Help with keeping charcoal grill hot
OK, I'm probably an idiot, but I need help! I bought a regular Weber charcoal grill, big green egg charcoal, and a charcoal chimney. I get everything started fine. How do I keep the coals going? I get barely 30 minutes of heat out of it. Do I add more charcoal (not brikets)? How do I do that after the food is cooking? I would really appreciate help with suggestions. Thanks.
I'd suggest setting some time aside for reading the instruction book for your Weber. My husband had a Weber when I met him (I met him BECAUSE of his Weber--some mutual friends wanted to BBQ and didn't have one, so they invited him and his Weber, and we met!) so I had to learn from scratch, using the booklet.
The vents are the key to covered kettle cooking, as they allow cool air in-at-the-bottom, and then vent hot air out-at-the-top, creating a heat circulation system sort of like a convention oven. Food cooks a bit faster per pound than in a regular oven, and any smoke being generated circulates more evenly, too.
Keeping ash from clogging your lower vents is essential. Usually there is an interior lever that scoots the ash out the lower vents into an ash catcher. Use it often, and dump the catcher often, too. It's aluminum, which corrodes easily in damp climes, making it difficult to handle when heavy and full. I sprinkle the ash under my shrubs.
Adjusting the vents will heat up or cool down your kettle 'oven'. Wide open vents, top and bottom, will create a faster flow of air in the bottom and out the top, bringing the kettle heat up higher, and burning the coals faster. Vents partially closed top and bottom will slow down the air circulation, cooling down the oven (coals not being consumed as quickly). Closed vents will stop air circulation and eventually put out the coals.
As you gain experience, you'll devise your own strategies based on if you need to cook fast (steaks, chops, etc) or more slowly (whole birds, roasts, big ribs, etc.)
I cook steaks, etc., with the top off. Since the grill height is stationary, I moderate temps by mounding coals at the side and moving foods away from coals, so they're not directly under foods. Large cuts of meat and ribs I want to cook slowly, so the heat penetrates to the interior; I do this by mounding a full large chimney of pre-ignited coals at the sides, wih a drip pan under the meat on the coal grate to catch grease. The kettle lid goes on, with the bottom and top vents 1/2 open to keep the heat in the kettle.
I use a Polder meat probe thermo to monitor the interior temp of the meat. My BIL places a small standing Taylor thermo on the grill away from the coals to monitor the oven temp as well. He loves to slow roast tri tip in the Weber and this allows him to keep tabs on the oven temp, adding more pre-ignited coals as he see the temp dropping.
Weber suggests placing the kettle with the single leg facing away from any prevailing breeze, with the cover placed so the vent is over that leg. Air is coming into the kettle bottom at the bottom back vents and flowing out the front top vent.
Once you get some practice under your belt, and cook different cuts of meat, you'll have a lot of fun cooking on your covered kettle. I've even done pizza in a Weber over oak wood coals. OH, the BEST!
Good luck and enjoy your BBQ grill!
There are at least two possible conditions you're describing, or some combination of the two. Tell us which, and you'll get more specific advice.
Is the problem
A) You put in the coals you lit with the chimney starter, but after the half hour, they've burned down? In that case, you need to ues more coals, or start some coals and lay them on top of a bed of unlit coals (do a web search on "The Minion Method", which is favored for smokers, but can be used for regular grilling as well), or add coals during the burn, as others have mentioned.
B) The coals you lit died, without fully burning? In this case, you need to look at how you are laying out your fire. Are you leaving room for air flow all around the coals? Are you using good quality charcoal? Are the air vents near the coals opened sufficiently? Are the air vents near the top of the grill or smoker open to let the smoke out? Is ash falling down and clogging the air vents, reducing or cutting off the air flow to the fire?
I'm gonna jump in because I have been having problem B. I have a regular Weber kettle grill and I use a chimney to get the coals started, but the coals seem to die whenever I put the lid on. I have the vents below fully open as well as the vent on the lid. I should be getting good airflow this way, but if I leave the lid on for about 10 mins, the coals are dead. I am using hardwood charcoal, but I think it may be poor quality. I think it's cowboy brand or something...the only hardwood bag I could find in the few places I looked. I spread the coals in a fairly even layer. Do you think it could just be the coal?
I'm fine grilling steaks and burgers with the top off, but I'd like to roast a chicken soon and would hate to ruin it.
re: Ali G
I may be wrong, but you probably just don't have enough charcoal, and aren't positioning them to allow air flow. I fill my big Weber chimney to the top if I'm going to roast using indirect heat. Then, I'll even add more to the pile - which is on one side of the kettle, while I put the meat on the other side. The pile is actually against one side - but not so solidly packed that air can't get through it. The temptation might be to use less charcoal to keep the temp down, but that's not the way to go about it - use lots of charcoal, create a very hot fire on one side, put the meat on the other, put the top on and control the air temp with the in/out dampers. The top damper is turned to the meat side, although I don't know how important that is - my theory is that it creates a better cross flow.
Add coal on the coal side as you need to for bigger roasts. Starting them up in the chimney on the side will allow you to put in hot coals and keep the airflow and heat more even. But even putting cold coals on the original batch will work fine.
