How to Use a Charcoal Grill for the First Time

Want to take advantage of the summer weather and do some outdoor cooking? Learn how to use a charcoal grill with this step-by-step guide.

Every editorial product is independently selected, though we may be compensated or receive an affiliate commission if you buy something through our links. Ratings and prices are accurate and items are in stock as of time of publication.

Next Project


Grilling food over charcoal is fun, and if you know what you're doing the results are delicious. Many BBQ gurus claim charcoal grilling is the best form of outdoor cooking, because it gives a more natural cooking experience and arguably better tasting results.

If you've never used a charcoal grill before, you might find it intimidating. But it doesn't have to be. Here you'll learn all about charcoal grilling and how to use a charcoal grill for the first time. In this guide you'll see photos of me using a kettle-style grill, but most of the principles apply to other types of charcoal grills as well.

Tools Required

  • Charcoal chimney (optional)
  • Fire poker
  • Food thermometer (optional)
  • Grill cover
  • Grill gloves
  • Metal garbage can with lid (for ash)
  • Roasting pan with lid
  • Stainless steel scissors
  • Stainless steel wire brush
  • Tongs or spatula

Materials Required

  • Hardwood lump charcoal
  • Lighter fluid or newspaper
  • Meat

Project step-by-step (6)

Step 1

Fill the Grill with Charcoal

  • Lift the cooking grates and add hardwood lump charcoal to your grill’s reservoir.
    • How much depends on what you’re cooking and the size of your grill.
  • Spread the layer of charcoal several inches thick.
  • Keep the bag of charcoal handy in case you need to add more later.

Fill the Grill with CharcoalRobert Maxwell for Family Handyman

Step 2

Light the Grill and Let it Heat Up

  • Put on protective grill gloves.
  • Use fire starter liquid (unless the charcoal contains some) and a match, or a charcoal chimney to light your charcoal.
  • Open all grill vents fully, then close the lid (if your grill is a kettle style unit), and let the grill heat up to at least 300 degrees F. Many modern lidded grills have built-in thermometers for monitoring internal temperature.
    • Tip: If your grill has no thermometer, hold your bare palm a few inches over the cooking grates. If you can only comfortably keep it there for up to three seconds or so, you’ve probably reached the approximate right temperature. Don’t keep your hand their long enough to burn yourself. Just long enough to feel the heat.

Light the Grill and Let it Heat UpRobert Maxwell for Family Handyman