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Going from gas to charcoal BBQ !

  • d

I have always been a gas man but have now entered the charcoal world and picked up a Weber 22.5 Gold One Touch Blue kettle.

I'm looking for all you grill masters out there to provide some advise that you believe is fundamental to proper grilling. Also, what should I make as the first meal?
I am totally ready and have the following items ready to go:
1) The grill
2) The chimney starter
3) All Natural Lump Hardwood Charcoal (Maple Leaf Charcoal Brand)

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  1. Congrats! There is not substitute for charcoal grilling. The items you have are fine. My only concern is that, if you're new to charcoal, lump charcoal is not very forgiving. It burns fast, hot and not always consistently. For starters, just get a bag of Kingsford until you get the hang of it.

    The key to making a great steak, whether on the grill or in a pan, is to sear the outside of the meat (cook it to a depth of no more than 2mm) on very high heat and then cook the rest in an "oven" with less heat.

    Once you have your chimney going, spread out the coals so the majority are on one side (hot) and a few to none are on the other (cool). Open all the vents and let the grill get searing hot. Then place the steaks (liberally seasoned with salt and pepper) on the hot side with the grill cover off. They will release from the grill when they're ready to be turned. Once you have both sides seared on all steaks, move them to the cooler side and close the lid, effectively making an oven. Cook them to preferred doneness. That's the basics of it.

    10 Replies
    1. re: hardline_42

      That's some good info hardline. Okay how hot are we talking about here when I sear the steaks? I've seen some videos of ribeyes grilling on top of major flames until they are moved to the indirect heat side. I'm worried of charing the steaks to much. I would imagine that even after you move the steaks over, they still brown or burn from the indirect heat. Should a good steak be chared on the outside and still rare in the center?

      1. re: DomR

        Hot. The rule of thumb is, if you put your hand six inches above the grates and you have to remove it immediately, it's hot enough. Pain thresholds vary, of course.
        You shouldn't be seeing flames while you're cooking, as these will burn your food. They're often caused by poorly cleaned grills and untrimmed cuts of fatty meat.
        Don't worry too much about burning the meat after you sear it. It will only dry out or char if it's too close to the source of heat. Keeping it away from the hot side and closing the vents partway will reduce the temp inside the grill. The idea is to get a nice crust on the outside and keep it moist on the inside. Personally, I prefer mine rare. If you prefer it well done, your grilling license will be revoked on the spot.

        1. re: hardline_42

          Alright I got it now. I like my steak rare too and I agree that grilling licences should be revoked for cooking a piece of meat to well done.

      2. re: hardline_42

        The lump I use, is forgiving. It can burn fast, if I let it (by controlling air flow), always is consistent (or that might be my choice of grill) and burns much cleaner than blue-bag Kingsford.

        BTW, lump, normally, burns much hotter than briquettes, therefor is a staple for cooking steaks.

        1. re: jdmfish

          I agree that lump charcoal is great for high heat grilling, but for a beginner it might not be the best choice, which is why I made the recommendation for briquettes.

          In my experience, lump charcoal lights easier and doesn't leave a sandy mess after it burns, but you have to know what you're doing as far as managing airflow for temp control and burn time. Plus, it's more expensive than briquettes.

          Lump charcoal is the manual transmission of the grilling world and briquettes are your standard slushbox. You can learn to drive with a stick shift same as you can learn to grill with charcoal, but briquettes will give you a chance to master the basics and more easily appreciate the switch to lump later on.

          1. re: hardline_42

            Fair enough - and nice analogy. I tried briquettes and just didn't like the aroma, ash produced, often lack of heat required for some dishes.

            So I just learned how to cook with lump, and absolutely love using it. Sure, there is a slight learning curve, just like any grilling technique, and there will be a few mess ups here and there.

            1. re: jdmfish

              I like hardwood lump for high temps and searing, like a steak. Nice crust and still keep rare inside...Bricquets for something like chicken or fish that needs a little more time.

              Btw, I used a laser thermometer and thelump gets to about 900f depending on air flow but burns quickly. The briquets were about 800f

        2. re: hardline_42

          Excellent advice, indeed, hardline. I've been using charcoal for years and I never thought to do it that way. I've alway spread the coals evenly mainly because I fix more steaks than would fit on just half the grill area. How do you handle that problem?

