How to Choose the Best Charcoal for Your Summer BBQs

Summer Grilling Tips from Charcoal Experts

Summer BBQ Tips: How to Use a Charcoal BBQ Like a Chef.

The weather’s warming up and the skies are free of clouds. It’s barbecue season.

In the UK we take any excuse for a chargrilled burger in the back garden, with friends and family coming together to make the most of summer. Get the paddling pool out and stock up on BBQ charcoal as the UK prepares for summer. Everyone loves a barbecue, a chance to get friends and family together, share great food and spend some quality time in the sun, but how do you get a great cook on a charcoal BBQ?

What Is Charcoal Exactly?

Charcoal is a fuel product that is made by heating wood pieces in a low-oxygen environment. This burns off volatile compounds in the wood such as hydrogen and water, leaving behind pure carbon.


Read more about the process of charcoal manufacture or how charcoal is made on our blog.


Tips For Cooking on a Charcoal BBQ:

We’ve gathered the best expert advice from around the internet to help you learn the right way to cook on charcoal.

Get the right kind of charcoal

While most charcoal available for cooking is in briquette form, this is not the best to use as it is made by mixing charcoal dust with additives such as sawdust and chemical lighting agents. These impurities can ruin the flavour of your barbecue cooking.

Instead, we recommend choosing lump-wood charcoal, which is the most natural form, consisting of wood-shaped pieces that have been burned in a low-oxygen environment such as a kiln. 

You should choose a bag with large pieces, as too many small, pea-sized coals and too much charcoal dust cause issues with airflow, making it difficult to get the right heat for cooking.

Look for charcoal with no additives or coating, as these also leave a chemical flavour on the food. You can order restaurant-grade lump wood charcoal from Charles Swann.

Light it in a Charcoal Chimney

Lighting a charcoal barbecue can be challenging, as the charcoal needs to be heated to a particular temperature before it ignites. While some people will recommend using lighter fluid to get things going, this isn’t the best idea for cooking on charcoal, as the fumes can influence the flavour.

The most popular way to light a charcoal barbecue is to use a chimney starter. This is a metal cylinder with a grate halfway up which you can use to get charcoals up to temperature before pouring them into the barbecue grill. The bottom compartment contains crumpled paper, kindling or firestarters, and the charcoal goes in the top compartment.

Chimney starters are a valuable tool to keep on hand, and more efficient than other methods, providing consistent heat distribution and a narrow channel for airflow, so your charcoal ignites quickly. 

How to light a charcoal chimney starter:

  1. Oil 2-3 sheets of newspaper with a small amount of neutral oil, such as vegetable oil. Just 1 teaspoon will help the paper burn longer, heating your charcoals. Put the paper into the bottom compartment of the chimney and close the grate.
  2. Put the chimney on top of the barbecue and fill it with charcoal. The coals will settle and get lower in the chimney as they ignite.
  3. Use a stick lighter or long match to light the newspaper through the holes in the chimney’s base. You can light it in a few places to get an even burn right from the start.
  4. The paper will burn and start to ignite the charcoal. Wait until all of the charcoal is lit and turning white with heat before pouring it into the barbecue. This may take up to 20 minutes.
  5. Carefully empty the charcoal onto the lower grate of the barbecue. Place your upper grate over the coals and you’re ready to get cooking.

Less is More

You might think using lots of charcoal will get you higher temperatures, and it will, but it’s easy to overdo it and have a roaring hot grill that burns before it cooks. Aim for efficiency: you can always add more once your grill is up to temperature. Think about the kind of food you are cooking and the heat required for that type of food.

Heat Charcoal Fully Before Cooking

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: ‘Wait until the charcoal is turning ashy white with heat before cooking’. At this point, the coals are heated evenly, so you can be confident that your food will be well-cooked.

Letting the charcoal heat fully also means any residues or volatile compounds are burnt off before you put food over the smoke, so you won’t compromise the flavour.

Create Two Zones with Uneven Distribution.

Many BBQ experts recommend creating two different zones in your barbecue: high heat and low heat. When you pour the coals in from your chimney starter, distribute them so one side of the grill has more coals than the other.

This means one side will emit far more heat than the other, so you can sear meats or cook quickly over the high-heat zone and cook slowly or keep things warm in the low-heat zone.

Add Wood for Flavour

What professional grill cooks know is that different woods contain compounds that will flavour food through the smoke.

Small amounts of wood from any fruit tree will add a sweet, mild flavour, including Applewood, Mulberry, Cherry and Pear. Oak, Beech, Hickory, Pecan and Maple are also popular choices, adding strong but not overpowering flavours. Simply place the wood in amongst the coals to release the flavoured oils into the food above.

Use your BBQ Vents

Controlling the heat of a charcoal barbecue is mostly about airflow. Once you’ve got your food on the grill, you can slow-cook it by closing the lid and opening the vents to allow a small amount of airflow. The heat will lower and stay even so you can cook larger pieces of meat or other food over a long time without it burning.

How to Put Out a Charcoal BBQ

charcoal burning

As important as lighting it, putting your barbecue out properly is a key step in maintaining fire safety. The safest way to put out charcoal is to remove the grate, close the lid and shut all the vents to stop any airflow.

The charcoal will extinguish slowly as it burns through the available oxygen. This can take up to 12 hours, so leave it overnight before you open the lid and dispose of the charcoal.

You’re Ready to Host Your Summer Barbecue!

Now that you’ve got to grips with lighting your barbecue, flavouring woodsmoke, cooking on two heat zones and making use of the vents, you’re all set to host the best barbecue of the summer. Make sure you get plenty of cool drinks, paper plates, and HPF 50 suncream to keep the good times rolling.

You can stock up on high-quality, restaurant-grade, lump wood charcoal for BBQs so you can keep grilling all year round. Here at Charles Swann, we are bulk charcoal suppliers near Wolverhampton, ready to deliver your BBQ charcoal in prepacked bags of 12kg.


Charles Swann (Walsall) Ltd
Old Landywood Lane
WV11 2AP

Contact Information

Phone 01922 408 152
Fax 01922 711 350

Copyright © 2023 Charles Swann. All Rights Reserved.

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