Often when the subject of purchasing a new grill comes up in conversation, inevitably the question arises as to why anyone would purchase a charcoal grill when there are many grills on the market including gas grills? They answer is very simple.
No other grill produces the smoky, rich flavor as a charcoal grill does. This is due to the unique properties of the fuel, charcoal. Charcoal imparts flavor directly to the food that other grills, such as gas, do not. For many practitioners of the culinary art of grilling, there is no other match for a charcoal grill.
Heat, Heat and More Heat
As with any grill, heat is important aspect, if not the only aspect. However, there is more to heat than just generating it and a good charcoal grill must reflect that. There are three characteristics of heat that a good charcoal grill must have, good heat production, good heat retention and good heat distribution.
It is the balance between all three of these characteristics that determines how well a grill will perform. The path to getting a good charcoal grill without firing it up is to understand the materials and the shapes that directly effect the heat and its aspects.
Most grills are made of steel or porcelain coated steel or a variation of stainless steel. Steel is an excellent heat conductor and thus is very useful for the body of a grill. A few grills use cast aluminum which has a better heat conductivity than steel but these are usually retro style grills and thus are a niche market and aren’t easy to locate.
Of course the best material for producing and conducting heat is ceramics which is why the porcelain coated steel is very effective. This is also the reason why Kamado style grills are so good at charcoal grilling but these are also expensive. For a standard charcoal grill, steel is great for heat production and retention.
Its All About The Shape
The shape has a direct correlation to heat production as well as the material the firebox is made of. A rounder shape for the area where the charcoal will be setting is better for directional heat. As charcoal on the bottom of the pile heat up and this heat is transferred to the surrounding air, the heat energy is directed upwards via the shape of the firebox.
This allows more heat to be focused where the cooking grates are and makes for a more efficient use of heat. Square shaped fireboxes are still useful but are not quite as efficient as distributing the heat as well as curved bottoms.
The shape also helps with the interaction with the cooler air brought in from the vents or dampeners as the air is allowed to enter the pockets of the charcoal easier in a rounded bottom than a square. This is because as the charcoal combusts and turns to ash in a round grill the process is not 100 percent efficient at the same time and thus leave pockets for air to intrude and promote the combustion process.
Look at the Grates
Grill body and the shape are nothing if the heat is not distributed to the food effectively. Cooking grates do more than just hold the food over the fire, they facilitate the transfer of heat from the air and the grates directly to the food. Porcelain coated, cast iron grates are the superb choice for a charcoal grill. Behind them is standard cast iron grates and then steel grates. Cast iron does a better job of transferring more of the heat due to less of a loss of heat energy than steel or aluminum. If a person is looking for an excellent charcoal grill then the grill should have cast iron grates or porcelain coated cast iron cooking grates.
About the Charcoal
No matter how good your grill is if the charcoal isn’t good enough then the grill will not compensate. The recommended charcoal for any grill is all natural lump charcoal. The reason for this is there are no chemical additives or fillers that will contaminate the meat. Also lump charcoal burns better and has better flavor enhancing characteristics than briquettes. Also it is better to use a charcoal chimney to start the fire than using a starting fluid to also prevent chemical contamination.
Charcoal grilling is still one of the most favored pastime because the distinctive and tantalizing flavor that is produced. To get the best charcoal grill, find the one that has the right materials and the right shape to create a balance between heat production, heat retention and heat distribution. Getting the right grill is not hard nor difficult and there is always the right grill for your needs on the market. Even with a good grill, safety is vital to protect yourself and others, as well as your grill.
Always clean your grill according the manufacturer’s specifications as including in the owner’s manual. Always practice safe grilling by never allowing flammable materials within five feet of a hot or cooling grill. Never operate a grill on an uneven surface and to protect your grill from the elements, always cover your grill when not in use.