          1. re: mucho gordo

            You could probably sear them in batches, so long as the coals stay hot, and then remove some charcoal and spread the remains out for the "oven" part. But, honestly, I think you just need a bigger grill.

            1. re: hardline_42

              Approximately how many steaks could one grill using the direct and indirect method on a 22.5 grill? For example how many 8oz strips?

        3. Hardline_42 is right that hardwood charcoal burns very, very hot. You have to be careful with it. I've used it successfully for steaks by making sure they are room temp when they go on the grill, and moving them to the cool side to finish after searing. I've found chicken a little harder, but starting small chicken thighs, etc, wrapped in foil on the cool side till almost cooked then giving them a quick char on the hot side seems to work for me if I'm careful. Fish is very good grilled on hardwood since in most cases the time taken to get a slight char on the outside is the time a steak or filet needs to cook to the proper undoneness inside. Portabello mushrooms with a liberal brushing of olive oil are also terrific, as is corn (I cook it in the husk). Enoy your new primality.

          5 Replies
          1. re: FoodDabbler

            Okay now I'm getting worried. I guess I better buy some cheaper cuts of beef to start off and definitely not host a party until I figure this out. I think I'll stick to leaner cuts because I see some massive flare ups in the future from the dripping fat of ribeyes.

            1. re: DomR

              No need to be worried. Just pay attention to the grill and meat and you'll be good. Routinely check the temp of the steaks your cooking, and always cook my temp, not time.

              I'm part of the "camp" that routinely flips meat, often, instead of flipping once or twice during a cook. I feel the meat comes out moister, and more evenly cooked (if your timing the flips) and flareups are more controlled. I don't often get flareups either.

              By flipping often, your redistributing the juices throughout the meat, instead of letting it come to the top - then when you flip, all the juices hit the coals, and you get flareups. If you flip often, there's minimal "juices" at the top of the meat, thus, when you turn it over, or flip, there isn't much of that fat to leak off and cause flare ups. At least thats the idea behind flipping often.

              When I cook steaks, I cook them right on top of the coals, literally, and have a process similar to something like this -

              25 seconds > flip > 25 seconds > flip > 20 seconds > flip > 20 seconds > 15 seconds > flip > 15 seconds etc. until desired doneness. But keep in mind, grilling on top of 900*-1000* coals, food cooks very quick, thus quick and often flips.

              1. re: jdmfish

                I've always been the type that doesn't like to "fuss" with the meat when it's on the grill, but your logic with regards to flipping it often is interesting. I might give it a try this season and see if I like the results.

                1. re: hardline_42

                  I was the same - until I read about "flipping often" type of cooking. While it does require you to "babysit" the grill, or be near it, to flip it often, the results to us, is worth the "trouble" it may require.

                  And once you perfect it, you can really turn out some killer food.

                2. re: jdmfish

                  Your 900-1000f guesstimate is right on. I used 1 of these


                  and got a 900f reading but it was at the grill, on inch or 2 above the coals. Actually local laws don't allow for wood or gas, but didn't enforce it. til last summer. So I bought a MECO electric and a dd wood chunks to get that 900F heat and flame. Took a little practice but I got it down. To further complicate things, In the summer, I cook in the cockpit of a boat..so I have to keep an eye for sparks, hose and fire extinguisher are right there. LOt of work but very much worth it...:)

            2. I agree with everything everyone has said so far. I've been a Weber Kettle guy for many years. I find during "grilling season" in NYC (April-October), I think about meals slightly differently. If I'm going to go to the trouble to light the grill, I want to use it for a while.

              So I try to think about cooking *everything* on the grill. I got a bunch of metal skewers, which are great for grilling veggies, or kebabs, or whatever. It's frustrating to spend 30 minutes getting the grill lit/heated, only to grill a couple of steaks for 7 minutes (or whatever).

              Good things to grill:
              New Potatoes
              Flat breads

              2 Replies
              1. re: egit

                I'm with you on grilling everything during the months you can (live in Ontario). One of benefits of grilling is not making a mess inside the house. No pots or pans to clean is a good night in my books.

                1. re: egit

                  Tucson has year 'round grilling season :) but +1 on grilling everything once you've got it going. I'll grill stuff that I might use for lunches and such throughout the week.

