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May 2, 2008 01:25 AM

ok, how do i get a charcoal grill really hot?

I'm new to having a yard, and I'm grilling a skirt steak on my gf's small charcoal grill tomorrow. I grilled some hot dogs tonight hoping to get the hang of it, but it just didn't seem that hot. The dogs were on there 10 minutes with no blackened spots and some onion slices didn't get any color at all. I'd just use my 12" cast iron pan on a stove like i usually do, medium high heat and two minutes a side, but I don't want to fill her place with smoke. I've always been pessimistic about grilling, but now, as a total n00b, I have to confront it and still put out some good asada.

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  1. How are you preparing your coals? Put the charcoal in a pyramid in the center, then douse with lighter fluid, let it soak in for a couple of minutes, then light in two or three places around the coals.

    *Much* better method: get a chimney starter that uses wadded up newspaper. They're about $15 and are faster, less dangerous and can be used for years.

    The important thing is to let the coals burn unitl they are just covered in gray ash, but you can see the glowing interior through it. That's the sweet spot for heat. You should be good to go.

    4 Replies
    1. re: JonParker

      Once the coals are hot, I assume you spread them out a little from the pyramid, rather than cooking on top of the pyramid, correct? Make sure they form a nice even layer but that you have enough charcoal so that they are all touching. Charcoal grilling is admittedly tougher than gas, but I still prefer it.

      Anyone else ever used the Weber starter cubes? Much nicer than dousing with lighter fluid.

      And, once you get into grilling, read up and learn how to grill by the indirect method. Took me too many years and too many burned ribs before I finally learned. GF will be amazed :)

      1. re: JonParker

        I love my chimney starter. No fluid any more!

        1. re: Morganna

          Same here! We have an old gasser that is no longer usable. The burners are shot and we can't find replacements. The side burner still works great so we just fill the chimney with charcoal, light the burner and set it on top. When the top coals are gray, we put it in the grill.

          The best thing, you don't get that starter fluid taste in your food.

        2. re: JonParker

          Hi JonParker, I use a chimney starter and the coals are bright red when I start to cook but the temperature steadily drops with the lid on during a long cook, that's why i suggested the fan above. I struggle to maintain 300F for long periods.

        3. Use lump charcoal. It has a much more intense heat than briquettes. It will burn faster too, so you will need to adjust your methods accordingly(it also lights faster and comes to temperature much more quickly). I also recommend a chimney starter, much better than starting fluids. Lump charcoal is becoming easier to find, Walmart even has it now, and usually as well, the local hardware store. It also imparts a great smoky flavor that you don't get from briquettes

          1 Reply
          1. re: mattrapp

            correct, lump charcoal burns hotter, good suggestion.

            I would also suggest lowering your cooking grate closer to the charcoal.

            Also the rec. for a chimney starter is great, once you taste food cooked over charcoal that was not started with lighter fluid you will never go back.

          2. The two first posters gave the essential advice. Chimney starter and lump charcoal. Briquettes burn longer but less hot. I use the white fire bricks rather than newspaper to ignite the charcoal in the chimney starter, makes it really idiot proof. If there's an electrical outlet near your grill you can use a blowdryer like a bellows to heat the charcoal, but it shouldn't be necessary. With the chimney starter, the charcoal should come out blazing hot.

            5 Replies
            1. re: MarkC

              I do use lump, but I'll add to use a good brand. The cheapo stuff doesn't seem to last as long. Anything would probably do a quick grill of a skirt steak, but if you do something that needs much longer, get a quality charcoal. Nothing's more frustrating than to have your fire die while you still have cooking to do.

              1. re: JonParker

                Hear, hear! A lot of the cheapo 'lump' looks like construction waste.

                1. re: JonParker

                  The hottest lump charcoal I have ever used is Japanese bincho charcoal. It has the added benefit of being virtually smokeless.

                  Briquettes often have clay mixed into the charcoal. Once you get it glowing, it forms an thick insulating layer which reduces the emitted radiant heat. Even with lump charcoal, I like to knock off the ash by tapping the side of the grill.

                  1. re: fmed

                    Can you tell me where you found this charcoal?

                    1. re: drsmith

                      Sorry for the late reply....I just ran across this post just now. I have purchased it at Daiso (a Japanese 100 Yen store here in town), Fujiya (a Japanese supermarket, and Angel Seafoods).

              2. Absolutely use hardwood charcoal: although the peak intensity is short-lived, you’ll find that, at its hottest, it’s hotter than either home gas grills or briquetts. A key to getting a grid super hot, which both reduces sticking/tearing and gives great grill marks, is putting a flat-bottomed cast iron pan (I use an 18 inch paella pan) on top of the grid for several minutes while you have your charcoal stacked for intense heat (before you spread it out for cooking over a larger area). The larger the cast-iron pan, the longer it will take to heat, so use your judgment regarding matching your cast iron pan to the size of cooking surface you need. You’ll find that using a cast iron pan substantially increases the temperature of your grill grids. BTW, depending on the size of your fire and type of food you’re grilling, you may need to add more hardwood charcoal as you go along.

                2 Replies
                1. re: JohnJ

                  Agreed.. throw some wood into the mix, and that will jack up the temp. The blow-dryer chimney starter trick works well (or if you have an electric leaf blower, THAT will turn things into an inferno quickly). Remember to let the meat rest for a few minutes after taking it off the grill to the juices redistribute.

                  You might want to also think about a 2-level fire - get one side of the grill super hot, but the other side not as much, so you can grill your veggies over lower heat.

                  1. re: JohnJ

                    Agree with JohnJ, use hardwood and a chimney, Mesquite wood can get to 875F.
                    Check out this site for some reviews on lump charcoal and hardwood:

                  2. Either you aren't using enough charcoal (or your grate is too far away from the charcoal) or you aren't letting it get up to the proper heat. Or maybe the vents on the grill aren't open at all or enough and there isn't enough airflow to get the coals going.

                    Whether you use a chimney starter or lighter fluid, you should let the coals burn for at least 15 minutes before cooking on them. Agree with everyone else's comments re: using hardwood and preferrably using a chimney starter over lighter fluid.

                    If the grill is much bigger than you need for 1 or 2 steaks and you dont want to waste all that charcoal, you can just pile it up on one side of the grill and only use that side to cook on. If you can hold your hand just above the cooking grate for more than a few seconds, your grill isn't hot enough and you should add more coals or adjust the cooking vents to let more air in.