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Your hot new charcoal BBQ guide

Two steaks cook on a charcoal BBQ outdoors in a field.

In this synthetic digital age, we still yearn for visceral experience.  The tangible reminds us of what it means to be human. All verbose ruminating aside: a charcoal BBQ is the perfect way to get ‘hands on’ – connecting with cooking on a deeper level. Why? There’s something primeval about grilling over flames. The act echoing the actions of our ancestors going back thousands of years. The smells, the sights, the sizzle and sounds – all these things touch the senses and tap into our basic instincts. Instincts long since tamed by contemporary comfort.


Welcome to your Charcoal BBQ basics

At Big K we’re charcoal and BBQ obsessed. We live and breathe it– all day every day. So we’re here to give you some topline info on how to get your charcoal BBQ cracking! From charcoal basics and safety tips, to grill set up and heat types, you’ll have all the solid fundamentals to whip up some pukka tucker in no time.


What is charcoal and why is it great for BBQ?

Charcoal is an incredible fuel. But when it comes to BBQ, we have to think deeper. Charcoal is actually an ingredient. But not just any ingredient. It is arguably the most important ingredient in the BBQ equation, determining everything form taste and texture, to the look of the food on the plate.


What is charcoal and why is it great for BBQ?

Charcoal is an incredible fuel. But when it comes to BBQ, we have to think deeper. Charcoal is actually an ingredient. But not just any ingredient. It is arguably the most important ingredient in the BBQ equation, determining everything form taste and texture, to the look of the food on the plate.

So what is charcoal exactly?

Great question! Charcoal is a form of black carbon residue, produced after wood is burned. To put it differently, charcoal is the end result of specific type of combustion.

Essentially, we heat wood within an oxygen deprived environment, removing impurities, volatile compounds and water – leaving behind a carbon dense material. Hello lovely lumps of goodness! The smoky infusion (AKA flavour) of your charcoal is determined by the type of hardwood uses during the combustion process.

Charcoal pieces lie burning in a charcoal BBQ with flames and ash

What are two main types of charcoal for BBQ?

Lumpwood charcoal

Meet the tried and tested classic of the charcoal game – AKA lumpwood charcoal 

This super versatile charcoal is produced following a more the more ‘organic’ process outlined above. The result? We obtain irregular shaped charcoal pieces with varying carbon densities. 

With many decades in the game, we know a thing or three about lumpwood charcoal. In fact, all our lumpwood is 100% natural without any hidden chemicals or nasties – bringing you purer flavour. Take a look at our Professional Range and see for yourself.

Charcoal briquettes

You can think of briquettes as hard ‘blocks’ of charcoal fines or sawdust, produced in uniform shapes with uniform densities. We use two main techniques to produce briquettes: either compression at high pressure, or we add a liquid ‘mix’ to a mould and let it dry. As we touched on before, all charcoal briquettes will have a uniform shape and density due to the moulds in which they are made. 

Briquettes offer more control and calibration over your cook. Good thing we’ve spent years developing some of the best briquettes in the industry. From our 100% natural, FSC approved Au Natural Compressed Briquettes and Easy Light Briquettes, to our Premium Briquettes, we’re sure you’ll find the right briquette to rev up your BBQ engine.

As much as we would love to run through a river of deets with you – you get the general picture. If you want to know more about charcoal check out this guide or school yourself with this blog.

Safety first, safety second, safety third

We know you’re beyond pumped to start incinerating some cow carcass, but slow your roll for a second. Any charcoal BBQ involves fire and flame so your safety needs to be on point.

5 tips to to set up your charcoal BBQ safely

  1. Find a flat and stable surface for your barbecue
  2. Keep the grill away from flammable objects like trees and fences
  3. Have a bucket of water or fire extinguisher nearby for emergencies
  4. Keep pets and children at a safe distance for your grill
  5. Use long handled tongs and insulated BBQ tools to avoid burns


Chicken wings cook in a grill rack on a charcoal BBQ

How to light your charcoal BBQ

Again, we know (in a frenzy of BBQ-related enthusiasm) that it is tempting to just throw a load of charcoal on the grill and drown everything in lighter fluid, but a little technique goes a long way. Don’t forget, we want an efficient and optimised burn here peeps, so we must arrange our charcoal accordingly.

Enter the stack. Take your pieces of charcoal and stack them into a mound or pyramid shape. While building your architectural masterpiece, make sure that you leave gaps between your pieces. Why? The gaps help air to circulate through the stack which improves your burn. More oxygen equals a more efficient and purer flame. Stacking your charcoal pieces also increases the coal-to-coal contact, helping your fire to catch and spread with ease.

Now it’s time to light up your stack. Just grab some newspaper and scrunch it up into little balls. You can dip the balls in cooking oil if you want to help them catch. Next simply place these balls into the gaps. Or you can place the balls inside the stack as you are building it. Now simply torch up the balls. Of course, you can follow the steps above using our natural firelighters too

How can I tell if my charcoal BBQ is ready for cooking?

It’s not Satrian Existentialism guys – all pretty basic stuff. Spoilers  – your charcoal colour holds the answer.

 Black or grey with big flames

Whoa take it easy! Your charcoal isn’t ready yet. You defo need another 5 – 8 mins.

White hot glow with a red centre

Say hello to your little glowing friend. This is the sweet spot for some direct heat cooking.

Ashy white with extreme heat

Perfect time for some low ‘n’ slow grilling.

A pile of charcoal is burning with large flickering flames in a quad charcoal BBQ

How to arrange charcoal for cooking

Did you know that you can arrange the pieces in your charcoal BBQ to create different heat types? This is important as different arrangements create different heat environments, suited to different kinds of food and cooking techniques. Check this out.

Charcoal arrangement for direct heat 

Super simple. Super easy. Just spread out your charcoal in an even layer at the base of your charcoal BBQ. This creates a high temperature ‘stove top’ effect – meaning the heat radiates evenly and directly. Direct heat is a perfect match for thin cuts of meat, steaks and burgers.

Charcoal arrangement for indirect heat

All about control and customisation? Then arranging your charcoal for indirect heat is the way to go. This is beyond easy. All you need to do is push your coals to one side of your barbecue. This creates two heat zones: direct heat from the charcoal side, indirect heat from the void. A world of flexibility opens up. For example, you can cook bigger joints and cuts at lower temperatures using the indirect heat zone. Alternatively, you can cook steaks and bangers using direct heat from the charcoal stack, then shift it all over to the empty side of the grill to keep things warm.

Short but definitely sweet…and perhaps a touch smoky too. We hope this basic charcoal BBQ guide has you salivating at the prospect of getting your sizzle on. Good luck and let us know how you get on with a post on socials.