If you are new to grilling and smoking, you may be wondering how much charcoal to use for your cooking.
It is essential to find the ideal balance of how much charcoal to use to ensure that the cooker achieves and maintains the temperature you want and that you are not wasting fuel by using too much.
So, how much charcoal should you use?
This question does not have a single correct response. Depending on the sort of cooker you have and what you are cooking, you need use a certain amount of charcoal.
Therefore, there is no easy solution for consistently putting the proper quantity of charcoal to the grill. The right quantity and ratio can be determined in a few different methods, though.
First of all, a very useful grilling accessory to have is a charcoal chimney like the top-rated Weber Rapidfire Chimney Starter. It is not only useful for lighting up the coal but can be used as a measurement unit for the charcoal you are adding.
With a chimney starter like this, you can measure and then light up the charcoal without lighter fluid, so that you can start grilling in less than 15 minutes.
How much charcoal should you use when you are grilling food?
Use the chimney to measure the charcoal you will need for the hot zone on your grill. The Kingsford charcoal briquette company recommends measuring the charcoal according to the meat and the desired temperature as follows:
- For tender and delicate meat such as white fish, ¼ of the chimney of charcoal
- For sausages and burgers, use ½ to ¾ of the chimney if you want medium heat
- For fast and hot grilling or searing meat, use ¾ or a full charcoal chimney
Keep in mind that these are rough estimations and that you will need to experiment and tweak the quantities depending on your grill and for the food you are planning on cooking.
Setting up the charcoal using the 2-zone method
The 2-zone cooking method is among the best setups for a charcoal grill.
It allows for full control over the whole cooking space and also for more precise temperature adjustment. The 2-zone cooking setup allows for will let you grill with both direct and indirect heat and is a fuel-saving charcoal setup as well.
Setting up the charcoal for the 2-zone method is easy and quick.
The charcoal only has to be piled up on one side of the grill. The hot zone will be here. You may use indirect heat to cook on the side without the charcoal since it will be cold.
It is a great setup to use if you are planning on making food that requires a good sear on the outside but slower cooking at lower temperatures for a juicier and tender inside, like a Tomahawk steak.
You can use the 2-zone cooking setup when you are grilling different foods, including some that need a quick sear at high temperatures and direct heat and others that need slower cooking with indirect heat.
By setting up your charcoal grill like this, you can cook most of the food in the cool zone and then end with searing the meat in the hot zone. This is known as the reverse sear method.
How much charcoal should you use for smoking?
Smoking is different from grilling, so the charcoal setup is quite different than when using a grill.
The two main smoking methods include:
Low and slow cooking is done at a temperature in the range of 225 to 250 degrees Fahrenheit
Hot and fast cooking is done at temperatures over 325 degrees Fahrenheit and is usually used for smoking poultry.
The low and slow smoking charcoal quantity
The exact amount of charcoal you should use when cooking meat low and slow depends on your charcoal smoker type, as well as how you will be setting it up.
The Minion method is among the greatest setups for low and slow smoking for overnight or long cooks of 6 to 18 hours.
It consists of filling the charcoal ring with briquettes, making a small well in the center, and lighting up some starter coals, and placing them in the well. Then the temperature is adjusted via the top and bottom air vents of the smoker.
The Minion Method helps keep the temperature steady and right for low and slow cooking and doesn’t require any refills of briquettes or coals during the cooking.
Another popular setup for kettle-style grills is the charcoal snake method.
It consists of setting up two semi-circles made of briquettes inside the smoker and creating a line made of charcoal which is two briquettes deep and two briquettes wide.
Wood chunks are placed on top of the charcoal, and one side of the “snake” is lit up. This is another excellent charcoal setup for maintaining steady temperatures for low and slow smoking.
The hot and fast charcoal quantity
These cooks are done at high temperatures of 275 to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. The meat cooks fast while gaining some of that wonderful smoky flavor.
You need to add a full chimney of hot coals into the smoker in order to achieve the required high temperatures. Then it would be best if you further regulated the heat and smoke with the air vents of the smoker.
Hot and fast smoking can leave you with some half-burnt coals, but the good news is that you can reuse them for your next smoking session.
What about the type of charcoal which should be used?
If you choose lump wood charcoal, keep in mind that it does not burn as consistently as the briquettes, but at the same time does not give the smoked food that off-flavor, which some pitmasters claim to taste when smoking with briquettes.
Briquettes do contain some additives, which can help them burn more consistently but can also affect the flavor of the food.
Our recommended charcoal briquettes are Kingsford Original Charcoal Briquettes
Our top pick for lump wood charcoal is Royal Oak Natural Lump Charcoal.
Every pitmaster has their own grilling and smoking setup and their own estimate for the optimal amount of charcoal needed for each cooking session.
If you are completely new to grilling and smoking with charcoal, then follow the simple tips we have provided, including using a charcoal chimney as a measurement vessel and the guidelines for approximate quantities of charcoal depending on the type of cooker used and on the food which will be cooked.
Over time, you will find that perfect ratio for the best cooking results with minimal waste of fuel every time.
Related: How to Put Out a Charcoal Grill | 5 Easy Steps (BBQ Tip)