How Long To Let Charcoal Burn Before Cooking

How Long To Let Charcoal Burn Before Cooking

Do you enjoy meals prepared using a charcoal grill? With summer on the way, many of us would be encouraged to try outdoor cooking or grilling. While cooking with gas is easy and common, there’s this unique and special taste from meals prepared using charcoal. Burgers, chicken, sausages, or fish come with this smoky juicy taste when cooked with charcoals grills.

How long to let Charcoal burn before cooking? Let the coals or charcoal burn until it turns to white or gray ash. It should take about 10 to 15 minutes for the coals to start heating up and then about 25 to 30 minutes max for a balanced heat up. When all coals uniformly turn white-gray ash and the heat isn’t smoking, the cooking process can begin properly.

It is highly recommended to use a charcoal grill when cooking with coal or charcoal, it is safe and reduces the risk of heat exposure as it is not healthy for you.

Charcoal grills are easy to use and most recommended for outdoor cooking or grilling, therefore this article explains the use of charcoal grills, how long one should let the coals in them burn, and what the Do and Don’t’s when cooking with charcoal grills.

How Long to Let Charcoal Burn Before Cooking?

Charcoal cooking is one of the most primitive mediums used in cooking, it is easily one of the most authentic styles of cooking that has been passed from generation to generation.

Charcoal cooking has been used to celebrate outdoor cooking and a sense of uniting people together. Its filling taste and its smoky pleasurable aroma,  complemented with wines and people, make for a good way to celebrate summer.

Charcoal is naturally made from hardwood, although there are also compounds of compressed coals, hardwood char, or starch called “briquettes” which are used as fuel for charcoal grills. Some chefs prefer briquettes because of the several components found in them whilst some prefer the natural hardwood.

When cooking, two components are considered “Flavor and Aroma”, although cooking with gas has its effect on both components, there is an elevated difference when cooking with charcoal that heightens the aroma, flavors, and earthy pleasure of the meal.

Cooking with gas is convenient and quick, but provides less flavorful food compared to the strong taste and aroma, cooking with charcoal provides.

How to Light A Charcoal Grill

Cooking using charcoal can result in making many flavorful dishes, these meals include; Smoky Burgers, Grilled steaks, Tacos, Grilled Sandwiches, Grilled Chicken Breasts, Griller Chicken shawarma, Mashed Potatoes with Steaks, Salmon and Chips, Grilled Whole Fish and Fries, and many more.

Thus, the article explains how best to cook using charcoals that would result in making these nice dishes.

  • Prepare your grill; Clean up the grill by emptying any remaining ash from the grill and proceed to clean the grates. Pre-heat the grates to prevent food from sticking to them. Then light your charcoal and add oil into the grates.
  • To light the charcoal; It is advisable to use a charcoal chimney to reduce exposure and guide the fire properly. Therefore, place your charcoal chimney into the grill, add your portioned charcoal, light up some newspapers, then use them to ignite the charcoal flames.
  • Create two cook zones: Carefully move the heated charcoal to one side of the grill, leaving a portion empty. For high heat cooking, use the side with heated coals, whilst for low heat, cooking uses the side without charcoal.

How Long Do You Let Charcoal Burn Before Cooking?

How Long To Let Charcoal Burn Before Cooking?
Source: Insider

The grill must be hot before any food is added. So, it is important to light the grill properly, following the steps highlighted above, use it as a guide to heat your grill, then cover it with the lid and let the charcoal heat up for at least 15 minutes.

When it turns gray and ashy, that’s when it is ready to be used for cooking.

Before placing any fresh produce on the grill, allow it to be heated to an even temperature. When the charcoal turns white, it is hot on the outside. Always remember to oil the grill and wear your kitchen gloves during the cooking process.

The Do’s and Don’t’s when Using Charcoal Grills

For a better result allow the coal to keep burning until most of the coal has turned white and there’s no smoke coming from the coal. Here are a couple of tips to guide you.

1. Clean Before Usage

Ensure to always clean your charcoal grills before usage, whether a private or public charcoal grill, you need to preheat the grill and give it a good clean using a wire brush. This is to remove previous debris, stains, and remaining ash to avoid food sticking to the pan or tasting stale.

2. Heat At Even Temperature

Always ensure the charcoals are heated properly at an even temperature, adding food to the grill when it’s not properly heated would prevent a satisfactory result, this ensures you close the lid and allow it to heat until most coals are ashy and there’s no more smoke.

3. Choose The Right Temp Setting

You need to consider the type of meal best cooked with high heat or on medium heat.

Cooking a meal with the right type of heat compliments the good and brings out the flavorful taste and aroma. Cooking on the wrong heat leads to overcooking, burnt food, and flavorless meals.

Meals for High HeatMeals for Low/Medium Heat
SteaksWhole Chicken
BurgersPork Chops
Vegetables (Corn)Fish
OnionsSausages, Hot dogs, and Eggplants
Chicken breastRibs

3. Use And Control The Vents

Using and Controlling the vents of the charcoal grill is important. The vents are located on the hood and on the bottom of the grill to control airflow and even the temperature of the grills. Keep the vents open when preheating/lightening the grill or when you want to raise the heat. Lower the vents when the heat is too much.

4. Closing The Lid

Try to reduce lifting the lid of the charcoal grill, the lid helps to control and even the fire temperature. Asides from flipping the food and checking on its progress, try closing the lips to enclose all moisture and keep the aroma and heat flow.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do you leave the lid open or closed when heating charcoal?

The lid of the charcoal grill should be closed during cooking to lock in the aroma, flavor, and heat into the food. It should only be opened to flip the meal or check on the progress of the food and closed back afterward.

How long can you burn charcoal?

Charcoal can be burned for about 20 to 30 minutes max, to allow both the inside and outside the coal to heat properly. When the coal has turned ashy, and it no longer produces smoke, then you are ready to use it to cook.

How long should charcoal burn before cooking?

Charcoal should be burned till it turns ashy or white. Light your grill and allow heating for the first 10 to 15 minutes of burning, the color starts to change, and in the last 10 to 15 minutes, the coals are ashy, and the temperature is even. It takes about 20 to 30 minutes in total to heat up.

How long should charcoal burn before smoking?

Charcoal needs to turn white or ashy before use. The coals need to be of even temperature and be burning appropriately. Once the coals are heated for about 30 minutes max, it is ready to be used for smoking your favorite dishes.


Using Charcoal to cook your favorite dishes, has a way of making your meal taste pleasurably nice with a flavorful aroma to go with it. Charcoal cooking is as old as mankind and has been used for generations.

When cooking with charcoal always take precautions and prevent accidents because you are dealing with fire and heat. Always ensure your coals burn properly until it is ashy and of even temperature and heat.

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