Grilling without Killing Yourself

Whether you’re using an outdoor gas grill or a charcoal grill to cook your steaks, chops or chicken it isn’t really “barbecuing”.  It’s grilling.  Grilling is fast cooking at a high temperature.  Barbecuing is usually done in a smoker, but also at low temperatures, slowly, on gas or charcoal grills.  ”Low and slow” is the mantra of true barbequers.  Of course, you can call cooking on gas or charcoal grills whatever you want to call it, snobbish chefs be damned.


I prefer a charcoal grill.  It’s either the cave man or the arsonist in me.  Or both.  It is certainly the cheapskate in me.  Weber makes wonderful grills for under a hundred bucks.  Properly maintained, they will last a lifetime.  They are easy to maintain because they are so simply constructed.  Gas grills always seem to suffer some kind of mechanical malfunction.  The pilot light won’t ignite or will blow out, a valve will develop a leak, or a burner will clog.  Improperly maintained, a gas grill can blow you to Kingdom Come.  My sister has had a Weber gas grill for years and has never experienced any of these problems.  She swears by it.  Still, I opt for their charcoal grills.


Charcoal grills–to me–seem to produce a better flavor in what one is grilling.  The fat on your steak that melts, drips, splats, hisses, flames and smokes back onto the meat will season it with a woodiness which gas grills can’t seem to produce.


I feel that an electric starter is the safest and most efficient way to start a charcoal grill.  It looks like a three-foot branding iron with a plastic handle and a three-foot cord.  They cost about 15 bucks.  You’ll probably need an extension cord for it to reach an electrical outlet.


You can also start your charcoal with what is called a charcoal chimney.  It is a metal canister that’s about two feet high, vented on the bottom, open at the top, with the handle on the side.  I’ve never used one, but they look pretty cool and maybe even safer than the electric starter.  Weber makes on of these too.  If you go to Weber has a tutorial on how to use one of these gizmos, along with a whole slew of other grilling utensils and equipment


Of course, you can use starter fluid if you want your food to taste as if it had been marinated in a petroleum product, although that’s not always the case.  Sometimes, those who use starter fluid will assume that the coals haven’t caught fire properly.  Sometimes they are correct, sometimes not.  Squirting more fluid on the seemingly unlit coals will prove them either right or wrong.  And, too, it might prove how badly a third-degree burn feels.  Barring this mishap–or a one-way ticket to Kingdom Come–whatever you are grilling will have a chemical aftertaste.


Before plugging your electric starter in, make sure that the bottom air vent of the grill is opened and the ash-catcher is empty.  Piling the charcoal in a mound on top of the electric starter is key. This way, the charcoal in the middle of the mound will catch first.  Plug the starter in and it should begin catching—if your charcoal is dry—in about fifteen minutes.  Unplug the starter, pull it out of the now-flaming charcoal and put it somewhere to cool where it won’t start a fire or burn someone…a cinder-block is good.  Don’t plunge it in water to cool it down; that will ruin it (just as plunging it in water when it’s plugged in might ruin you).  It only takes a few minutes to cool down once it has been unplugged


After you’ve pulled the starter out, allow the coals another 10-15 minutes for the outer coals to catch.  When the coals have turned from black to predominantly gray, spread the coals evenly in the bottom of the grill.  Put the grill grate on top of the grill and allow the grate to heat up another 10-15 minutes.  This, too, is key.  Putting cold or even room-temperature meat on a cold grill grate will cause it to stick.
Seemingly, all of this sounds like a lot of work.  Actually, it’s about 2 or 3 minutes of work.  True, a gas grill is the flick of a switch and you’re ready to cook in 10-20 minutes.  I just like the whole process involved with a charcoal grill, and the time in between steps can be spent prepping food, setting up and socializing with friends and family.


On windy days a charcoal grill can be very tricky or next to impossible to use.  In this case, the lid to the grill might come in handy as it would in a sudden downpour.  Still, it isn’t easy to cook in a high wind, nor is it altogether safe.  This is one circumstance in which a gas grill has a definite advantage over a charcoal grill.  Still, on a windy or rainy day it’s probably a good idea to cook indoors.


Whether it’s charcoal or gas grill you choose, you should also check out  It’s an awesome sight.  Happy grilling!



Related Posts


5 Comment(s)

  1. July 11, 2012 at 11:59 pm

    I love my little “Smoky Joe” Weber. It’s about 20 years old, rusted out totally on the bottom and is wedged in between three big lava rocks for support, is on it’s 3rd or 4th grille, and cooks like brand new. I am One with my Weber. Amen…

    • July 12, 2012 at 2:13 am

      I’ve had a few Wagner’s Steaks you cooked on that grill

      • shoutingattherain

        July 12, 2012 at 3:54 am

        Wagner’s was bought out by Albertson’s years ago and within a few months the best steak in town was replaced by Albe’s High Density Feedlot Brand meat products, which in no way come close to Wagner’s quality. In fact I would argue that the quality in beef prods everywhere has gone to hell in service of Big Corp profit margins. But that makes me sound shrill even if it’s correct.

  2. Meg B

    July 15, 2012 at 2:59 am

    don’t know if you’d remember, but my dad swore by his electric starter!

  3. The Messiah Of The Belgrades

    July 15, 2012 at 2:08 pm

    Use lump charcoal to avoid the chemical binder in briquettes. Weber wax starters work great in our big green egg!

Leave a Reply