It needs to be known that cooking with charcoal produces a very different end result to cooking with propane, and it’s also much harder to get right. One of the biggest differences is the taste as meats cooked on charcoal absorb a lot of extra flavor that you don’t get with propane. Here are some of my best tips for getting the best possible results on cooking with portable charcoal grills.
The first big difference between propane and charcoal is that charcoal needs to be prepared before you cook on it. This is a bit more tedious than the propane grills but the results are worth it if you take the time to do it properly. There are also a number of fluids you can use to help light them but for the sake of this guide I’m going to quickly explain how to light them with paper.
To light your portable charcoal grill first take some old paper and scrunch up and place in the bottom of your grill, and then place some coals on top. Light the paper and feed it until the coals come to life. Once some of the coals are lit slowly add more until the bottom is filled up to about an inch from the grill. If you overfill your portable charcoal grill it will be too hot and the meat will cook too fast and be chewy and dry, so it’s important to get this right.
This process is made a lot easier with charcoal lighter fluid so if you have some of that use it.
You need to give the coals a few minutes to get lit and burn out before you start cooking. You know you’re ready when you can’t see any flame and all of the coals are glowing red. If you start cooking too soon your food will have a really strong smoky taste which is usually undesirable.
Tip: Before you put the meat on your portable charcoal grill cut a bit of fat off and run it along the lines of the grill. This is the equivalent to adding some oil and will allow your meat to sear very quickly locking in the flavor and juices.
Now your portable charcoal grill is ready to go, but the hard part hasn’t been done yet. You need to know how to control the heat. How this is done will vary on different models, but typically all it requires is opening and shutting vents to allow heat to escape. You can also move the hot coals around so they are more focused in certain areas but this depends on what you plan to use it for.
Tip: To get the best tasting steak quickly sear the first side, flip once and then allow it to cook, and then flip only once more. A steak should be flipped no more than twice to keep in the best flavor.
The real key to effectively cooking with charcoal is preparation. If you can get the coals just right you will have an great tasting steak. Just remember to let the coals rest and always make sure you know how the vents work on your portable charcoal grill so that you can control the temperature while you’re cooking.