Saving Money: Lighting Charcoal Grill Efficiently

| 9/30/2010 9:54:00 AM

Tags: Outdoor Cooking, Grilling, Outdoor Cooking, Electric Fire Starter,

A portrait of GRIT Assistant Editor Caleb Regan, with a puny catch.I’ve blogged in the past about being a charcoal guy, about my love for cooking outside over Kingsford briquettes – be it smoking a pork butt or grilling chicken. What I didn’t share at the time was a major way I conserve charcoal. 

My brother went gas a year or so back; I think he was at a furniture store and they had a nice gas grill for cheap, so he went with it. And, at first, everything was great and he praised the quick-light feature, ease of the process and affordability of propane. 

However, grease fires started burning some of his meat as the grill aged, sufficiently so that now he’s again talking about going back to charcoal. The only real knock on charcoal in my eyes – coming from a guy who cooks about 50 percent of his meals over charcoal, and not much less than 50 percent during winter – is that the charcoal gets pricey. 

In and of itself, it’s not too bad, but when I’m using original briquettes – I hate the idea of the match-start briquettes being packed with chemicals – the lighting and extinguishing of the fire is where I lose most of my cost. Think about it, how much time is the meat actually above the fire? On burgers, it’s around 8 minutes a side, so that’s 16 minutes total to cook my food for that meal. 

In my younger days, I used some form of charcoal lighter fluid, and I still will if I’m in a pinch. Contrary to some people’s experiences, my food doesn’t ever taste like lighter fluid. However, I always error on the side of burning the Phenol distillates off way to much – it’s my way of being absolutely positive my food won’t taste like chemicals. When you do this, and I’m talking letting the briquettes turn grey, you lose a lot of an expensive cooking resource (the briquettes). 

There’s a couple of alternatives that can and will save you money if you cook a lot of your meals on charcoal: the chimney and the electric starter. Recently, I’ve started using the Looftlighter Fire Lighting Tool, and it’s already saved me on charcoal. Before, when using lighter fluid, I was getting one meal out of one charcoal load. Now I’m getting three uses for regular meals, and two for meals where I’m slow-cooking over indirect heat. 

Nebraska Dave
9/30/2010 5:36:51 PM

@Caleb, you made me laugh. Last spring I had friends that all bought new grills. All were gas grills and so were the old ones. They asked me if I could pick up the new grills for them. I asked for the old grills in return for delivering the new grills. When I brought them home I removed the cooking grills and all the gas parts. It was a nice saws all project. After the basic grill was gutted I sprayed them all down with oven cleaner and power washed the cookers after they set awhile. They came out clean as can be. From one grill I took the grill and cut it down to make a charcoal grate below the cooking grills. I covered the gaping holes from all the removed gas parts with a big piece of aluminum foil, dumped in some charcoal, fired it up, put the cooking grills back on the top and wala converted gas grill. I just left all the buttons and knobs on the front of the grill and hardly anyone notices that it’s really not a gas grill. When the cooking done, I fold up the aluminum foil with the charcoal ashes and throw them in the trash and cleanup is complete. Even though I don’t cook on them as much as you do, I love my charcoal grills. I have two conversions now with more to come as folks throw out those gas grills. Have a great charcoal day.

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