                2. i live in Ontario too and used a weber kettle for years (year round). I now have a big green egg. There have been some good tips provided. Maple Leaf charcoal is among the best brands of lump there is. After you light the coals and spread them out you should wait for the "bad" smoke to clear. In the kettle this may take about 10 minutes or so. Otherwise your food will take on a nasty smokey flavvor. Someone has already pointed out that lump burns fast and very hot. I suggest that you use more charcoal than you think you need. The great thing about lump charcoal is that you can reuse any unburnt or partialy burt pieces. Temperature control with the kettle is acutually pretty good. I used to adjust the vents at the bottom and always leave the vents on top wide open. Always cook with the lid on. This will prevent flare ups. Eventually you will want to use wood chips for flavor. Applewood is one of my favorites and is widely available. Hope this helps. Happy grilling!

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: LJS2

                    Actually you can reuse both briquets and hardwod charcoal. I just spread them out a little & close everything up tight. Especially when you are grilling a steak which doesn't take very long--there is a lot of life left in that charcoal. I usually use a combo or both briquets & lump. And I second the wood chips idea--use them for everything. How about throwing some onions on that grill to go w/ your steak? Don't be intimidated---steaks are pretty easy. If you don't want to mess with your rib-eyes, maybe start with a flank steak (cheaper and less fat). Unless my steaks are really thick I don't move them to the cool side. I just flip them once & time them carefully.

                    1. re: LJS2

                      (hanks for your Great Canadian tips LJS2! I wish I could get my wife to agree on a LGE. One question, do you do the initial sear with the lid off? I read your note about always cook with lid on.

                      1. re: DomR

                        No i always seared with the lid on. The only time the lid comes off is to turn the food or to take it off. Just remeber to have the bottom vents wide open.

                        1. re: DomR

                          I disagree about always leaving the lid on. I don't use a kettle (it's a modified, barrel-style) and cook with different blends of hardwood charcoal, briquettes, and hardwood. I will often sear thick steaks (2 inches or so) with the lid up before moving to the indirect spot and finishing by closing the lid and roasting. I will even completely cook thinner cuts of beef, veal, or pork, as well as fish, with the lid up. Simply put, I find I can maintain greater direct heat when I want it.

                          The bottom line is to find the approach that works best for you for the different flesh you grill. Practice is fun since you always get to eat the results.

                      2. Some other tips based on my experience: (1) Have all prep done and absolutely everything you need at hand, including serving platters, etc. Hardwood grilling is not the time to be rushing back into the house for a plate, or an ingredient, or a tool. (2) Use one of those upper shelf racks (a small rack that sits on the main rack) for better heat control for things that need longer, lower heat. (3) The high heat of hardwood makes it possible to stir fry fast in a small frying pan on the grill. I've found you can do small cubes of vegetables this way. They pick up a nice, low smoky flavor. Just use a pan and a spatula with long handles.

                        1. Isn’t amazing how passionate people are about BBQ. I read all the post to this thread and enjoyed what everyone had to say. I have gone in a little different direction. For me, the closer you can get to the way people cooked over fire for the past 100,000 years, the better. This means using virgin hardwood as a fuel source. Not everyone is able to do this but for the ones who can, it’s worth it

                          Francis Mallmann’s book Seven Fires is the bible of wood cookery. Check it out.


                          3 Replies
                          1. re: Woodfireguy

                            just to clarify... what y'all doin is GRILLING its not barbeque....

                            barbeque is low and slow....


                            1. re: srsone

                              No, not at all. Southern style BBQ is mostly low and slow and it’s good stuff. I have a rotisserie on my pit that takes hours to cook a few birds. In Argentina they cook over a wood fire seven different way’s, thus the name Seven Fires. Check out what Francis is doing. It’s very cool stuff if you can pull it off. If you want you can also check out our blog.


                              This guy is doing a whole cow from Mallmann’s book. Anything but grilling.


                              1. re: Woodfireguy

                                thats what im talking about..here in the south when u say barbeque it means low and slow..

                                u start talking about briquettes and webers an stuff you will get corrected..

                                and there have been many discussions/arguments/threads about just what to call it.....

                                so i was just politely informing u....

                          2. I agree that hardwood can be challenging. It's compounded by the fact that there is a good quality hardwood charcoal and poor quality hardwood charcoal. Good quality burns more consistently and longer, while bad quality tends to burn inconsistently and more quickly. Try a few brands and when you find something you like stick with it as that will help with reproducible results. Here is a resource to help you out:


                            Regarding temps and steak, my philosophy is that you cannot get your grill too hot for the searing process. The hotter the grill, the faster and better the sear and ultimately the more evenly cooked your meat is going to be because the sooner you can move it to the oven side.

