Figuring out how much charcoal to use in a grill is one of the first steps to becoming a grill master! Luckily the process for figuring out how much you need is pretty easy!
Just because we have to start someplace I am going to make two assumptions:
- You are cooking on a 22 inch Weber charcoal grill
- You are using Kingsford briquettes
The 22 inch kettle and Kingsford charcoal are the most popular grills and charcoal brands out there. If you are using something different then use this information as a guide and adjust accordingly.
The Basics of Grilling with Charcoal
The two factors we want to influence are:
- How hot do we want the grill to be?
- How long do we want the grill to be hot?
The temperature of your grill will be determined by how much charcoal you use and how much air is available to the charcoal. In general, more fuel and more air creates a hotter grill.
How long the charcoal burns at the temperature you want will depend upon how the charcoal is arranged and lit.
Let’s look at some specific examples:
Hot and Fast Grilling for a Crowd (4.5 lbs)
This example is the biggest user of fuel and will consume about 4.5 pounds of charcoal.
Let’s say you want to grill up a platter of hamburgers and a few chicken drumsticks. This is a case where you are going to want some high heat for about an hour.
I am figuring an hour because you might be doing the burgers in batches or maybe you want to cook the chicken separate from the burgers.
In this case I would fill a Weber charcoal chimney completely full of charcoal. This will take about 90 briquettes of Kingsford Blue which is about 4.5 pounds worth of fuel.
Use the chimney to light the charcoal and, once the coals are ashed over, spread them evenly across the charcoal grate. Keep the bottom and top air vents completely open.
Hot and Fast Grilling for a Few (2.5 lbs)
Let’s say that you just want to cook up a couple of ribeye steaks and some grilled asparagus for you and your sweetheart.
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You are going to want to have high heat for a short amount of time.
In this case I would fill the chimney halfway full with about 45 briquettes of Kingsford Blue.
Use the chimney to light the charcoal and, once the coals are ashed over, dump them into a pile in the center of charcoal grate. Keep the bottom and top air vents completely open.
The charcoal is going to burn hot for longer than you really need but will be hot enough in the time you use it for some serious searing action.
Low and Slow Grilling/Smoking (1.5 lbs + More as Needed)
Not everything benefits from Hot and Fast grilling and there are times when Low and Slow is the better option.
Think about things like Country Style Ribs or maybe a stuffed pork chop.
In these cases I like to use around 30 briquettes, about 1.5 pounds worth, and bank them on the left side of the grill. I like to light one side of the charcoal bed with either a paraffin wax cube or even a propane torch. Let the fire slowly burn across the charcoal bed while your meat cooks on the opposite side of the grill.
If the fire gets low before the food is finished you can always add 5-10 more unlit briquettes on top of the lit charcoal to extend the cooking session.