• Grillabilities®: The Skills to Grill logo

    How to Use Lump Charcoal

    You can achieve both high and low temperatures with lump charcoal, but it’s important to remember that your heat level largely depends on how much of it you have in the grill. Generally, more coals result in higher temperatures, and fewer coals will give you lower heat. It’s a fairly intuitive concept — the more fuel there is to burn, the hotter the fire will be. This applies to every kind of grill, but because adjusting the temperature of a charcoal fire takes a bit more work than turning a knob or pushing a button, it’s something to really keep in mind before you start grilling.

    The way you light a charcoal grill also influences what kind of heat it produces. Lighting from the top is good for low-and-slow cooking, while a bottom-lit pile of coals produces the best conditions for searing. Once you’ve settled on the amount of charcoal you need and how you plan to ignite it, use an ash tool to spread the coals evenly or bank them off to one side to create a dual-zone setup.

  • Smoldering lump charcoal in a grill.

Other than fuel arrangement considerations, grilling with lump charcoal is much like grilling with any other kind of fuel. Just be sure to wear high-heat gloves when tending your fire and adding more charcoal to the grill. To refuel, take all your food off the cooking surface and use a grill grate lifter to access the coals. Give the new pieces of lump charcoal about 10 minutes to burn off all their volatiles before placing food back on the grates.

With kamado grills and charcoal pits with complete air control, it’s possible to extinguish partly burned lump charcoal and relight it the next time you cook. All you have to do is shut the air vents, which will starve the fire of oxygen and cause it to go out. Once you’re sure the fire has been suffocated, open the vents to let some of the hot air escape so your grill can cool down. The remaining charcoal pieces can stay in the grill until your next cook, but just be sure to stir the coals to free them of ash before you light the pit.