                            Also, gauging the doneness of your meat on a gas grill is much easier because you have a highly consistent cooking environment. Charcoal cooking, while it can be consistent based on experience and repeating what works for you, is by it's very nature more inconsistent. Learn to judge the doneness of your meat the way professional cooks do.

                            "The doneness of steaks can also be checked using the “firmness to touch” method in which the steak is compared to the human hand. For rare, the steak would feel about the same as the muscle between the thumb and the index finger of the hand in a relaxed state. For medium, feel the same muscle of the hand when it is stretched out. And, for well-done firmness, feel the muscle when the hand is clenched into a fist."

                            This pretty much holds true for any meat that you cook on the grill. With experience you'll learn what "springiness" you like for your various types of meat, be it beef, pork, or poultry.

                            I also cook multiple parts of a meal on the grill. I will often roast peppers and onions on the grill while it is heating up that get chopped up and put in a salsa or salad, then cook the meat, and then while it rests grill whatever vegetable sides I might be serving. I even put my cast iron skillet on the grill to prepare sides at times.

                            Another tip: take care of that grill by cleaning out the ash after very few uses and keeping it from getting wet and sitting. Wet ash is highly caustic and will do a number on the metal of your grill and corrode shut the dampers in the bottom of the bowl. A little bit of cleaning and maintenance goes a long way to ensuring the longevity of your grill.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: LovinSpoonful

                              Good info, LS. My SIL, who is a chef, taught me the firmness trick with my hand and it works well enough for me. For a beginner, a digital thermometer poked into the center of the meat takes away some of the mystery of doneness. Here's a quick temp guide:

                              * Very Rare Steak – 120°
                              * Rare Steak – 125°
                              * Medium-Rare Steak – 130° – 135°
                              * Medium Steak – 140° – 145°
                              * Medium-Well Steak – 150° – 155°
                              * Well-Done Steak – 160°

                              BTW, good tip about getting all the ash out. My first grill was a hand-me-down from a buddy of mine and I only got one season out of it since I left the ashes in it all winter. By the time spring came around the ash-catcher had completely corroded through and I was left with a big gaping hole in the bottom of my grill.

                              1. re: hardline_42

                                One comment on using the temperature is that carryover will affect where you end up. I do thick steaks over high heat and then finish indirect, and I do whole beef tenderloins strictly indirect. If I waited to pull either off at 120F to shoot for rare, I'd always end up at medium-rare or more done. With the tenderloins (shooting for as hot as I can get indirectly, I'll take them off at 116F or so and the residual heat pushes them up to a nice rare to medium rare after resting. I'm too OCD to try to go by the feel of my own thumb-meat- maybe if I was sitting there doing it all day every day.

                            2. DomR, I would suggest checking out a BBQ only site. There are many different techniques and recipes for outdoor cooking and using a Weber kettle. For example many now use the Reverse Sear as the go to method for thicker cuts of steaks or cuts like Tri Tips.

                              I also would suggest using briquettes until you get comfortable with the grill, then a 50/50 mix, then perhaps 100% if you like lump. For barbequing (west coast smoking-low slow indirect) I use maybe 90 briquettes and 10% hardwood like fruit woods.

                              I've been competing on a west coast team for a the last few years and we're always looking for techniques to step up our game.

                              I would suggest checking out the grilling and kettle forums on this website: http://tvwbb.com/eve

                              Good Luck.. John

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: bbqJohn

                                bbqJohn: "...we're always looking for techniques to step up their game."

                                Like a blacksmith's air blower to up the temps for the sear to near the big commercial infared units? Ups the smoke volume and temps on all the downstream shelves/hooks, too.

                                  1. re: bbqJohn

                                    And a small desktop fan, if electricity is near by... :)

                              2. Dom-

                                The first thing you should do is go here:

                                http://tvwbb.com (the Virtual Weber Bulletin Board


                                You can find a lot of good grilling and barbecue tips, and people on the board are *very* responsive when you put out a call for help. Be sure to post pictures of the things you cook, as well!

                                I bought my first Weber kettle less than a year ago, and this site has really helped me up my game.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: bagofwater

                                  You can also check for posts by "Woodburner". He's been very helpful when it comes to using your Weber kettle for smoking meats (for pulled pork, brisket....)

