Grilling is an incredibly popular and fun way of cooking your meals. While you can cook with gas and other modern grilling methods, there is an undeniable raw beauty to cooking on the classic charcoal grill.
One often overlooked but important aspect to consider when cooking with a charcoal grill is how long the charcoal lump wood or briquettes will last. It may seem minor, but you don’t want a situation where you run out of charcoal with the food only half ready. After all, poor planning is a common rookie grilling mistake that you want to avoid.
In short, if you’re grilling without the lid on, lump charcoal usually takes between 2-3 hours before the charcoal has burned out, and some brands of briquette charcoal can in some cases go on up to around 5 hours. If you’re grilling with the lid on, for example when smoking, there’s less oxygen and the charcoal will burn longer but at a lower temperature.
How Long Does Charcoal Take to Burn Out?
This is an important question, particularly for beginners with limited knowledge and experience grilling over charcoal. Several factors determine how long the charcoal in your grill will stay hot. These factors include the type and amount of charcoal you use, the type and materials of your grill, how well you keep up the fire, and elemental aspects such as outside temperature and wind.
For instance, lump wood charcoal burns hotter and therefore burns faster. This means you’ll have to replace the coals more frequently. On the other hand, charcoal briquettes, while slow to get going, burn slow and will stay hot for longer. All these factors influence the charcoal burn time to varying degrees.
That being said, charcoal can stay hot anywhere from one hour to five hours or more depending on various factors. If unattended, the charcoal in your grill will stay hot for about an hour most of the time before burning out. However, other aspects may determine exactly how long the charcoal will last, like how hot the grill was to begin with. If you were cooking at high heat levels, then your grill will stay hot for longer.
How to Keep the Charcoal Burning Longer
The first step to keeping charcoal hot longer is using the right type of charcoal. When it comes to charcoal grilling, you have two options for fuel- charcoal briquettes or lump wood charcoal. Lump wood charcoal is clean and easy to light. However, it burns hotter and faster compared to charcoal briquettes.
Charcoal briquettes are the grilling workhorse. They are a bit harder to light, but they burn slow, steady, and evenly. Since charcoal briquettes burn slow, they burn longer, making them the ideal option if you want your grill to stay hot longer.
Ensuring the charcoal grill stay hot is also important. Keeping the heat going can be the difference between an arduous or smooth grilling experience. To do so, you need to understand the workings of charcoal.
Before you start cooking over your charcoal grill, there are some steps you have to follow. For starters, you must give the charcoal ample time to reach its optimal temperature after lighting up your grill.
How to Use a Chimney Starter
You have a few options when it comes to lighting charcoal grills. These include using a chimney starter, using a looftlighter or a torch, and the classic coal pyramid and firelighters. Using a chimney starter is the best option in my opinion.
A chimney starter is a simple metallic cylinder with vents at the bottom to promote airflow. They are the most effective and easiest way to light charcoal pieces. This device leverages thermodynamics to heat the charcoal briquettes evenly.
A chimney starter concentrates all the charcoal briquettes in a confined space and utilizes the chimney effect (rising heat pulls up air through the bottom to fan the flames) to enable a fast buildup of intense heat. Another major advantage of using a chimney starter is that you eliminate the need for self-lighting fluid. Below are the steps on how to use a chimney starter to light up your grill:
- Take out the cooking grate from the grill
- Fill the chimney starter with charcoal to the top
- Place the lighter cubes on the charcoal grate and ignite them
- Set the chimney starter on top of the lighter cubes(the fire from the lighter cubes will burn the charcoal pulling the flame upwards)
- The charcoal briquettes should be lit in about 10-15 minutes(depending on weather conditions)
- Pour the ready coals on the charcoal grate and arrange them based on your grilling method.
Also Read: How to Use a Chimney Starter
Keeping the Charcoals Burning
Charcoal gets cold fairly quickly. A good grilling session involves constantly feeding the fire with new charcoal and ensures your grill the necessary temperature. A consistent source of fuel is essential to this goal.
Add new charcoal every now and then. The best way to heat charcoal is in my opinion using a chimney starter. You can also use pieces of paper for some quick heat to reignite the charcoal.
There are several other ways to keep the fire burning hot longer. Stoking the fire is one of them. If you let the charcoal sit, it will burn unevenly (reducing the flame’s intensity), and the fire will burn out easily.
A basic rule of charcoal grilling is regularly moving the charcoal briquettes around. This helps stoke the fire and maintain the heat. You need to stoke the fire every time you add extra charcoal to the grill.
Ensuring proper airflow can also keep the heat going. Many rookie grillers neglect this vital aspect. Oxygen is necessary for the fire to continue burning. Most charcoal grills have vents on the sides that you can open to promote air circulation. Also, constantly moving the briquettes around and stoking the fire help with the airflow.
The amount of charcoal you use also influences the duration your grill will stay hot. If you use a thin layer of charcoal briquettes, it will burn through quickly, plus the heat will be less intense. If you seek a more intense fire that burns longer, arrange your charcoal pieces in a thick multi-layer.
Putting Out Your Charcoal Grill
Once you’re done cooking, it’s time to put out your charcoal grill. Unlike gas grills, there’s no off switch with charcoal grills. You should be careful around your grill once you have finished cooking. Charcoal burns extremely hot and can take up to two days to fully cool down.
We also have more detailed article on how to correctly put out a charcoal grill and the importance of.
There are two ways to go about putting the charcoal out. The first method involves closing the grill lid to smother the flames. Close the ventilation ports on the lid, place it on your grill, allow it to cool for about 48 hours and then dispose of the charcoal and ashes.
The second, faster method involves removing the charcoal briquettes from your grill. Use long tongs and heatproof gloves to take out the briquettes and place them into a bucket of cold water. Never pour water directly onto the grill. Once your grill is completely cool and safe, you can start cleaning.