Starting Charcoal

The main reason people use gas grills is: Convenience. They can walk out to the patio, turn a knob, push a red button, and the grill is started. But what if a gas grill and a charcoal grill were equally convenient? Would people keep using their gas grills? NO! They don’t get as hot, they don’t taste as good, they’re more expensive.


So we at BBQ Dragon want to convince you that not only is starting a charcoal fire easy – it’s FUN! Kids have been playing with fire and burning the Dickens out of themselves since the beginning of Time. And why? Because they like getting burned? No. Kids like being teased, and they like being tricked, but they don’t like getting burned. They play with fire because fire is super fun and cool. It’s only frustrating when you can’t make it work. Cars are fun, right? But not when they don’t start. Jam tastes great, right? But not when you can’t open the jar.


So, yeah, we get it, if you’ve struggled trying to start charcoal a few times, you start saying, The Hell with it, I’m going with gas. And then you spend the rest of your life trying to defend gas grills, and buying more and more expensive gas grills to compensate, while your neighbor keeps churning out delicious steaks on his Weber, and is surrounded by crowds of beautiful girls in flannel shirts begging to taste his smoked ribs, done in a $35 bullet smoker.


BBQ Dragon can help you start charcoal fires in LESS TIME THAN IT TAKES YOUR GAS GRILL TO HEAT UP.


So, please check out our guide to starting charcoal fires. There are more ways to start your charcoal fire in there than you can shake a stick at, but we’re not going to repeat them here because we don’t want to clog up the Internet. Let’s move right on to some more general tips.


The key to good grilling is use a multi-zone fire, also known as a BBQ Dragon fire, because, like a Dragon, they’re hot on one side, and cooler on the other. That means basically that after your briquettes are ready, you scrape them out to one side of the grill, leaving a cool side. Some people scrape them around to the edges of the grill, leaving a cooler interior. This latter method usually only works on very large charcoal grills, and BBQ Dragon doesn’t like it because: a. the cool center usually isn’t cool enough, and b: the circle of coals isn’t hot enough and burns out too quickly. We prefer scraping our charcoal to one side of the grill. It’s especially nice when you have a round kettle grill and you can rotate the grate itself – moving your food from the hot area of the grill to the cool side without having to pick it up. (Really important with burgers, which tend to start breaking apart when over-flipped).


The number of charcoal briquettes you use will depend on the size of your gill, the amount of food you will be cooking, weather conditions and cooking time.


As a general rule of thumb, plan on using about 30 briquettes to cook 1 pound of meat. A standard five-pound bag contains 75 to 90 briquettes. Better to have more briquettes than you need, especially when starting the fire, because it’s hard to get a pile of a dozen briquettes going. Natural, or lump, charcoal, will pour out in a range of sizes, from dust to grapefruit sized pieces, but the starting and cooking techniques are the same – the only issues you’ll find are that the big pieces won’t be fully lit by the time the smaller ones are burning out. Add more. Don’t worry about having to add more charcoal in the middle of your cooking process, however. As long as your original fire is still strong enough to ignite them, they won’t impart any weird taste to your food; that’s the reason we use charcoal: it’s already been burned down to just carbon, so it doesn’t have the various flavors, oils, etc, that wood has. If you add wood to a fire that’s cooking food, you will change the taste. But that’s not always a bad thing.

After the coals have begun to burn and ash starts to form, you will need to arrange them with long handled tongs into a relatively flat layer for grilling, or a more piled-up effect for the two-zone, BBQ Dragon fire.


When cooking over a two-zone fire, you have a direct heat side, and an indirect heat side. You’ll use the indirect heat side to slow-cook roasts and veggies and other items that can’t handle the fast flipping, fast-searing direct heat method – and also as a place to put food that has been causing flare-ups, fires started by dripping fats that will quickly burn your foods.


Chicken thighs are a good example of a food that is good for the indirect heat side of your grill, because they are so fatty that they’re a nightmare to cook directly over coals because of the flame-ups.






Another thing to consider when building a fire is using hardwood. Using slow burning wood chips will add a smoky flavor to your food. If you are going to add wood chips to your fire then you will want to have a place to do that. For a gas grill you can use a firebox or wrap the moistened wood chips in foil. For a charcoal fire you will just need to leave a small area of the coal grate with just a coals. This makes a good place to put wood chips and they will smoke but not burn away quickly.

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