From lighting coals to controlling airflow and flare-ups, there are many things that make grilling with charcoal quite the challenging task, albeit with some delicious rewards. This may explain why some see it as the true test for any self-proclaimed grill master. Before you can take on the challenge, however, you will need to figure out what kind of fuel you will use. More specifically, your choice of charcoal for BBQ could make or break your grilling experience.
The fact that briquette charcoal is readily available almost everywhere is perhaps the reason why most people use it for their barbecues. Coals of this kind are usually mixed with binding ingredients and compressed into a shape similar to that of a small pillow. This makes it easy to layer briquettes uniformly, which ensures a controlled burn. Although they may have a chemical smell at times, it generally doesn’t have an impact on the food.
Made from materials like coconut shells, tamarind and cherry, lump charcoal is another common type whose appearance can be described as resembling chunks of charred wood. Because it’s not compressed like is the case with briquettes, it tend to burn more ferociously. Most people use it for low and slow grilling, since it’s much harder to layer the coals evenly. Due to their scarcity and steep price, lump coals are mostly used by experts.
Depending on the area, you may also come across exotic types of charcoal while shopping. Most of them tend to burn longer than conventional coals, and some are also chemical-free. Exotic coals also tend to be pricier and, as such, they’re mostly preferred by individuals who like to experiment.
Unless you’re willing to pay more for charcoal, your best choice of charcoal for grilling would be briquettes. Most brands come in bags containing between 70 and 90 coals, which means you’d have enough fuel for 3-4 barbecues, depending on how much food you’ll be cooking. Still, take into account the prevailing conditions when shopping, as you will need more fuel when cooking in wet or windy weather.
As far as the actual grilling goes, anything that takes less than half an hour to cook should be placed directly over the fire. On the other hand, foods that require more time should be placed in a kettle barbecue with the lid closed. You might want to keep a drip tray underneath the food to keep fat from getting into the fire. A chimney starter could also come in handy whenever there’s need to top up with more coals.
If you’re someone who likes getting fancy with your grilling, consider spreading a few wood chips over the coals. Although they won’t make your grill hotter, they will bring back some of the compounds lost when the coals were being manufactured. These are what interact with each other (plus the meat) to impart that good, old flavor associated with barbecued treats.
While coals won’t affect the flavor of grilled food, they’ll definitely affects the heat and the duration in which something cooks. That being said, your choice of fuel will depend on your preferences, more than anything else. So don’t think about it too much; in the end, all that matters is the quality of your cooking.