Many things will always go wrong when you’re new to charcoal grills and still learning this traditional grilling art.
One common problem beginners go through is the charcoal burning out so fast. In the worst-case scenario, all your coal burns out quickly and leaves your meat mid-cooked. How frustrating!
More often than not, you find out that you’re doing something wrongly, and that’s causing this whole problem.
Please read this guide to discover why your charcoal is burning fast and helpful tips on making it last longer to let you thoroughly and evenly cook your meat to perfection while imparting those smoky flavors.
Why does my charcoal go out so fast?
The most common culprits behind your charcoal burning out quite fast include:
Poor charcoal quality
Used cheap, low-quality charcoal burns fast. Moreover, poorly made charcoal is also inconsistent, hard to get hot, creates uneven hits, and doesn’t stay lit for long.
But this doesn’t mean spending your money on the most expensive briquettes. You need to ensure you get good quality charcoal that suits your grill and needs.
Still at it, if you’re using old charcoal to start a fire in your grill, it might be another culprit behind fast burnouts. Old charcoal tends to lose its grilling properties—especially when poorly stored—and will burn pretty fast.
Firing up your grill incorrectly
How you start a fire in your charcoal grill could also be the reason why your fuel is burning faster than expected. Adequately lighting your fire will ensure an even and fast burning process.
The airflow factor
Your charcoal needs oxygen to burn. The more oxygen there is, the faster the burning process becomes.
Luckily, you can control how much oxygen enters your charcoal grill by controlling the vents that come with it. To stop fast burnout, close the lower grill vents. Closing the vents will reduce the amount of air coming in and slow the burning process for your charcoal.
However, we don’t recommend closing the upper vents. These play a crucial role in getting carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide gases out of your grill.
The ability to control airflow into your grill correctly will give you hours of slow and low heat cooking.
How do you make charcoal burn longer?
The most effective way to make charcoal in your grill burn for longer is by starting the grill fire the right way. We suggest using the ring of fire technique, also known as the snake method, to start your fire.
This is the Ring of Fire technique:
1. Start by spreading the charcoal in a thick C-shape coil around the outer edge of the charcoal grate. Ensure the leave a gap of around 8 to 10 inches between the ends of your semicircles.
2. Spread the charcoal evenly around the grill and leave the vents wide open
3. Light up one end of your semicircle. If you want to get high heat faster, consider adding an enormous pile of charcoal where you intend to start the lighting process. Half chimney load will do the trick.
4. Once the lights up, your coals will take approx. one hour to reach a proper high temperature. As more coals continue to burn, the temperature will get up slowly and steadily for about 2 hours.
5. If you want to cook at a lower heat, close the bottom vent halfway. Closing the vent will restrict the amount of oxygen getting into your grill, thus slowing the burning process and extending the cooking time.
An alternative fire starting method:
A variation of the snake method is the domino/fuse method, and it also works to keep the charcoal burning at a slow rate for extended cooking time. It’s an ideal method if you plan to get cold smoking temperatures for hours.
For this method, you make a C-shaped coil of charcoal in a single orderly line.
Each briquette or lump should stand on the end and lean against the next one in a series (just like a row of dominos). You might want to sprinkle wood chips on top of the charcoal or arrange them at intervals.
Other methods you can use to make your charcoal last longer:
Choose briquette over lump charcoal
It’s a well-known fact that natural lump burns hotter and offers shorter cooking periods. On the other hand, Briquettes tend to burn at a slower rate and for a more extended period.
The type of fuel used causes the unique trait of Briquettes. Sawdust and other wood scraps make a Briquette, while charcoal comes from burning into small pieces of carbon.
If you have been using lump charcoal and it burns fats, try switching to briquette and see if you’ll get any improvements.
Add cooking wood
Adding cooking wood to charcoal can slow the burning process. It’s because cooking wood itself burns at a slower rate than lump and briquette.
You need to place a few logs of high-quality cooking wood inside the grill over the charcoal. As for the type of wood, you can use anything from kiln-dried to hardwood as they offer a longer burning time.
The added benefit of using wood is that it adds flavor to your grilled food and makes it even tastier. Different woods have varying tastes. For instance, cherry wood has a fruity flavor, while hickory offers a bacon-like solid flavor.
Stop dousing your charcoal with lighter fluid
The work of lighter fluid is to make your charcoal burn faster. While this might come in handy when starting the fire, it will keep the charcoal burning faster, even when you have quality charcoal.
Just fire dry charcoal and watch how long it will burn. Besides, the lighter fluid tends to affect the flavor of your grilled meat by releasing vapor chemicals into your food.
Keep the lid open at all times
Most charcoal grill users tend to think that closing the lid helps keep the charcoal from burning fast. The truth is a closed lid will trap heat inside, which would cause your charcoal to burn faster. Keep the top open to let some heat escape and slow down the burning process of your charcoal.
Spread the charcoal before adding food
Another simple method of extending your charcoal burn time is by spreading it evenly across the bottom of your grill. The right time to do this is after the charcoal has turned white.
Assuming you stacked up against your charcoal when lighting it initially, it burns from the bottom and heats upward.
Spreading it evenly across the bottom of the grill before adding food is a good idea that slows its burning rate instead of leaving it stacked up.
Mind your surroundings
Using your grill in the open air where there’s plenty of wind can cause your charcoal to burn out pretty fast. No matter how small it is, the wind fuels the charcoal and makes it burn hotter and faster.
To avoid fast burnout, position your grill near a windbreak. But don’t place it directly against your house. As the rule of thumb goes, put your grill at least 10ft. away from your home and other flammable structures.
It can be a frustrating experience when your charcoal burns out fast before grilling your food. But knowing why your charcoal burns fast and how to slow its burning process is the secret to having an excellent barbecuing experience with your charcoal grill.
We have just enlightened you on the main culprits behind the fast burning process for charcoal and some practical methods you can use to make it burn at a slower rate and offer you hours of cooking time.
We hope that this info will help eliminate the issue of charcoal burning out fast and offer you a great grilling experience.