When is Charcoal Ready?

Updated: Apr 19, 2023 1:45 PM
When is Charcoal Ready?

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If you are new to the world of grilling, you may wonder when is charcoal ready. Some of the best grills, after all, use charcoal as a fuel source, and it can be tough for beginners to know when this charcoal is hot enough to use. Colors are your guide for this. When at least two-thirds of the charcoal has turned white and is covered in grey ash, it is ready to go. If the charcoal is smoking, wait until most of the smoke dissipates as well. Be sure to move the briquettes around with a heavy-duty spatula or a related tool to assist with heat distribution. The whole process takes around 15 minutes, though could take longer with larger-than-average grills and huge mounds of charcoal.

Usually, a natural gas grill can be simpler to use. So how to tell when your charcoal is ready? Keep reading to find out.


  • Lump charcoal and briquette charcoal take around 15 minutes before it is hot enough to cook food items.
  • Look for the majority of the charcoal to turn white and become covered in grey ash and look for smoke to dissipate.
  • Clean the charcoal grate before adding lighter fluid and be cautious when opening and closing the grill lid, to better regulate the hot coals.

When are Charcoal Briquettes Ready?

This is not the case when using wood pellets if you are wondering what pellets to use for brisket. Moreover, there’s a world of difference between the woods used for BBQ grills. For example, hardwood lump charcoal is the fuel of choice for serious BBQ enthusiasts, made from real pieces of wood that have been burned in an oxygen-controlled environment. Charcoal grilling adds a unique smoky flavor to your food while providing long and consistent heat, allowing you to cook with confidence.

Insider Tip

Have a meat thermometer handy when cooking poultry, though can get by without one with steak, relying instead on the color of the meat.

Tips to Successfully Grill With Charcoal

Here are some helpful tips to make sure you successfully grill with charcoal, no matter if you learn where your favorite Pit Boss grill or where Weber grills were manufactured. But, compare Big Green Egg vs Weber grills to see which one works best with charcoal.

For even more success with your grill, you’ll want to read our guide about what do you need for a charcoal grill.

Clean Grates Before Cooking

You should always clean the grates before cooking with charcoal, as errant specks of food debris can catch fire. Make sure the heat source is hot charcoal, not just any flame or fire. There are also some health risks, as you don’t want to accidentally eat an old piece of meat that has been sitting there since last summer. Preheat the grill and then use a stiff wire brush to give the grates a thorough cleaning. Even if your grill doesn’t use charcoal, like the one in our Char Broil TRU Infrared 15601900 review, it still needs good, regular cleaning.

Be Patient

Don’t place any food on the grates until the charcoal is sufficiently heated through. Putting food down early can actually slow down the heating process, as there will be fewer avenues for oxygen to escape and fire to burn. Aim to keep the charcoal burning at medium heat to prevent it from becoming too hot and creating too much coal ash. Lump charcoal burns hotter than briquettes, so be sure to monitor the temperature carefully. Charcoal ash should appear light gray in color when ready for cooking.

Also, if the grates aren’t hot enough, the food is more likely to stick, adding to your cleanup time. To learn more, check out our guide about smoking on a charcoal grill for beginners.

Be Careful When Opening the Lid

Unlike other methods of cooking, the heat goes up when you open the lid with a charcoal grill. This is because charcoal pulls oxygen from the atmosphere to increase its temperature. Avoid this by being cautious when opening the grill lid. Doing so will ensure you have even and long-lasting heat distribution. If you notice your heat declining, you can open the lid for a quick boost. Now that you know when charcoal is ready for cooking, check out our best portable charcoal grill guide for a great option to get you started grilling.

STAT: Kingsford converts more than one million tons of wood waste into charcoal briquets every year, making Kingsford the leading manufacturer of charcoal in the United States. (source)


How to light charcoal?

Arrange the charcoal in a mound and light it with lighter fluid. If you have access to chimney starters for a chimney with charcoal, use those as well. Wait 15 minutes, which is longer than with a gas grill.

Why timing is crucial?

Timing is crucial with charcoal chimneys and any charcoal grill, as hot coals only last so long after pouring the lighter fluid. You want your grill to be hot enough to cook but not too hot.

What affects charcoal readiness?

A great number of things impact charcoal readiness, including how clean the charcoal grate and cooking grate is, the prevalence of chimney starters, the level of indirect heat, and more.

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