                                2. You have good advice already. The key is real lump charcoal, and an accurate meat thermometer. What you cook depends on your taste. We like meats, fish and grilled veggies. Check out Ina Garten's pork dish with a cranberry+ stuffing. Great fixed using 'indirect heat' on that Weber kettle, though a Big Green Egg would be even better.

                                  1. Congratulations on moving UP to real wood fire cooking! The most fundamental of fundamentals are:

                                    1. Beer. Both to help pass the time while your food cooks, and to have with your food.

                                    2. All but the most wretched of failures is still edible. I'm also of the opinion that if you eat your failures, you're more likely to learn from them!

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. I love my old Weber kettle. The only thing I don't like is that crummy chrome grate. I'm thinking of buying a new one and would like to know if anyone would recommend a cast iron grate for me or DomR. A lot of talk of searing steaks and it seems that a screeching hot cast iron grate should do the job.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. I love Gas!!! I use a propane touch to light my lump charcoal. Most Home improvement stores carry unchromed Webber Grill grates.

                                        1. Well the first run was quite the experience. I decided to grill a monster T Bone with on hand lump hardwood. You guys were right on with yor comments regarding using lump. It was not as easy to start them even with the chimeny starter. One problm was that the paper would not light as well thru the started and another was that the pieces of lump were very inconsistent, many pieces were very large while others were small. Anyway, after several lights I finally got it going while smoking out my community in the process. The steak turned out great and althought a bit charred, the asparagus was quite nice. Thanks for everyones wonderful tips and comments. You guys really know your stuff. Here is the results. Not bad for a first timer....eh?

                                          5 Replies
                                          1. re: DomR

                                            Would suggest using a paper towel(s) with cooking oil instead of paper and mix of 50/50 briquesttes/lump.. for thick cuts on the grill, try as follows: season and leave at room temps for maybe 1/2 hr to 1 hr. then reverse sear ... which is indirect first to maybe -20 degrees of your finish temps then sear to finish temps.

                                            1. re: bbqJohn

                                              The steak looks great.

                                              I try to avoid accelerants if at all possible. With the chimney, all it takes is patience (assuming it's >30F there). When I'm in a hurry, I wait a few minutes and stuff a 2nd sheet of newspaper under and light it to kick start things. I've done as little as toss a single lit coal in before adding unlit charcoal to the chimney and that works without even using any paper. Helps if your paper wasn't sitting out somewhere where it could get damp.

                                              I used the Maple Leaf charcoal a long time ago and really liked it. It isn't available here except at uber markup, though. The Naked Whiz is a great repository of charcoal info. That said, I typ use Royal Oak for lump and Rancher/Trader Joe's or Stubb's (from Lowe's) for briquettes. I avoid blue bag Kingsford if at all possible. These are all reasonably priced for what they are- hardwood lump and minimal binders/fillers for the briquettes. I've had trash in the Royal Oak in the past but not lately.

                                            2. re: DomR

                                              Looks good to me!
                                              I had a Weber Smokey Joe back in the 80's and loved it. Then I went to the 'dark side' : propane. I recently inheritted a Weber 22" kettle and did my first meal tonight after replacing the chimney, top grate, utensil hooks, and power washing the whole contraption. Ribeye, sweet tater, veggies, & garlic bread. Dang, thanks for posting your question as I learned, too!

                                              1. re: DomR

                                                Dom, doesn't look too charred to me - I love some char on my meat - gives it a nice crunch and has a good flavor (depending on how much char).

                                                Check out this link on chimney use:


                                                And I'd highly recommend you pick up a box or two of these Weber starter cubes:


                                                Non-toxic and odorless, and burn hot, long enough to start a chimney full of lump. Lump should be very easy to start, actually easier than briquettes..

                                                1. re: jdmfish

                                                  Actually, it was the asparagus that I meant to write that was charred. I'll give it read and hopefully have an easier time starting the lumps. The difference in taste between this and my Genesis gas grill is fantastic. A lot more work and planning than gas but Oh so worth it. Thanks for your tips.

                                              2. I'll let the experts comment on your inquiries.
                                                I will say when you feel comfortable with your Weber, sometime in the autumn do a turkey on it using the indirect heat method. So good.
                                                Much prefer charcoal grills to gas.
                                                Gas convience.
                                                Charcoal flavor.