When I started grilling I grabbed a bag of kingsford charcoal and lighter fluid.  I doused the charcoal with the fluid lit a match and watched as my eyebrows dissapeared in mushroom cloud.  I knew that there had to be a better way. Adding lighter fluid causes crazy fires and further adds unpleasant flavors to your food.  Today I want to amuse you with my barbecuing hijinks and teach you a better way to start a grill/smoker.

Look at the perfect coals.
Look at the perfect coals.

The first step to perfect coals is having the right equipment.  You need a charcoal chimney to start the perfect fire.

As you can see from the pic, my chimney gets a lot of use.
As you can see from the pic, my chimney gets a lot of use.

To use a chimney all you need is one sheet of newspaper, charcoal and a lighter.  Crinkle the newspaper in the bottom of the chimney, place it on a hard fire resistent surface, add the charcoal to the top of the chimney and light it. 

add newspaper and fill with charcoal, 20 minutes till perfect coals.
add newspaper and fill with charcoal, 20 minutes till perfect coals.

A quick note regarding using a charcoal chimney.  I would refrain from using one on the fire escape of your apartment building.  During college I had used one on the fire escape and when you first start the chimney it billows smoke everywhere.  The apartment complex accross the street called 911 and I had a firefighter busting down my door to stop the fire.  When they got to the fire escape they used a fire estinguisher to put out my coals.  They also told me not to use a charcoal grill in an apartment.  All I can say is that charcoal makes burgers taste better.  Needless to say it cost me $200 to fix the front door, my brats and burgers never got cooked and the fire extinguisher caused my charcoal chimney to corrode. 

As you can see, chimneys put out a lot of smoke in the first 5 minutes.
As you can see, chimneys put out a lot of smoke in the first 5 minutes.

After 15-20 minutes the coals will be grayish and the chimney will be putting out a lot of heat.  At this point it is time to transfer the coals to the grill and/or smoker.

Perfect coals
Perfect coals

When adding the coals to the grill makes sure to spread them out evenly.  When adding them to a smoker I usually add the hot coals to a stack of fresh charcoal.  Doing this will allow the coals to last longer, but it also makes it so that you have to wait longer to start barbecuing.  At least another 15-20 minutes.  The best bet would be to have multiple chimneys so that you can start enough coals to barbecue.  Then on top of your hot coals add your hardwoods.  I use hickory and apple for most of my barbecuing.  The easiest way to find specialty woods for barbecuing is by going on craigslist.  It is the cheapest and quickest way to get wood delivered.

Hickory and apple on the fire
Hickory and apple on the fire

Next time you are at the hardware store pick up a charcoal chimney.  It is the fastest and easiest way to start a barbecue. 

-Rex

Rex is an avid griller, barbecuer and bacon enthusiast. He is the Pitmaster for the Rex BBQ competition team. Rex was also featured on the TV show American Grilled. If you have any questions or wish to have Rex decode your favorite dish, click on the ASK REX link in the menu above.

4 Comments

  1. I found a great deal on a outdoor meat smoker, and my family loves it!

    • Chris – I usually add 2-3 chunks of hickory or white oak every hour or so during the first four to five hours. If I am doing a minion method I will scatter about 6-7 chunks throughout the unlit coals. After about 4-5 hours the meat will no longer take on the smoke flavor.

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