinate foods in a zip-top bag overnight — it fits easily in the fridge and fully envelops the meat.  Image: Getty Images

Nothing gets us salivating and ready to enjoy a big sports weekend like the fragrance of a charcoal grill being lit, yet charcoal grilling can be scary. How would you begin? Where is the finest place to eat? When should the vents be opened? Well, don’t worry; we’ve got the fundamentals of charcoal grilling covered.

How to light a barbecue with charcoal

Traditional briquettes are cheap, simple to fire, and burn steadily and for a long time. Choose hardwood charcoal for a more potent, smoky flavor (aka lump charcoal). These are really hot but burn out more quickly.

Be sure to open the vents before you even fire your grill. For the fire to continue, it will need oxygen. The internal cooking temperature of the grill can be controlled by adjusting the vents once the charcoals have been added: wider vents result in stronger flames and more oxygen, while narrower vents result in a cooler cooking temperature. Never completely shut them since doing so will put out the flames.

The simplest way to get your charcoal going is to start your grill with a chimney of charcoal. No need for lighter fluid.

Place some loosely folded newspaper in the bottom of the chimney (there is room for it under the wire rack), then add charcoal. Place chimney inside the grill after removing top grate, then light the newspaper.

How long should the coals burn, though? Burn the briquettes or charcoal until they are completely covered in white-gray ash (it takes about 5 to 10 minutes for the coals to get to high heat and 25 to 30 minutes to get to medium heat).

Remove the grill’s top grate, put on a pair of protective grilling gloves, grab the chimney by the handles, and add charcoal to the grill. Then, using tongs, lay a paper towel that has been moistened with vegetable oil over the grate. This is the way to keep food from sticking on the grill.

grilling food over a high heat

The coals need five to ten minutes to reach a high heat (about 700 degrees). High heat is suitable for steaks, burgers, and hearty vegetables like corn on the cob and onions.

The best approach to achieve the ideal sear on the outside while maintaining the interior’s juicy texture is to grill over high heat. Open the vents to let in more oxygen to raise the temperature. Close the vents partially to lower the temperature; otherwise, the fire will go out.

Create a two-fire zone for grilling over a high heat: Place more coals on one side of the grill for cooking at a higher temperature, and place less charcoal on the other side for cooking at a lower temperature. Foods should be seared on the hot zone of the grill before being moved to the cooler zone to finish cooking without burning.

Allow the meat to rest on a chopping board for five minutes after grilling. The ideal board is one with a groove along the edge that gathers all the liquids the steak emits.

what should be cooked at medium heat

The grill requires about 25 to 30 minutes to reach medium-heat temperature (about 500 degrees). Cooking over medium heat is recommended for proteins that need to be properly cooked, such as pork chops, poultry, fish, uncooked hot dogs, and sausages, as well as denser fruits and vegetables like pineapple and eggplant.

Many proteins cooked at medium heat employ marinades (they will burn off on high heat). Foods can be marinated in zip-top bags overnight; they are convenient for the refrigerator and completely enclose the meat. Increase the amount of salt (items like soy sauce) and acid (things like citrus) to more quickly penetrate the meat, cutting down on time if you’re short on time (you can’t do it overnight).

Grilling food over low heat

Christopher Arturo, a chef-instructor in the culinary arts at the Institute of Culinary Education, advises against cooking protein for an extended period of time at low heat (about 300 degrees). This is because the protein would probably dry out. Nevertheless, some dishes cook well when grilled on high heat before being moved to a low-heat grilling area. People can accomplish this with larger protein-containing foods like pork chops and fattier seafood like salmon. Arturo also like using this technique to grill an entire onion.

How to clean a grill with charcoal

Immediately after cooking, while the grill is still hot, clean it using a stiff-wire grill brush. Utilize it each time you grill to clear the grilling surface of food residue.

Allow the grill to heat up to a high temperature before rubbing the grates with a peeled half of an onion as an alternative to using wire brushes, which may leave small wires and metal fragments behind. To clean the grill grates, grate the cut side of the half onion with a fork. The steam created by the onion’s juices will help remove the pieces and charred-on detritus.

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