My charcoal lasts up to an hour, depending on how hot I try to keep it - but 10 minutes is definitely not right, and it should definitely not go dead.
I buy Cowboy brand all the time, as it's available in virtually any grocery store around here. They often have only small pieces - which do burn out faster. There is another brand I get at a local hardware store, but I can't remember the name - it has a brown and green bag, is a larger bag than the cowboy, and tends to have a better mix of sizes. But I can still keep the cowboy stuff going for an hour.
If you do a lot of roasts, I highly recommend the weber electric rotisserie attachment - the combination of the hardwood charcoal high heat and the ability to keep meat moving within that heat, creates really succulent results.
re: Ali G
A couple of questions about the basics, just to eliminate all possibilities. In a world where a computer mouse is mistaken by some users for "the foot pedal", one has to ask.
1) Are you using the small diameter rack provided with your Weber to support the coals, and hold them above the actual bottom of the "kettle"? If not, get out that grill, put it in (there are little support tabs for it), and use it. Don't put any foil or pan on that coal grate - the idea is to let the air flow through the grill, giving the fire plenty of air flow from the top, sides, and bottom.
2) Are you sure that you've let the coals "start" thoroughly enough in the chimney staarter? It's not sufficient to just get them lit a little bit on each coal. The whole surfface of the coals should be lit. I suppose the other extreme is also possible - that you're letting it burn down too far in the chimney, leaving little useful life once you put it in the grill, but most folks are impatient, rather than TOO patient!
3) Is there any high wind that might be blowing the fire out through the vents? You're not grilling in a hurricane, right?
If you're doing those things right, and you've got the vents open, I'll second your guess that you somehow got some really bad charcoal, or you stored it someplace where it somehow absorbed a lot of moisture.
I'm pretty sure I'm letting the coals get hot enough. I usually dump them in once they start to get white ash over most of the coal and are just burning with a smaller flame.
I am also using the lower grate for the coal. I have a little ash in the bottom, but not enough to block the vents.
I think I may be spreading the coal too thin on the bottom. I usually spread an even layer when I'm grilling. I guess I don't really need to put the cover on when grilling most things, but when I do, the fire typically starts to die, even with all vents open.
re: Ali G
#Ali G You said "I think I may be spreading the coal too thin on the bottom. I usually spread an even layer when I'm grilling. I guess I don't really need to put the cover on when grilling most things, but when I do, the fire typically starts to die, even with all vents open."
Only one thin layer of coals??? Not a good way toast a chix. If I want to cook for a long time in one of my kettles, I dump a bunch of briquettes onto the charcoal grate, and fill my weber chimney at least half full if I want high temp, just a dozen or so briq if I want low an slow.
I dump the white charcoal from the chimney onto the charcoal in the kettle and COOK.
When I am done I close all the vents and I use the charcoal in the kettle next time.
View the chimney as a starter. Dump it before all the charcoal has ignited. After dumping, throw on more charcoal. If you've got a long grilling session planned, you may have to add even more charcoal part way through. Sometimes, I use briquets along with the charcoal to keep the fire going longer, especially when the high heat of a charcoal-only fire isn't required.
I only use hardwood charcoal, which definitely burns hotter and faster than briquets. I rarely need more than one load from the chimney starter, but if I know that I'm doing more, I'll either start another batch in the chimney, or just put on cold charcoal pieces on the fire. The big Webber kettle has small liftable pieces on the side, so I can load it in and use my tongs to move them around.
I agree with the 30 minutes with the top off and the bottom wide open - but how much time do you need for steaks, etc.? If you're doing several servings over time, you can just restart in the chimney, on the side, without bothering your cooking (other than to put in the coals). If you're doing chicken or other roast items, you want to pile the coal on one side and put the meat on the other (indirect) and then put the cover on - with the air (bottom and on the lid) adjusted to control the heat. That lasts longer than 30 minutes.
I can go almost 2 hours when doing a roast on the rottiserie attachment on the weber kettle. I load up the coal along the two sides and mountain them up. Start by dumping the lit ones from the chimney equally on both sides, then add fresh charcoal. Keep the middle (right under the spit) clear. I tried using an aluminum throw-away pan to catch the juices, but this does no good - the fire gets so hot that everything just evaporates anyway, and it also melts the aluminum. 2 hours with that kind of heat is good enough for a couple of chickens, 4-5lb pork, lamb or beef roasts. As with the normal grilling, if I need to, I can load up more charcoal - but it's not very often.
When I am using my Weber kettle to smoke food, on the grate I put a pan of water in the center, then a row of about 18 briquettes on two sides of the pan, get the charcol going, throw on some soaked wood chips and put on the top grill, then put my meat on and cover the kettle.
About every 20 to 30 minutes I come back, remove the kettle cover, and open up each of the side grill flaps on the top grill so that I can drop in fresh briquettes.
Your Weber's top level grill (the surface that you put you meat on) should have either a rectangular cut opening on two sides, under the handles, or two sides of the grill should be hinged so you can open the sides up, like a flap.