How to Set up a Charcoal Barbecue

Updated February 21, 2017

Nothing beats the taste of your favourite cut of steak grilled to perfection over a charcoal grill. But while a charcoal grill can bring out the best in almost any meat, poor grilling techniques can do quite the opposite. Knowing how to properly set up your charcoal grill is the first step to impressing your friends and family with your grilling expertise.

Move the grill outside. Because burning coals give off carbon monoxide, never use a charcoal grill in an enclosed area.

Wad up several sheets of newspaper and place them under the grate that supports the coals. Skip this step if you plan to use lighter fluid. However, experienced grillers often prefer to start the fire using newspaper because lighter fluid can affect the taste of the meat.

Cover the bottom grate with a single layer of charcoal. If you plan to only cook on one section of the grill, add enough coals to cover an area that extends 2 inches beyond the area you will use to cook the food.

Mound the coals into a pile. If you wish to add lighter fluid, add it now. Avoid using more lighter fluid than you need to get the coals burning.

Open the bottom vent. Using a long match, light the newspaper through the opening in the bottom of the grill. If you chose to use lighter fluid instead of newspaper, simply light the coals with a long match.

Allow the coals to burn until the flame dies. While the time will vary depending on the number of coals, it usually takes about 10 minutes. Once the fire dies out, use tongs to spread the coals into a single layer across the grate.

Put the lid on the grill and open the top vent. Wait another 20 to 30 minutes.

Remove the lid and check the coals. By this point, most of the coals should be glowing and covered with a layer of white ash. Use the tongs to separate any coals that are still burning.

Grill your choice of meat according to the cooking instructions. The grill will remain the proper temperature for about one hour.


For indirect grilling, light the coals in a chimney starter and mound them on opposite sides of the grill, with a foil drip "pan" in the middle. Cook the meat in the centre of the grill, over the dripping pan. To smoke meat, prepare the grill as described above and add one or two logs of your favourite hardwood. If your grill has a smoker box, fill the box with wood chips instead.

Things You'll Need

  • Sheets of newspaper
  • Lighter fluid
  • Charcoal briquettes
  • Grill lighter or long matches
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About the Author

Tiffany Bennett is a recent graduate from Toccoa Falls College. While earning her degree in counseling and psychology, she discovered that she enjoys various forms of writing. She is currently living in Athens, Ga., and looking forward to beginning a graduate degree program in international affairs at the University of Georgia.