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How to Use a Kettle Grill: 5 Tips for Grilling Over Charcoal

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Nov 8, 2020 • 2 min read

Outdoor chefs have two primary options for grilling: gas grills, which are generally made from heavy-duty stainless steel and fueled by propane, and charcoal grills, which cook food over hot coals. There are many types of charcoal grilling, but the traditional charcoal kettle grill remains the most iconic.



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What Is a Kettle Grill?​

A kettle grill is a spherical charcoal grill that takes its name from its spherical shape. The design was pioneered by the grilling company Weber in 1951. The Weber kettle grill design includes a round lid, a steel cooking grate, and two sets of vents—bottom vents beneath the charcoal firebox, and top vents in the lid. Over the years, inventors made minor adjustments to the original kettle grill design, but the key elements endured, including the grill’s shape, charcoal fuel, and the use of a steel charcoal grate as a cooking surface.

How to Use a Kettle Grill: 5 Tips for Grilling Over Charcoal

Few cooking apparatuses are easier to use than a kettle charcoal grill. To get cooking, all you need are charcoal briquettes, lighter fluid, and an optional charcoal chimney. Once you have those at the ready, here's what you need to do:

  1. Arrange the charcoal properly. Remove the grill grate and layer your charcoal briquettes at the bottom of the grill. The best way to get charcoal to burn quickly is to stack it in a pyramid. Alternatively, you can use a charcoal chimney starter to vertically align charcoal and get it burning before you add it to your cooker.
  2. Allow the charcoal to heat. Pour some lighter fluid on your charcoal pyramid, strike a match, and let it burn. Grilling requires patience, and that starts by letting the coals heat to the right cooking temperature. As a general rule, they're ready for use once white ash forms around the outside of the briquettes.
  3. Start cooking. Coat your grill grate with a little nonstick cooking spray, then add the meat. If you prefer to sear your food over direct heat, it won't take very long to cook. If you desire tender meat and a smoky flavor (like in Texas-style BBQ brisket or pulled pork shoulder), you'll want to smoke your meat away from the main source of heat. (If you really get into smoking, it's best to use a dedicated smoker replete with wood chips, but a kettle grill can get the job done if you use it properly.)
  4. Regulate the temperature of the kettle BBQ. The air vents (sometimes called dampers) at the bottom of a kettle grill allow spent charcoal to fall into an ash catcher beneath the kettle grill. The vents also allows oxygen to feed the fire, heating the grill. Opening the air vents at the top of the grill allows heat to escape. Many BBQ grill recipes call for indirect cooking and low heat, and keeping the top vents open can help in this regard. Most searing, on the other hand, requires high heat.
  5. Stay safe. Remember that lit coals get incredibly hot. Use tongs to flip your meat. Take care not to touch the side of the grill, or even the grill lid, until the coals have cooled. Also, watch for flare-ups from the coals. They're rare (lit charcoal is more predictable than lit wood), but you should always take precautions when it comes to outdoor cooking.
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