Grilling Basics: Choosing and Lighting A Grill

Master the basics of grilling with these helpful tips.

Charcoal Grill

Charcoal Grill

Choosing A Grill

Charcoal or gas—which one to choose? Actually, it is a matter of preference. Both types of grills will give you delicious results. Factors to consider when purchasing a grill are: price, ease of use, grilling needs and frequency.

Both types of grills are available in a wide range of prices, but in general, gas grills cost more than charcoal grills. Gas grills ignite immediately, take just minutes to heat up and allow you to easily control the grilling temperature.

Charcoal grills take about 30 minutes for the briquettes to get hot, and the coals start off hot and cool down during cooking. The ash from coals can also be messy to clean up. If you don't plan to grill often or grill only small amounts, then an inexpensive charcoal grill or a small hibachi might be good choices.

Starting a Charcoal Grill

The number of briquettes needed to grill will depend on the amount of food you're grilling, the size of the grill and weather conditions. Adverse weather conditions—high winds, cold temperatures and high humidity—will require you to use more briquettes. About 30 briquettes are needed to cook 1 pound of meat.

There are three ways to start a charcoal grill. (If you are using briquettes that just need to be lit with a match, follow package directions for lighting.)

  • Pyramid Style. Arrange the briquettes in a pyramid in the grill. Pour lighter fluid over the briquettes. Recap the fluid and place away from the grill. Light the briquettes.

  • Chimney Starter. Crumple newspaper or waxed paper and place a chimney starter over the paper in the grill. Fill the chimney starter with the briquettes. Light the paper. When the coals are ready, dump them out of the chimney starter and spread out.

  • Electric Starter. Arrange the briquettes in a pyramid in the grill. Insert the electric starter in the middle of the coals. Plug the starter into an outlet. If using an extension cord, use a heavy-duty one. It will take 8 to 10 minutes for the ash to start to form on the coals. At that point, unplug the electric starter and remove from briquettes.

    The starter will be very hot, so place it out of the way on a heatproof surface. The briquettes need to continue heating until they are covered with a light gray ash.

Depending on your grill, the briquettes will go on a charcoal grate or the bottom of the grill. The coals are ready when they are covered with a light gray ash—this takes about 25 to 30 minutes. Once they are ready, spread them out for direct or indirect heat. Never pour lighter fluid on coals that have already been lit.