BBQAroma Guide. How to start a charcoal fire.
If you have a Skewer Charcoal Grillor have no real experience in using natural wood charcoal for cooking, then here are some personal tips of mine to lighting and continous cooking on not just a skewer grill BBQs but also on any type of charcoal grill.
Step 1. Pile up the natural charcoal clumps.
Charcoal can be Australian Redgum, Mallee stump or even imported hardwood. The all natural fuel should look like bits of branch and stump. If the have a pre-formed shape and all look the identical then it has been compressed and formed by man.
Step 2. Use Fire Starters or a small blow torch to light an small area.
Its important to place 2 to 5 blocks of Fire starters (however some brands have Kersosene in them) at the bottom and build the pile above making sure you can still light. Best place bigger pieces of charcoal around to create a pocket so that air can be consumed and help ignite the rest of the charcoal faster.
If using a blow torch, buy one that fits on Butane fuel cans. Cans can be $2 to $5 each but last a long time. Plumbers use them to heat small pipes to bend. A torch head for the can can be around $30 to $50. You don't need to have a big flame as you just want to start a small area of charcoal. Also note that Torch heat can cause the charcoal to explode and shead hot embers that can burn small holes in your clothes. Caution should be taken using a blow torch in this manner.
Step 3. Start in small areas at the base or center of the pile.
Its safer for you to let the fire grow at its own pace to avoid sparks and high intense heat that can melt anything near. Natural Charcoal should rarely smoke at all and you should never see big flames as you see when you burn wood. Give the charcoal 20 to 30 minutes to take hold. To accelerate you can fan the flames with some cardboard, dustpan or even a hand blower. Just remember you will also blow dust as well, but if you are in a hurry then this is the way to get the fire started faster if you don't have 30mins.
Step 4. Once its hot, spread.
As the pile grows in heat, the middle would glow red, orange or white if its too hot. It should feel very hot and you want to avoid touching any metal that is near. It doesn't matter if not all is burning and you can get a small shovel or tongs and start spreading the hot coals along the bottom of the grill. Spread as an even layer, again you should not see smoke or any flame and you are ready to cook.
Step 5. Need longer cooking. Add more Charcoal.
Alot of people don't realise you can keep adding new charcoal to the fire. As natural charcoal is clean without smoke, you can either create a little pile on one side and let it ignite with some of the burning coals at its own pace or you can spread new layer of charcoal over hot burning ones. Preferably create another pile and spread as it ignites. Just repeat this until all cooking is done. Remember big clumps take more time to light but will hold more heat. They can easlily break down once all burning. Small clumps and branches will burn very quick and loose intense heat faster. They can be spread but avoid using the dust at the bottom of your charcoal bag as its not best.
Step 6. Finished Cooking and cleaning up.
You can do 2 things. Either let it burn down into a pile of white ash (Pot ash for the garden). and tip it out when its good and cold. Alternative is to get a metal bucket or pail, fill with water and scoop all the hot coals and drop them in the water. Watch out for the steam if you shovel a whole pile into the water. Any big clumps can be dryed off and used next time if you like to recycle.
That's it from me - hope this is enough to convince people its not that hard to cook on charcoal and that charcoal can be used for long periods. You just need the cook to know how to manage the coal whilst its burning.
Final note - don't use chemicals or cheap compressed charcoal. What tends to happen is that your food will absorb the odor and have some strange flavor. Cooking on natural wood charcoal will give you the best results all the time.
Enjoy you BBQ - many thanks for reading this BBQAroma Guide to charcoal cooking