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Your ultimate charcoal BBQ guide is here

A pork steak cooks on a charcoal BBQ grill with burning red and charcoal in the grill base.

In 1849, French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr wrote “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose “ excuse our French, but it roughly translates to “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” The evolution of the charcoal BBQ reaffirms this dichotomy. Yes sure, the charcoal barbecue has come a long way from its humble Arawak roots. But the principles at the heart of its nature – cooking food over flame – have remained a constant. Today we are going to throw ourselves once more into the BBQ fray, pulling on various charcoal grill threads like an inquisitive kitten. First let’s go back to the very basics to ensure our foundation of charcoal BBQ knowledge is sound.

 

What is Charcoal?

Charcoal is a lightweight black carbon residue produced after wood is burned. In other words, charcoal is the end result of a particular type of combustion process. What kind of process? Well, we heat wood within a super low oxygen environment, removing all water and volatile constituents – leaving behind a carbon dense material.

If you are a Generation Z or Generation Alpha baby, there’s a high probability that you are a touch unfamiliar with the inner workings of the UK charcoal BBQ game.  We don’t blame you. After all, in the instantaneous fix culture there are plenty of other products and gizmos to whet your literal appetite. But good ol’ charcoal has been an integral part of pre-human and human history – so it’s worth familiarising yourself with these black lumps of loveliness.  Charcoal was used to draw the oldest cave paintings we have found, dating back to 30,000 BC. Zooming to 4000 BC, a naturally occurring metal ore fell into a charcoal fire and started oozing liquid metal – enter the bronze age and the iron age. Around 1500 BC Egyptian papyri recorded the use of charcoal to eliminate bad smells from wounds – the first mention of a medical application of charcoal. As you can see, our lives have been intertwined with charcoal for thousands of years stretching way beyond burgers and bangers.

 

White hot charcoal burns in a charcoal BBQ with a red and orange flame

 

There are two main types of charcoal.

 

Lumpwood Charcoal

This is charcoal made the old-fashioned way – burning wood in a low oxygen environment to obtain dense carbon pieces AKA char. The smoky flavour and high heat will surely ignite the caveman or woman within you.

At BIG K we are definitely obsessed with producing and offering the best lumpwood possible. We have scoured the globe to find the best hardwood suppliers. We have spent infinite hours refining our production processes. We have made massive strides towards supplying sustainable lumpwood products. We are not tooting our own metaphorical horn here. Rather we just want to show you our passion for what we do. This explains our fixation on quality and performance.  And the proof is in the pudding: all our lumpwood is 100% natural without any additives, delivering consistent heat outputs for controllable and precise burns. Check out our Professional range and Home range and see for yourself.

 

Charcoal Briquettes

Some might call charcoal briquettes the more sophisticated cousin of lumpwood charcoal – this is due to how the former is made. Briquettes are manufactured using a high-intensity compression technique – man’s hand and influence more prevalent in the process. Char is mixed with binding agents such as starch derived from wheat or corn and moulded under high pressure to make the briquette. We have all kinds of briquettes at Big K. Each briquette has its own characteristics and performance capabilities. For example our premium sustainable Coconut Shell Briquettes are made from waste coconut shell with a 3 hour cooking time! Or why not try our Premium Charcoal Briquettes? You can enjoy high heat, low smoke and consistent burns as standard.

 

Best Types of Charcoal BBQ Grills

Grilling food over charcoal is a beloved tradition from the backyard to the great outdoors and beyond. Charcoal grills come in all shapes and sizes to suit any BBQ need. So it’s worthwhile familiarizing yourself with the different types of charcoal BBQ grills out there, as well as their characteristics and capabilities. Basically the more you know the easier it will be to find the right grill for you. To keep things simple: there are 3 main types of Charcoal BBQ grills.

 

A man holds a Kettle charcoal BBQ full of red hot charcoal briquettes See copy above for insertion point in red

 

Kettle Charcoal Grills

A kettle grill has an iconic spherical shape with a defined bowl to contain the coals. The design is catered towards achieving high heat retention. This is also the smallest, and often the cheapest, of all charcoal BBQ grills. Consider buying this type of grill if you have limited space and cater to smaller and more intimate BBQ gatherings.

 

Barrel Charcoal Grills

Before you ask the question – Yes, you could make a barrel charcoal grill out of a barrel. But it will require some nifty welding work that might not be everyone’s cup of tea. Luckily you can buy them pre-made so no need to get hands on unless you want to. The barrel-shaped design gives this grill a larger cooking surface than most grills, making it suitable for larger groups or grilling different types of food simultaneously. Also with a minor side attachment of a smoker box, you could convert this grill into a BBQ smoker for those delicious low and slow melt in mouth meaty moments. Barrel charcoal grills are usually portable, so you can position them in that perfect spot no hassle.

