The basics

Charcoal lightingIt is very easy to assume that everyone knows how to light a barbecue and when to cook on it but unfortunately there are far too many people out there who still get it wrong. How many times do you hear someone say “I hate barbecues because nothing is ever cooked right!”

It is all about patience. Plan in advance. DO NOT light the barbecue if you are hungry and need to eat now. Unless you have a gas barbecue it does need time to burn down properly and reach the optimum cooking temperature (a phrase you will see used regularly in the recipes).

Use good quality charcoal. It doesn’t really matter if it is brickets or lumpwood or even real wood if you prefer, if you buy cheap charcoal it will burn down too quickly and you will simply run out of cooking time. And avoid anything that contains anthracite. Anthracite is coal! Your food will taste as though it has been down a coalmine. And one of the reasons your charcoal needs to burn down properly is to make sure there are no traces of lighting fuel left. If you are using real wood – avoid softwood like pine as it contains resins which will taint your food.

Having chosen your choice of charcoal, build it in a pyramid shape (see the image at top left). If you are using lighter blocks,place three or four inside the base of your pyramid and build the coals around them; it’s worth getting your hands dirty at this point. If you are using lighter fluid still build a pyramid shape and let your fluid get into the centre of the coals. Light the blocks or the fluid and let it burn. If you have dCharcoal burningone your preparation properly you will need to do no more. Please do not use anything else such as petrol, methalated spirits etc., Somebody will make a mistake with catastrophic results! If you are camping and have no access to lighter fuels then go to the end of this article to see how to light a wild barbecue.

Now go and pour yourself a drink – the barbecue needs time. When the coals are well alight with no signs of lighter fuel, pop your grill on to heat and to sterilise the cooking surface.

Charcoal readyThe coals are ready to cook when they are covered in white ash and there are no signs of black charcoal – and no large flames! If you are cooking in the evening the coals will be glowing bright red. Spread your coals out with a something safe such as a trowel to cover your cooking area.

What do I do if it flares up?

First of all – don’t panic! If you can it is best to move the food to another part of the barbecue until it cools down. If not carefully pour over some water to damp the flames. Australians and South Africans will tell you this is why you drink beer at a barbecue!

Thats all there is to it. Now sit down and enjoy your beautifully barbecued food!

TOP TIPS! Most people cover the whole barbecue with charcoal. Try creating a safe zone. Put your charcoal at one end of the grilling area, leaving the other end clear. This creates a safe zone to move food that is ready or to move away from flare ups. You can also use it for indirect grilling of larger items or tender things like chicken wings. Simply put your food in the indirect area and close the lid.

CONTROL THE AIRFLOW! Most barbecues have an air vent. Keeping the air vent open raises the temperature of the coals by increasing air flow. Consequently closing the vent lowers the temperature.

Now see: preparing the grill.

What if you don’t have lighter fluid or blocks? The camping barbecue..