I am what most people would call a “good cook,” but I am by no means a good griller. I had never grilled anything other than a gas grill until two weeks ago, and frankly, I wasn’t very skilled at it either. As you probably know, cooking with charcoal is a bit of a learning curve, but after a few weeks of experimenting, I’m still amazed at how complicated the combination of fuel, fire, and airflow can get.

I’ve always been careful about barbecuing because there seem to be a lot of men who shout for the “right” way. But men like to scream about anything and deny me the thrill of coal-cooked food because I’m reluctant to avoid conflict is stupid. (Another factor is that this is the first time I have a garden in a while and that having an outside area for the grill to live is a must.)

Ideally, I could master the cooking method overnight and pass on my wisdom to all of you, but that’s not how expertise works. In the coming months I therefore invite you to take me on a learning journey as I develop from a grill kid to a (hopefully) #grillboss. This column is primarily intended for grill babies like me, but I welcome BBQ dads and avid grillers to share their favorite tips, tricks, and recipes with us so we can all learn.

These are the first things that owning and operating my 22-inch Weber kettle taught me in no particular order.

You need a charcoal fireplace

In contrast to my ex-husband’s gas grill, there is no “on” switch on my Weber kettle. You need to light a fire under or otherwise near the charcoal and hope that it will get hot enough for the coals to be nice and “ashed”. There are many ways to do this and it didn’t take me long to identify my favorite.

It is not a lighter liquid. While ideally it burns off before your food hits the grids, most people pour their coals a little too generously, and any leftover liquid can flavor your food. Plus, when you get it, you just don’t need it a chimneywhich is much cheaper, consistently effective, and something you should definitely buy. If you’ve never seen one before, a chimney is basically a metal pipe with a handle on the side and a cone-shaped grille near the bottom with lots of holes for airflow. (Airflow – also known as access to oxygen – is a very important aspect of keeping this combustion reaction going.)

To use a charcoal fireplace, fill it with charcoal, then place it on the charcoal grids (the lower grids that are closer to the bottom of the grill) over something flammable. You can use newspapers, but I, a millennial, never have any of them, so I bought these little ones lighter cubesand i am very happy with them. Once everyone is found, simply set the flammable thing on fire with a long match or barbecue lighter and let the chimney do its thing. Depending on how much charcoal you have there, your coals should be hot and only start to ash after about 15 minutes.

Absolutely pathetic.Absolutely pathetic. Photo: Claire Lower

Drop the charcoal on the charcoal grid and move it around to form an even layer on one side of the grill. (There are many other charcoal arrangements and configurations available, but a two-zone setup with charcoal on one side is a good place to start.) Once about 2/3 of your coals are white and you’ve quit smoking, you’re “ready “Proceed with your prescription.

Chimneys come in different sizes!

Honestly who knew? After reading many tutorials telling me that a “whole chimney” would be “plenty” of charcoal for a whole meal, I filled my friend’s picnic grill size chimney with charcoal, lit, tossed and then I got confused as to why the grill wasn’t going to get hot enough to cook my steak.

I am very vulnerable to sharing this embarrassing photo with you, but just look at how silly that flank steak (which obviously was never seared properly) looks over that tiny pile of sad coals.

This was a problem that was easily fixed. I just had to buy a full-size chimney. (And cook a new flank steak to set myself free; it was what I talked about on this blog Board sauces.)

The airflow is very important

As I mentioned earlier, there are no switches or handy temperature controls on a charcoal grill. Instead, you have vents. My Weber kettle has two ventilation slots – one under the grill and one on the lid. When you open the vents fully, most of the air flows through the grill, which provides oxygen and makes your coals super hot. Closing it denies the combustion reaction the oxygen it craves, which cools things down. Setting it anywhere between open and closed gives you control over how hot it gets there.

Placing the top vent on the side opposite your pile of coal in terms of positioning will ensure that hot air actually flows to that side to create a zone of indirect heat. If you’ve ever cooked a steak or a thick piece of pork With the “reverse sear” method, this is the zone that takes up the space of your oven when grilling.

The thermometer on top of your barbecue dome is rubbish

Most grills come with a small thermometer on top that supposedly shows the ambient temperature inside your grill. In reality, they are not that accurate. These little guys sit at the top of your grill and can be affected by the temperature of the air in your yard. I have not yet used a recipe where I knew the exact internal temperature of my grill, but I have already bought a recipe digital thermometer with two probes – one to measure the temperature of the food and one to measure the (exact) temperature of the grill.

You don’t need fancy charcoal

To be able to grill well, you have to agree with grilling. When you change your charcoal every time you grill, you introduce a whole host of new variables. Briquettes and charcoal burners burn differently, and there are even differences between brands within each category. AmazingRibs.com has a great, detailed explanation about the differences between briquettes, lump charcoal, and even fancy boy burners like Dan Barber’s animal bone charcoal, but the result is that base briquettes are most consistently made and shaped, which is a huge perk if this is your first time trying to figure out Learn how to control your temperature with the airflow. (If the promise of “better taste” that comes with charcoal, just throw some wood chips and toss them on the briquettes; that way you can precisely control the heat and the amount of flavor.)

There are many different ways you can arrange your charcoal

The most common charcoal grill setup consists of a series of hot coals on one side of your grill and nothing on the other. This two-zone configuration creates an area with direct radiant heat (for searing) and an area with indirect, convection-like, oven-like heat (for gentler cooking). This is the only setup I’ve played around with so far. It worked well for burgers and flank steak, and I plan to use it later in the evening to cook some chicken legs. If you are just starting out, I recommend familiarizing yourself with this arrangement before proceeding with “the snake,” “the vortex,” or anything that includes baskets or extra pieces of metal. (I’ll probably invest in one though Slow ‘N Sear very soon as it promises to “turn my kettle into a smoker and a glowing hot sear machine – ALL WITH ONE DEVICE!” Damn it.)

Clean before cooking, not after

If you’re used to cooking in a kitchen, you’re probably used to tidying up after you’ve finished cooking too, but the best time to clean your grill is just before your next meal, when the grids are nice and hot and the last night burger bits are carbonized. There are many different tools out there, but I used one of them Safe scrape wooden paddleAs I’ve heard and read, the metal bristles of traditional grill brushes can break off and potentially get stuck in your food, which would be bad. (I also watched one of these, but I’m pretty happy with my paddle.)

What else do i need?

In addition to the Slow ‘N Sear, there are a few items I would like to buy soon to make my grill setup a little safer and more enjoyable. Heat-resistant grill gloves are at the top of this list, as I’ve just used a regular cloth glove and covered my arms with the (flammable) sleeves of an old hunting sweatshirt. I would also like a small side table to prepare and something to hang my tools on. Speaking of tools, I just used the pliers and spatulas I already had, although I think I need a spatula with a longer handle. If you have any other suggestions or judgments, please add them in the comments. I’m very baby after all (but only when it comes to barbecuing).