 

Ceramic Charcoal Grills / Kamado Grills

The Kamado grill has been known as the Big Green Egg for generations now, or at least since the early 1970s. The Egg-shape helps with efficient heat retention and regulation. The key to its successful engineering lies in the material choice. You see, the ceramic outer shell keeps the heat locked inside, making the big green egg heat up the fastest out of all charcoal grills. Don’t be surprised if someone mistakes it for a Game of Thrones Dragon Egg!

 

A charcoal BBQ grill is covered in red embers with glowing briquettes in the grill base.

 

Charcoal Grill Grates.

The Grill grate is the very canvas upon which you paint your BBQ masterpiece. Listen, no masterpiece comes easy, so we at BIG K will fill you in on the finer details to level up your grill tekkers.

 

Steel and Stainless-Steel Grates

Don’t let the shiny steel look fool you, all that glitters is not always real stainless steel. This could be regular steel and tend to be the least expensive of the grill grate options. However, if it’s real stainless steel it will last significantly longer than normal steel and have a smoother surface area so food won’t stick. Also, these grill grates heat up in a jiffy, so you won’t be standing around looking awkward for too long. But the steel / stainless steel grill grates don’t take abuse well, as it’s likely to chip, rust and corrode with time. These grills are ideal for your portable charcoal grill and once in a blue moon griller.

 

Cast iron grates

Cast iron has been used as a cooking surface for multiple generations. One of the main qualities of these grill grates is that they can last for a lifetime – with a little TLC of course. The durability stems form the iron itself. The cast iron pores of the grill grate absorb oil and fats from the food you cook, giving it non-stick qualities over time. Did we also mention the amazing sear you will get on your meats? Cast iron grill grates are unmatched for creating those classic grill marks.. For all the wonderful benefits a cast iron grill grate has to offer it can rust very quickly if not seasoned with a light oil coating and cleaned after use. Sure it needs some babysitting, but we assure you it’s worth the trouble.

 

Porcelain-coated grates

A porcelain grill grate is not entirely made out of porcelain. It is a coating that can be applied to steel or cast-iron grills. The most important aspect of your porcelain grill grate is the metal underneath the porcelain coating.  The metal component of a grill grate is very important since it controls the heat distribution of your grate. With a cast-iron enabled or porcelain grill grate, you get the best of both worlds – great heat distribution, and easy clean up. Stainless steel grill greats add an extra layer of heat retention but can be more difficult to clean.  If you are grilling at high temperatures (600 F+), the porcelain will not offer much additional value. Porcelain is not hard as iron or steel, so you will have to take additional care not to drop it, and scrape it with your steel tongs and utensils. We suggest silicone-coated heat resistant tongs and a soft wire grill brush to use on this grate.

 

What’s the best charcoal BBQ? Pros & Cons of a Charcoal BBQ Grill

Pros Of Charcoal BBQ Grills

Expect a blazing inferno as your default setting. The high temperatures achieved by charcoal BBQ grills are hard to ignore. Most designs can go up to 375 degrees Celsius with the hood down. Always remember a great sear means more flavour. And a charcoal grill will give you just that.

Charcoal grills are inexpensive:  If you don’t want to drain the bank for your grilling adventure, charcoal grills can be purchased in all shapes and sizes and prices – especially in the lower end of the spectrum.

Fuel is less expensive: In most regions, charcoal is inexpensive and can be purchased at most stores. Charcoal can be stored in a dry place for longer than a gas canister. For many families, charcoal is simply more convenient. Ahem..shameless plug – pick up your charcoal at Big K.

Flavour comes first:  Compared to the other types of grills such as gas and electric, it’s a no brainer that charcoal grills impart more flavour to the food. Isn’t that what we all want at the end of the day? Also, you have the option of throwing some wood chips over the hot coals to impart distinct flavours with ease.

Old is Gold: The traditional method of any cooking technique will always be valued over the newer, quicker, easier inventions that came after it. Let’s compare it to Cricket, Sure enough, the shorter T20 version of the game has more views and makes you more money. But every cricket fan and player knows that the prestige will always lie in the longer version of Test cricket.

 

Cons of Charcoal BBQ Grills

Getting Started: lighting up your charcoal is not as easy as turning an electric or gas grill on. This process can be easier with a chimney starter.

Precise Heat Control: a bit of skill is needed to fully master heat control in a charcoal BBQ grill. Intuition and experience play a big part to properly master temperature control. Like all good things in life, this will take some time and practice makes perfect.

Safety: Charcoal grills are not ideal if you live in an apartment complex or don’t have a backyard. You will have to be extra careful of children, pets and inflammable materials around your grill at all times.

So there’s no need to punch in ‘best charcoal BBQ UK’ in your Google machine. You have all the seeds of charcoal BBQ knowledge firmly planted in your cerebral soil. We couldn’t cover everything in here but not to worry: you can get up to speed on your charcoal grillage here, here and here.

Get grilling and we will see you on the flip side.