How to Cook on a Small Charcoal Grill

sausages sizzle on a small charcoal BBQ grill.
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A small charcoal grill is often sensible for small families and traveling. Cooking burgers and steaks over direct heat works just as well as on a larger grill. Cooking over indirect heat on a small grill is more of a challenge, but a little practice and a few tips will have you grilling like a pro.

Heating the Grill

Step 1

Place the grill outdoors on a level surface away from overhanging trees, roofs or other structures. Open the bottom vent.

Step 2

Remove the lid and grilling rack from the grill. Pile charcoal briquets in a pyramid in the center of the grill. You will need approximately 30 briquettes for every pound of meat you intend to cook. You will need more charcoal on cold, wet or windy days.

Step 3

Sprinkle approximately 2 ounces of lighter fluid onto the charcoal, making sure each briquette gets coated. Carefully light the charcoal with a match. Keep the lid off until the coals are hot and you are ready to cook.

Step 4

Heat the coals for 20 to 25 minutes. By this time, the charcoal should be covered with a layer of white ash.

Step 5

Spread the charcoal out, covering the bottom of the grill for direct grilling or bank them to the side for indirect heat. Use the long-handled tongs to move the coals.

Step 6

Coat the grill rack with vegetable oil to prevent sticking; use a saturated paper towel or a brush. Wearing mitts, place the grilling surface back on the grill. Allow the grill surface to heat up before placing food on the grill.

Grilling with Direct Heat

Step 1

Use the grill vents to control the temperature of the grill. Open the vents all the way for a hot fire or close them partially to lower the heat.

Step 2

Place the food in the center portion of the grill for greatest heat or move it to the sides if the grill is too hot. Allow the food to brown on one side before turning it. Turning the food too often prevents a nice crust from building and may cause the food to fall apart.

Step 3

Keep a spray bottle of water handy for flare-ups. Most flare-ups die out quickly and don't need attention, but spray any large or sustained fires that start. Flare-ups quickly char and leave undesirable flavors behind.

Grilling over Indirect Heat

Step 1

Use indirect heat for grilling larger cuts of meat such as whole chickens, turkeys and roasts that require longer cooking, for fatty meats such as duck or for foods like fish fillets that need lower heat.

Step 2

Grilling over indirect heat is more difficult on a small grill because the charcoal is still close to the cooking surface. Move the charcoal to either side of the grill, leaving the center free of coals. Place a drip pan between the coals, if desired, to catch drippings. For foods require long cooking times, add a thin layer of water to the drip pan.

Step 3

Place the meat in the center of the grill. Close the lid and keep it closed, lifting it only to baste the meat, check for doneness or add coals.

Step 4

Add additional charcoal when long cooking times are needed. You will need additional charcoal for each additional hour of cooking time. Place 16 to 18 additional briquettes around the outside of the hot charcoal and allow them 20 minutes to heat up before they are needed.

Cleaning the Grill

Step 1

Close the vents and the lid when cooking is finished and allow the grill to cool for 48 hours before dumping the coals. If you must dispose of hot coals, transfer them individually with long tongs. Bury them in a bucket of sand or water.

Step 2

Clean the grill surface with a wire brush, scrubbing to remove any burned on food.

Step 3

Dump the cold ashes and sweep out the bottom of the grill with a hand broom or stiff brush.

Things You'll Need

  • Small grill

  • Charcoal

  • Lighter fluid

  • Long-handled tongs

  • Grill mitts

  • Spray bottle of water

  • Vegetable oil

  • Aluminum drip pan, optional

  • Wire grill brush

  • Hand broom or stiff brush


Never add lighter fluid to hot coals, the flame could flare up and burn you.