How Much Charcoal to Use in a Grill? (2022 Quick Guide)

Not sure how much charcoal to use in a grill? This article will tell you much charcoal you need for your grill.

Cooking any kind of protein on the grill is one of the best ways to enjoy food. The smokiness and juiciness that comes from barbecuing a piece of steak over high heat is just incomparable which is the reason why barbecuing is widely popular. People all over the world are very much into using a grill and getting into the art of roasting, grilling and creating masterpieces over an open flame.

There a lot of people who would rather choose to use their gas grill because it is easier and faster to get hot but, true and traditional barbecue enthusiasts will always say that the best way to get barbecue done is by using a charcoal grill.

This is because gas grills do not produce or impart any smokey flavor to the food you are cooking over it. There is a certain balance in flavor and smell that is produced by grilling over charcoal which elevates the food. It is true that gas grills cook quicker and offer an easier way to get an even heat but, the high amount of heat produced by charcoal grills combined with the unique smoky flavor is quite unbeatable.

Advantages of Using Charcoal in a Grill

Aside from the unique flavor produced when grilling over these hot coals, using charcoal compared to other fuel has its other advantages:

  • Charcoal is anhydrous and lacks water so it can burn at higher temperatures.
  • Charcoal produces less smoke than most grilling materials so it does not impart a too pungent smoke flavor which can overpower than flavor of the meat unlike some hardwood fuel.
  • Charcoal produces less soot from unconsumed carbon and organic volatile compounds unlike wood.

But again, one of the reasons why some people steer away from using charcoal is the fact that you have to be knowledgeable when it comes to tempering its heat and it has to be placed into the grill in an intentional manner. There is no winging it when it comes to using charcoal because you can’t just stuff them in your griller, light them up and slap a piece of meat on the grate.

However, you don’t have to be intimidated when it comes to using a charcoal grill. Everything can be learned and achieved through practice and the reward of a smoky, flavorful steak should be enough motivation for you to start a barbecue over hot, fiery coals.

Grilling with charcoal needs to be precise and the first step to maximize the efficiency of your grilling skills while producing a great flavor profile for your meat in the end, is knowing the amount of charcoal you need to put in your grill.

Lump Charcoal, Briquettes

Types of Charcoal You Can Use

There is an ongoing debate on which type of charcoal is better when grilling but, whichever you might choose, it is important that you understand each type so you can assess just how much of it you can put in your grill.

Lump Charcoal

This charcoal is made from burning pieces of wood slowly without exposing it to oxygen to eliminate all moisture, sap or natural chemicals from it. It is easier to adjust or control temperature using lump charcoal since it responds to oxygen accordingly. This also provides you the safest, cleanest way to barbecue. Lump charcoal burns faster and hotter so you should handle them with extra care.


Briquettes are made from sawdust and leftover woods that are burnt down pretty much the same way as lump charcoal. However, when creating these briquettes, there are additives that are included which is needed to keep the roundish shape of this charcoal and to hold it together. They burn longer and not as hot as lump charcoal does. Briquettes are also cheaper than lump charcoal but make sure you get the good quality from reputable brands to ensure that there are no harmful components.

The basic rule when working or using charcoal is that the more coal you use, the hotter your fire will get. Whatever type of charcoal you will pick primarily impacts the intensity and evenness of your heat. Typically, fast-cooking and searing will require high, intense heat while smoking and roasting requires longer, lower burns. So again, understand the cooking time and temp of your protein.

Use a Chimney Starter

Use a Charcoal Chimney Starter

As mentioned, you need to know the ratio of coals your grill requires and one of the best ways to easily lock in the correct amount is to use a charcoal chimney starter. It acts like a measuring cup of sorts when it comes to charcoal. It is the best way to light up your charcoal as well.

How Much Charcoal to Use in a Grill

How Much Charcoal to Use in a Grill?

Figuring out how much charcoal you should put in your grill is a little bit tricky because there are factors that you have to consider.

First, you have to take into consideration the size of your meat. Let’s be honest, not all proteins are of the same cut and weight and it certainly is relative to just how much you want to eat.

Second, you also have to keep in mind the desired texture and cook of your meat. Then finally, think about the amount of heat or the cooking temperature that your cut of protein requires in order to get that perfect piece.

Once you have taken each factor into serious consideration, you will actually have a more specific understanding of just how much charcoal to use by going through the easy beginner’s guideline.


Thinly cut or sliced meat is usually cooked in a high-heat, direct-heat grilling technique in order to get a moist and flavorful finished product. This means that you should be able create a single layer of charcoal right across the bottom of your cooking grate. You will need to lay out at least 100 briquettes to get that perfect heat for straight-to-the-fire grilling.


Different guests mean also different types of protein so cooking multiple cuts of meat is inevitable when it comes to grilling. This is where the two-zone fire is utilized. You are required to spread charcoal briquettes over half of the grill while leaving the other half bare.

The hot side, where the briquettes are is for meat that require direct grilling and high heat. This is usually best for cuts of steak, pork chops and chicken. You can have a medium to high heat option with this method. The amount of charcoal needed for this is around 50 to 100 briquettes.


An ideal configuration which is ideal for cooking with low temperatures is this type of layout. This requires around 100 briquettes which is arranged in a circular pattern around the inside of the grill’s edge. What this does is create pockets of high heat as well as low heat and promotes good heat circulation through the cooking chamber. It creates lasting heat for a lot of hours which is perfect for cuts of meat, like a brisket, that needs to be tender as it is cooked longer.

Slow cooking or smoking requires keeping temperatures low so you have to use less coals but monitor the heat as well. To maintain the temp while keeping the fire burning for a longer cook, you need to add coals (at least, 5 pieces at a time) for every half an hour.

For burgers, hot dogs, bratwursts and the likes, these foods do not require too much charcoal since they are better cooked in moderate heat. A layer of coals across the bottom of the grill will do the trick.

The weather is also a factor that most people tend to overlook or not give much after-thought. The rule of thumb is that you will always need extra or more charcoal when the weather is cold, windy or rainy.

Finally, the size and style of your charcoal grill or barbecue grill will also greatly affect just how much charcoal you will use. The user manual that comes with your grill should easily tell you the amount of fuel you need to utilize.


At the end of the day, the best way to get your groove on when cooking with charcoal is to continuously experiment and grill with it using different types of food. Plus, do not forget to put out your coal after every use and you will be able to reuse leftover ones to save you some money.

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