How to BBQ right, the complete guide

You may have seen a vast range of different grilling methods, ways to arrange the charcoal, and different lighting techniques, and when you’re completely new to grilling this can all be a little overwhelming.

This section of how to BBQ right will provide you with all the vital information to get you to the pitmaster level in no time.

How to BBQ right

A few things spring to mind when learning how to BBQ right, season your BBQ first, learn to control the temperatures, and then maintain your grill.

BBQ is all about experimenting but if you don’t understand how your grill operates then smoking a brisket may not be a good first choice if you’ve never used a charcoal BBQ before.

Learn how to control the temperatures

To control the temperatures of your BBQ most BBQs will have more than one air control damper. The lid of BBQ will have a damper above the food cooking area alongside the base underneath charcoal.

To crank the temperature up in a BBQ you need to get fresh oxygen in so will open both the top and bottom damper to their maximum.

Closing both dampers will in effect ‘turn the BBQ off’.

When Smoking or learning to control the temperatures of a barbecue the best way is to open the bottom damper full, then slowly open the top damper a small amount at a time. The BBQ will take around 10 minutes for the temperature to stabilize at each interval.

It’s not rocket science and won’t take years to get a good grasp on the amount of charcoal vs dampers open equals approx. required cooking temperature. This is one of the most important parts when learning how to BBQ right, if you can’t control your grill you won’t get great results.

How to start a charcoal bbq

The best, easiest and fastest way to start a charcoal BBQ is with a charcoal chimney starter and firelighters.

You can place charcoal and starters straight into the bottom of the BBQ however the charcoal will take a long time to ignite to a point where you can cook with it. Need to know more about this method, here.

How to prepare a BBQ for cooking

The most important part of preparing a charcoal BBQ for grilling is ensuring your BBQ is properly seasoned (not the same as seasoning rubs). This is an essential stage when learning how to BBQ right

How to season a BBQ

  • Apply a thin smear of vegetable oil with a tissue or clean rage to the grill grate.
  • Light a full charcoal chimney starter full of charcoal, once fully lit place on the charcoal grate in BBQ.
  • Closed the lid of the charcoal with the grill grate in place on top of lit charcoal.
  • Open all air control dampers to get the BBQ as hot as possible.
  • The BBQ will smoke quite a lot during the seasoning process.
  • Allow to cool properly before cooking with it again.
  • If needs be repeat the process as many times as you like, not really necessary.

To re-season, an old grill grate, follow the same process however make sure there are no remains of old food on the grate before applying oil.

When is charcoal ready to cook with?

Charcoal is ready to cook when it is fully ignited. The charcoal will have a red glow to it. Parts of the charcoal that aren touching other pieces of lit charcoal will have a grey/red tint to them.

Black smoke will be released during the igniting stage and will turn to colorless smoke, being the best way to describe it when the charcoal is ready. Don’t confuse this black smoke with too much smoke when grilling, see here if you struggle with that.

Do not start cooking any food with unlit charcoal, the chemicals used in the manufacturing stage of charcoal need to be burnt away.

Unless you are setting up your grill for smoking, in which case this is mostly irrelevant as you are only igniting a small amount of charcoal at any one time.

How much charcoal should you use?

This depends on a few things, the length of time your wish to grill for, the amount of food you wish to cook, and the method you are cooking.

If you have a standard family BBQ session then a full charcoal chimney basket will be required. Filling the bottom of the charcoal grate of a BBQ.

If you are just cooking a few chicken burgers or a steak for yourself then a half-full charcoal chimney starter will be enough.

Planning on smoking meat then the requirement will be about 5 briquettes fully lit placed on to unlit charcoal in the grill.

What are the different grilling methods?

There are 2 main methods of grilling direct and indirect. When I’m speaking to people about BBQs and how to BBQ right I always explain to them the different grilling methods. These methods will stop those disappointing burn everything BBQs we’ve all attended.

Exactly as it says on the tin direct is cooking directly above the charcoal.

Indirect is not cooking directly above the charcoal but off to the side of it.

Indirect Grilling
Indirect Grilling BBQ Meatballs
Direct Grilling
Direct Grilling Chicken Thighs

What about smoking methods?

Again there are a few different smoking methods also depending on if you have a dedicated smoker or using a kettle BBQ as a smoker. There are also different wood types to complement smoking methods on a charcoal BBQ available as either wood chunks or wood chips.

What is the snake method?

The snake method is best used on a kettle-style BBQ. You stack unlit briquettes around the inner circumference of the BBQ and place a few lit coals at the head of the snake.

The lit charcoal will ignite unlit charcoal and burn through the ‘snake’. This will last for hours.

Snake method
Snake method with lit charcoal and Oak whiskey barrel chunks.

What is the Minion method?

Named after the inventor of this method Jim Minion. The Minion Method is stacking unlit charcoal in a charcoal basket or a pile and placing a few lit coals on top.

The lit charcoals will burn through the pile of charcoal briquettes for hours.

What food should you cook first?

Honestly once you have the hang of how the BBQ operates I recommend giving some pulled pork a try. Pork is one of the most forgiving meats to smoke you can make so many mistakes with and it will still please a crowd. Have a look at the Texas crutch method to speed the process of smoking.

Grilling steaks directly on the charcoal or dirty steaks as they also known is another great choice for a fairly easy first grill, that is extremely impressive and tastes incredible.

How to maintain a BBQ

Just the usual common sense things apply here, make sure all nuts and bolts are tight, the legs aren’t loose before using, etc.

Essentially the best way to maintain a Charcoal BBQ is to keep it clean. A quick clean after every grilling session will keep your grill in tip-top condition ready for the next time.

The second best way to maintain a BBQ is to store it correctly, ideally under a cover or away from the elements.

Keeping up maintenance on BBQ is no different from maintaining a vehicle, fail to maintain and it won’t last.

What’s the best way to clean the grill?

A few things I always do I always apply a small layer of oil to the grill grate after I have finished cleaning, this is to keep the grate in good condition. This also acts as a re-season for when I light my grill next time.

Always make sure the charcoal catcher is empty and no charcoal remains in the bottom of the grill following a cook.

I invest in some select BBQ chemicals based on the grill I am using at the time.


To summarise when learning how to BBQ right take your time there is no rush and providing you have the patience, BBQing great tasting food will come easy.