Better Barbecue Starts With Arranging Your Charcoal Properly

Steaks on a grill
Steaks on a grill - Eddieberman/Getty Images

When it comes to grilling, enthusiasts commonly break into camps between grill masters who prefer gas, those who swear by smokers, and cooks who argue the classic charcoal grill is best for steaks and other foods. For those in the latter group, the debate continues to another level with the topic of how to best arrange charcoal for the optimal grilling experience. Are you a two-zone person, or is the ring of fire your go-to?

While you may have been taught a single technique for how to prepare charcoal on the grill, the truth is there are many variations, and each of them delivers on a different aspect of grilling. One thing that doesn't vary, however, is that there's a tight connection between the way the charcoal is set up and the results of the finished dish. So, if you're looking for better results with your barbecue, look no further than those black lumps of coal that hold the key to your grilling perfection.

Read more: 11 Tips For Keeping Your Grill Shiny And Clean

Making A Plan

briquettes on a grill
briquettes on a grill - Lukas Gojda/Shutterstock

To commit to a certain charcoal arrangement, you must first evaluate what you'll be grilling and understand the dynamics of the process. Quick-cooking foods require a different setup than slow-roasting meats, for example. You'll also arrange the charcoal differently if you're cooking a variety of foods rather than sticking with a single meat.

The first consideration is whether you're trying to create direct or indirect heat. Direct heat is when the flames lick the bottom of your meat, and it's perfect for fast-cooking foods like steak, tuna, burgers, and hot dogs. Note that foods cooked this way only lightly absorb smoky flavors since they aren't on the grill for long.

Indirect heat, on the other hand, is more like an oven. For this method, the charcoal heats the grill, but you don't place food directly over the hot coals. Instead, you place it off to the side, where it will continue to cook. This is the preferred method for slow-cooked foods such as grilled ribs and sweet and smoky barbecue brisket, especially if you want them to take on a smoky flavor.

Arranging Charcoal On The Grill

briquettes laid out on grill
briquettes laid out on grill - Alexander Wallstrom/Shutterstock

With some terminology under your belt, you can better understand your options for arranging your charcoal. For example, if you are cooking all the same type of food on direct heat, you can prepare your charcoal and then shake it down into an even layer. This method provides the greatest amount of direct-heat cooking space, so it works well for large cookouts.

However, if some items will need direct heat while others require indirect contact, make a two-zone fire by shifting all of the charcoal to one side of the grill. Similarly, you can divide the hot coals between the two sides of the grill with an unoccupied space in the middle. This is called a three-zone split and works well for large cuts of meat that require even heat from both sides without direct heat below. Another option is the ring of fire, where you lay charcoal around the outer edge of the circle for direct-heat cooking, leaving the entire center open for indirect cooking.

You can also create variations of these methods by adjusting the thickness of the charcoal. For example, pile the hot coals on one side of the grill, allowing some to roll into the center of the cooking area. This essentially gives you direct heat at the highest part of the pile, a slower-cooking direct heat in the center, and indirect heat on the far side. With this simple shift of charcoal, your barbecue will elevate from basic to brilliant.

Read the original article on Daily Meal