Can You Add Charcoal While Grilling? (Yes, But…)

Have you ever glanced down at your nearly half-cooked steaks, noticed the charcoal is nearly out, and started to panic? You’re not the only one! But, the solution is simpler than you might think: just add more charcoal!

Why and When to Add More Charcoal

Adding charcoal while grilling is sometimes necessary to maintain the right temperature, especially during longer grilling sessions. Charcoal, while a fantastic source of heat, does burn out with time. And if your delicious ribs or mouth-watering brisket require a few hours on the grill, you’ll likely need to replenish your charcoal supply.

Apart from the length of your grilling session, other factors can influence the need to add more charcoal. For instance, if you’re grilling on a particularly cold or windy day, you might find that your charcoal burns out faster.

Related: Charcoal Briquettes vs Lump Charcoal

How to Safely Add Charcoal to the Grill

Safety first! While adding charcoal to your grill is a simple process, it’s crucial to do it the right way to prevent any accidents. Here’s a step-by-step guide:

With a Chimney Starter:

  1. Light the Charcoal: Use a chimney starter to light new charcoal. Never add lighter fluid to hot coals already in your grill; it can cause dangerous flare-ups.
  2. Wait for the Charcoal to Heat Up: Once your charcoal in the chimney starter is lit, give it some time. You want to wait until the coals are covered with white-gray ash, which signals they’re ready for grilling.
  3. Add the Charcoal to Your Grill: Using heat-resistant grill gloves and long-handled tongs, carefully add the new, ash-covered coals to your grill.

Without a Chimney Starter:

  1. Place Unlit Charcoal on Mostly Burnt Out Coals: If you don’t have a chimney starter, you can place unlit charcoal directly onto a bed of mostly burnt out coals. Be very careful not to touch the hot coals.
  2. Let the Charcoal Ignite: Close the lid to create a hotter environment that will help the new coals ignite. Keep the vents open to ensure airflow. Monitor the temperature closely during this time to prevent overheating.
  3. Spread the Coals (Optional): Once the new coals have started to turn white-gray, you can carefully spread them out with long-handled tongs to distribute the heat evenly.

Please note that this method can take longer for the new coals to fully ignite and reach the desired temperature compared to a chimney starter. The new coals might also produce more smoke while they’re lighting, which can impact the flavor of your food.

As always, safety is paramount when handling hot coals. Always use the appropriate tools and take your time to avoid getting severely burnt.

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Other Tips for Managing Heat During Charcoal Grilling

Aside from adding more charcoal, there are other methods you can use to manage the heat in your grill:

  • Two-Zone Cooking: This method involves creating two distinct zones within your grill—one for direct heat, and one for indirect heat. By piling your charcoal on one side of the grill, you can easily control how much heat your food is exposed to by simply moving it from one zone to another.
  • Adjusting the Grill Vents: Your grill’s vents play a crucial role in temperature control. By adjusting the opening of your vents, you can control the amount of oxygen that reaches your charcoal, and therefore, the heat output. Remember, the more open the vent, the hotter the grill will get.

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Shawn Hill

Hey, I'm Shawn and I love this site. With a wife and 7 kids, I get most of my grilling practice from feeding my own family. I'm here to help you learn more about grilling, smoking, and backyard BBQ! With almost a decade of manning the grill and helping over 25,000 aspiring grill masters, you're in great hands! I've tried just about every type of grill, accessory, and gadget you can imagine. Because of that, I am here to help guide you to the best of the best and help you save time and money by avoiding the junk.

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