How to Pick the Best Charcoal for Grilling
Let’s get one thing out of the way: excellent grilled food doesn’t just need the right grills. It’s very natural for backyard grillers and backyard barbecue aficionados to believe that they just need to have the right grill and everything will fall into place. It’s very easy to fall into this trap because a lot of grills are marketed this way.
How many times have you watched late-night TV commercials talking about the latest and greatest grill? You probably have seen too many of them. You probably are under the impression that you just need the latest and greatest backdoor barbecuing equipment and all your grilling issues will go away.
This is too simplistic. You probably don’t need anybody to tell you this, but let’s just lay it down on the table. If you think that your grilling equipment will make up for all sorts of texture and all sorts of heat distribution issues, you’re only setting yourself up for disappointment.
You have to understand that excellent grilled food doesn’t just need the right grill. You also need the right heat. Now, you may be thinking that if you use a charcoal grill, then the heat is necessarily going to be there. Not quite. You have to pay attention to the type of charcoal you’re using.
Just like you can grill using pretty much any kind of contraption, even discarded metal drums, you still have to set it up properly. You still have to use the right charcoal and heat sources to make it live up to its fullest potential.
You cannot neglect the value of charcoal. Thinking that if you’ve seen one charcoal package, you’ve pretty much seen them all is a one-way trip to grilling and barbecuing mediocrity. You don’t need to go there. You don’t have to go down that route.
You have to pay attention to each element that you put on your grill. You have to understand that it’s like a symphony. It’s like a concert. Every single piece has to play its role correctly, otherwise, the barbecue or the backyard grill experience doesn’t quite live up to its fullest potential.
Sure, you can still grill up some great food, but you’re leaving a lot to be desired. You’re leaving barbecuing excellence by the wayside. You’re just settling for something that’s middle-of-the-road.
You probably did not buy your grill just to be mediocre. You want to prepare the best food for your family. This is where charcoal comes in. Believe it or not, charcoal plays a big role when it comes to grilling excellence.
Why is charcoal such a big deal? Well, first of all, it ensures proper heat distribution. You have to remember that if you’re using a grill for charcoal, you’re just buying a chamber. That’s all you’re doing. You’re buying something that not only holds the charcoal physically but distributes the heat to some extent.
But there is a limit to its heat distribution capabilities. The charcoal must still be the right type of charcoal and it must be laid out properly so the heat is distributed optimally.
This is not a slam-dunk. This is not something that you can get just by ripping open a package and laying out the charcoal. It is not that easy. It doesn’t work out that way. You have to invest in the right product and you have to work with the product the right way so you can get the results that you bargained for.
Also, charcoal plays a big role in texture. Make no mistake about it, if you just want your barbecue to be heated properly, there are so many ways you can do that. You don’t need charcoal for that. But if you want the right texture where the meat resists your teeth up to a certain extent and there’s a little bit of a crunch, then you need to use charcoal.
Also, even if you’re using unscented charcoal or processed charcoal, there’s still a scent. There’s still a vague aroma that you get. You know that you’re eating something that was grilled over charcoal compared to grilled over an open gas flame. The scent is a dead giveaway.
Finally, if you’re going to be playing around with wood chips for a smoky flavor, your best bet would be to go with charcoal. There’s just something about the hot glowing embers of charcoal that really releases the full potential of meat.
It doesn’t matter what cut of meat you’re using. You may be cooking pork, chicken, beef or even mutton, it doesn’t matter. Even if you go extra exotic and try to roast yourself up some leg of goat, the smoky appeal, as well as the texture, the scent and the optimal heat distribution of charcoal, can really take the meat to a much higher level.
What Kind of Charcoal is Best for Grilling?
The problem with the phrase “the best” is that it is contextual. The best for grilling Tilapia, for example, is very different from grilling mutton or beef. But still, there are certain objective standards that you need to pay attention to.
First of all, the charcoal that’s best is quick starting. You know you have a problem on your hands if you’re using charcoal that takes forever to get going. Second, the charcoal must burn long enough. You’re wasting a lot of money if you’re buying charcoal that is hot only for 15 minutes. If you’re preparing a big meal, 15 minutes is not enough. Not by a long shot.
Finally, pay attention to the smell of the charcoal. It may not smell like much, but it has to have the right scent so when you grill food on top of it, some of that scent makes it to the surface of your food. This can mean the difference between total barbecue excellence and barbecuing mediocrity.
What is the Best Charcoal Grilling Temperature?
There’s really no right or wrong answer to this. It really all depends on what you’re grilling. The right grilling temperature for vegetables is going to be different from grilling squid, which is going to be very different from grilling goat meat.
It depends on what you’re grilling. It depends on the texture or succulence you are looking for. It also depends on your grilling technique. Different people grill differently. Some people use the sides, other people will grill right in the center.
You also need to pay attention to whether you’re going to burn through the charcoal or you’re going to cut off the oxygen intake of your charcoal so you can reuse the remainder. Temperature plays a big role in determining your ability to do this.
What are the Best Charcoal Grilling Techniques?
The best charcoal grilling technique is to use embers. This ensures an even heat that lasts a long time. Other people prefer fresh coals. They especially like the flame of the fresh coals. This is great for food that cooks fairly quickly. Fish is the first ingredient that comes to mind.
Other people like coals with wood shavings. It should be fairly obvious why they’re doing this. They’re adding wood shavings not because they have nothing else better to do, but because they know that certain types of wood, like Hickory, have this amazing taste.
It may be faint, it may be very subtle, or it may be very blunt. Whatever the case may be, coals with wood shavings is definitely a big draw when it comes to grilling techniques.
Is Lump Charcoal Better Than Briquettes?
There’s a big debate as to whether lump charcoal is better than briquettes because a lot of people are thinking that briquettes are automatically synthetic and some lump charcoal is better. Well, it really all depends on what you need. If you’re looking for a woody effect, then wood briquettes may be the way to go. If you're looking for food that has a lot more personality, then wood briquettes might be worth a look.
How Do You Use Charcoal Briquettes?
Here’s a quick guide to using charcoal briquettes the right way.
It’s too tempting to just pile them all up at once, apply lighting fluid on them, and light away. Well, it would be nice if it was that easy. You have to pile them up in the right way. You can't pile them up where there’s no oxygen going through the pile.
There has to be enough open space in the pile to ensure that when you put the lighting fluid, it ignites and pulls in oxygen, not just from the top, but from the middle. This is the secret to lighting charcoal briquettes quickly, easily and effectively the first time around.
Finally, you need to wait for the embers or flames to die out before you put the grill on top of the chamber. This way, you would be cooking your food evenly instead of ending up with a half-cooked mess. A lot of barbecue artists find this out in the worst way possible.
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