Skip to Content

How Much Charcoal To Use on Your Bbq

How Much Charcoal To Use on Your Bbq

Determining how much charcoal to use when you are grilling or smoking different foods can be difficult. After all, maintaining a stable cooking temperature is necessary.

For this reason, using the perfect amount of charcoal is essential to the cooking process. It will save you money and get the best out of your pellet smoker or offset grill.

Charcoal Grilling 101

When it comes to knowing how much charcoal is the right amount to use, you must consider 2 factors.

What temperature do you need the grill to be, and how long will you be cooking on the grill?

Your grill’s temperature will be determined by the amount of charcoal you use and the amount of oxygen that the charcoal is exposed to.

Essentially the more charcoal you use, the hotter your grill will be.

In addition to this, the amount of time the charcoal burns at a specific temperature depends on how it is stacked and what was used to light it.

If you want to know how to light the charcoal, check out our detailed post.

For example, if you are using lighter fluid, you must use a different ratio of charcoal than if you were using a chimney starter.

If you are in search of a chimney starter, check out our in-depth review of the best charcoal chimney starters.

Similar to how the coals are layered affects charcoal, so does time.

Case in point, 15 briquettes will burn your BBQ shrimp if you cook them for 20 minutes after they have been lit. In contrast, the briquettes will not cook your shrimp if they were added 50 minutes after they were lit.

Type of Charcoal

To understand how much charcoal to use, you must also consider the type of charcoal.

Essentially, there are two kinds of charcoal: briquettes and natural lump wood charcoal.

If you are a fan of charcoal briquettes, check out our in-depth review of the 7 best charcoal briquettes.

Charcoal briquettes and lump charcoal burn differently, ultimately affecting how much charcoal you will need for your BBQ session.

Lump charcoal is formed organically and resembles the shape of the wood used to create them.

On the other hand, briquettes consist of sawdust, leftover wood, and binders, then pressed into a uniform shape.

Lump charcoal can burn up to temperatures of 1400°F in a relatively short amount of time.

In contrast, briquettes can burn at a slower pace and climaxes at temperatures of 1000°F.

Nevertheless, these temperatures are not reflected on the grills cooking grate. These temperatures only pertain to the charcoal’s surface area.

Nonetheless, lump charcoal will give you a faster, hotter burn. However, briquettes burn longer.

On the one hand, your grill will require less lump charcoal to achieve high temperatures.

On the other hand, if you use briquettes, you will need more briquettes to achieve a high temperature.

Charcoal briquettes firing up for the grill

How Much Charcoal To Use

In short, the amount of charcoal you need depends on how much you add to the charcoal chimney.

If you fill your chimney halfway, it will generate less heat than if it were filled to the brim.

For example, if you are cooking white fish or BBQ salmon that requires low heat, fill the chimney starter a quarter if the way full.

If you need a moderate-medium about of heat to grill BBQ burgers or hot dogs, fill your chimney starter halfway full.

If you are cooking Denver steaks at medium-high heat, fill your chimney starter 3 quarters of the way full.

If you are using high heat, fill your chimney starter all the way up.

Furthermore, we must also address how the coal is layered. If you add a half-full chimney starter of charcoal to your grill, leave it in one area.

Do not disturb it. This will give you a direct heat grilling zone.

If you spread the coal into an even layer, the temperature will drop because the coals are in an even layer. It is best to set up indirect and direct grilling zones.

Simply place the lit charcoal on the left side of the grill.

Once the coals appear ashy white, spread them into a layer on the grill’s left side while leaving the grill’s right side bare.

How Much Charcoal Do I Need for a Small Bbq?

The amount of charcoal you need for a small BBQ depends on a few factors. However, the accepted ratio is 1:1 for briquette charcoal and 1:1.5 for hardwood lump. For example, for every pound of brisket, you would use 1.5 pounds of hardwood lump charcoal or just 1 pound of briquettes.

When Should I Add Charcoal to My Grill?

You should add charcoal to your grill; before you begin cooking. Allow the grill to come up to temperature before you add your BBQ ribs or BBQ chicken.

Remember to light the charcoal before you add it to the grill to maintain a stable temperature while your food cooks.

If you run out of charcoal mid-cook, you can add more charcoal to your grill.

How To Know When Charcoal Is Ready

Interestingly enough, you can use your hand to estimate how hot your kamado grill is.

Simply measure how many seconds you can hold your hand over the lit coals.

Hold your hand 1-1 1/2 inches over the grill cooking grates, then count how many seconds go by as you are holding your hand over the coals before it becomes too hot to handle.

5-6 seconds equals low heat, while 4-5 seconds equals medium heat, 3-4 seconds equals medium-high heat, and 2-3 seconds equals high heat.

If you cannot keep your hand over the coals for a second, the grill is too hot.

Nevertheless, the accepted standard is to let charcoal burn until they are ashed over, which takes approximately 5-10 minutes for high heat.

You can usually achieve a medium-high cooking temperature in 25-30 minutes.

Final Thoughts

Determining how much charcoal to use in your natural gas grill is your first step to becoming a BBQ veteran.

Luckily you have figured out how much charcoal you need and are moving on up in the BBQ world!