Charcoal may seem difficult for barbecue beginners, but with the right know-how, it’s a cinch to get those coals burning bright. To learn about the virtues of this traditional method—and foolproof techniques for doing it—we turned to Rod Gray, member of the award-winning Kansas City–based Pellet Envy competition barbecue team and 2010 grand champion of the USA Barbecue Championship.

The Benefits of Using Charcoal:

Flavor: “When you’re cooking over a charcoal fire, the natural woodsmoke flavors complement the food,” says Gray. And while it’s true that you can add wood chips or other flavorings to a gas grill, Gray says it’s no substitute for the real deal.
Affordability: A 22 ½” Weber kettle grill goes for about $90, whereas gas grills start at $200 and range into the high thousands for SUV-size appliances.
Fire flexibility: By arranging charcoal, says Gray, you can create a multi-zone fire for grilling with direct heat (over the flame) and indirect heat (away from the flame). Plus, you can alter airflow using vents. (Opening them creates a hotter fire.)

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