Whether you’re grilling chicken breasts, steaks, hamburgers, pork chops or any other type of meat, you need a hot bed of charcoal. Consisting primarily of carbon, charcoal produces a significant amount of heat when burned. Some types of charcoal, in fact, can reach over 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which is more than enough heat to grill delicious meats.
Because of its ability to produce so much heat, charcoal doesn’t burn as long as other types of fuel, including cooking wood. However, there are ways to extend the burn time of your charcoal. By following these tips, your charcoal will burn longer.
Position Grill Near a Windbreak
The area in which your grill is placed will affect the burn time of your charcoal. If you place your grill in an open area, such as the middle of your lawn, the charcoal may burn more quickly because it’s exposed to wind. Even small and otherwise minor gusts of wind will make charcoal burn hotter and faster. As air passes through the charcoal, it fuels the charcoal with additional oxygen. By positioning your grill near a windbreak, on the other hand, the charcoal will burn slower.
Keep in mind, you shouldn’t place your grill directly against the side of your home. For safety reasons, grills, smokers, fire pits and other fire containment products should be placed at least 10 feet away from your home as well as all other flammable structures.
Spread Out Charcoal After It’s Turned White
You can extend the burn time of your charcoal by spreading it evenly across the bottom of your grill after it’s turned white. When initially preparing your grill, it’s a good idea to stack charcoal in a mound. Once stacked, you can easily light it from the bottom, allowing it to quickly heat up. However, it’s important to spread your charcoal evenly across the bottom of your grill before adding your food. If the charcoal is still stacked in a mound, it will continue to burn fast, resulting in a short burn time. If you spread it out, on the other hand, it will burn more slowly, allowing for a longer burn time.
Open the Lid
Another way to make your charcoal burn longer is to open the lid on your grill. Some pitmasters assume that opening the lid will make their burn charcoal burn faster because it fuels the fire with more oxygen. In reality, opening the lid causes charcoal to burn slower by allowing some of the head to escape. If you keep the lid closed, heat will remain trapped inside your grill. In turn, all that heat will make your charcoal burn faster. But if you open the lid, some of the heat will escape, thereby causing your charcoal to burn slower and for longer.
Of course, you’ll need to keep a close eye on your grill’s internal temperature when opening the lid. If the temperature drops too low, you may struggle to achieve a charred exterior with your food. Therefore, you may need to adjust the damper vents to maintain an appropriate grilling temperature.
Don’t Use Lighter Fluid
If you’re struggling to light your charcoal, you may revert to dousing it in lighter fluid. While lighter fluid can certainly help to get the fire going, you shouldn’t use it when grilling. Charcoal soaked in lighter fluid will, not surprisingly, burn faster than dry charcoal. After all, that’s what lighter fluid is designed to do.
Aside from a shorter burn time, dousing your charcoal in lighter fluid may affect the flavor of your grilled food. As the lighter fluid burns, it will release vapor chemicals that rise up and into your food. It’s a harsh and bitter flavor that most people prefer to avoid when grilling. For a naturally delicious “grilled” flavor, don’t use lighter fluid.
Furthermore, lighter fluid increases the risk of injury when grilling. If you pour too much, it could create a large fireball when lit, potentially burning you or anyone else who’s nearby. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), grills are responsible for over 4,500 house and structure fires each year in the United States. To protect your property, as well as yourself and others, don’t use lighter fluid. If you’re struggling to light your charcoal, try using a chimney starter. Chimney starters offer an enclosed environment in which you can easily start charcoal.
Switch to Briquette Charcoal
Not all types of charcoal burn for the same length of time. There are two primary types of charcoal: lump and briquette. Lump charcoal is the most common type. It’s made by burning wood down into small pieces of almost pure carbon. While less common, briquette charcoal is preferred by some pitmasters because of its ability to burn slower and for longer than lump charcoal. Briquette charcoal is made by combining sawdust, as well as other wood scraps, using a binding agent.
If you’re tired of constantly adding charcoal to your grill, switching to briquette charcoal may help. Briquette charcoal doesn’t burn as hot as its lump counterpart, but it’s able to burn slower and longer. As a result, it’s an excellent choice to use when grilling foods at low temperatures.
Combine With Cooking Wood
Even if you’re planning to grill with charcoal, consider adding some cooking wood as well. Cooking wood burns slower than both lump and briquette charcoal. Placing just a few logs of high-quality cooking wood inside your grill will minimize your dependence on charcoal.
What type of cooking wood should you use exactly? All types of kiln dried, hardwood cooking wood offers a long burn time. With that said, no two varieties have the same flavor. Cherry wood, for example, has a sweet fruity flavor that’s synonymous with cherries. In comparison, hickory wood has a strong bacon-like flavor. These are just two of many varieties of cooking wood. Other popular types of cooking wood include oak, pecan and pizza cut. By combining charcoal with cooking wood, you’ll be able to focus more on tending to your food and less on constantly adding new charcoal to your grill.
Add Food at the Right Time
This won’t necessarily extend the burn time of your charcoal, but adding food at the right time can reduce the amount of charcoal you need. A good rule of thumb is to wait until the charcoal has turned to a gray-white color — and is covered with a thin layer of ash — before adding your good. With that said, you shouldn’t add your food immediately once the charcoal achieved this appearance. Depending on the conditions, the charcoal may only burn hot for another 30 minutes. If you wait 20 minutes to add your food, you’ll only have 10 minutes of cooking time, meaning you’ll probably have to add more charcoal to maintain the temperature inside your grill.
It’s frustrating when you add new charcoal to your grill, only for it to burn down in just a half-hour or less. If this sounds familiar, follow the tips outlined in this blog post to extend the burn time of your charcoal. From positioning your grill near a windbreak to spreading out the charcoal and more, there are several ways to make charcoal burn for longer.
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