How much charcoal to use?

Are you trying to figure out how much charcoal to use for your barbecue? It can be easy to underestimate the amount of charcoal that’s needed and it might surprise you just how much is actually necessary when considering factors like the weather, size of the grill, wind direction, and more. The good news is that by following a few simple steps, you’ll soon have an accurate idea on how much charcoal is required for your next outdoor grilling session.

In this blog post, we’ll cover tips for estimating how much charcoal to use for grilling so that your next outdoor cookout is successful and delicious! Keep reading to find out all the essential information about harvesting fire in preparation for your BBQ!

How much charcoal do I need?

Charcoal grilling is an art form, and like all forms of art, every artist has their own style. However, there is one common question every grilling enthusiast faces: how much charcoal is enough?

The answer is never straightforward because the amount of charcoal you need depends on various factors.

Thankfully, there are a few tricks you can employ to ensure that you don’t end up with either too much or too little charcoal. One trick is investing in a charcoal chimney.

Charcoal chimneys act not only as the best way to light your charcoal but can also aid in measuring the amount of charcoal you are using, making it easier to achieve a consistent ratio that works best for your particular setup.

How to arrange charcoal before grilling?

Once you have the right amount of charcoal, it’s time to arrange them in your BBQ. This step is very important because it will determine how evenly your food cooks and how much smoke flavor you get.

How much charcoal to use?

For direct grilling, spread out the coals evenly around the bottom of your grill. For indirect grilling, you’ll need to make two separate piles of charcoal on either side of the grill.

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Finally, for smokers, you’ll want to place most of your coals in an even layer at the bottom of the smoker and a few pieces around the edges for added heat.

By following these simple tips and using a charcoal chimney for precision, you’ll be able to easily determine the right amount of charcoal for your grilling needs. With the perfect ratio of charcoal, you can always expect delicious results! Before long, you’ll become a master at estimating how much charcoal to use and will be ready to start popping open those cold drinks and enjoying your amazing grilled creations!

How much charcoal to use when grilling?

All you need to do is use your charcoal chimney to figure out exactly how much charcoal you need in your hot zone. And if you’re not sure where to start, Kingsford [1], one of our favorite charcoal briquette companies, has some great recommendations to help you get started.

Grilling is a delicious way to cook meats and vegetables, but it requires a bit of technique and experimentation. One of the most important factors in grilling is the amount of charcoal you use.

For tender white fish, it’s recommended that you fill around a quarter of the chimney with charcoal.

If you’re cooking burgers or sausages, it’s best to use around half to three-quarters of a chimney for medium heat.

However, if you’re looking to sear meat or cook something quickly, you’ll want to use three-quarters of a full chimney.

These are just general guidelines, so it’s important to experiment and adjust according to your particular grill.

One final tip: always make sure to put out your charcoal grill when finished grilling, and you can reuse any leftover charcoal for your next grilling adventure.

How much charcoal to use when smoking

Smoking is an art form, and just like any craft, it requires a certain level of skill and a proper setup to achieve the desired result.

Unlike grilling, smoking is a different beast that demands variable amounts of charcoal and a different approach to cooking.

Low and slow smoking relies on maintaining a temperature of around 225-250°F that can last for hours. This method is perfect for meats like brisket, pork shoulder, and ribs.

On the other hand, if you’re cooking poultry, hot and fast smoking is your go-to method. It requires higher temperatures of over 325°F and relatively shorter cooking times than low and slow smoking.

-Low and Slow:

Smoking meat is an art form with many factors to consider, and one crucial element is the right amount of charcoal.

The quantity of charcoal you use depends on the type of smoker you are using and how you set it up.

The minion method is a popular option for setting up a charcoal smoker for low and slow cooks that may take anywhere from 6 to 18 hours.

It involves placing unlit briquettes in the charcoal ring and lighting only about 20 briquettes, which you then pour over the top.

This method is great because the temperature slowly rises, and you can control it with the air vents.

Mastering the right amount of charcoal for your smoker is a key step towards achieving the perfect smoke.

Achieving the perfect temperature for smoking meat can be a daunting task, but once you’ve found that sweet spot, it’s smooth sailing.

With a classic Kettle style grill, you have the option of the charcoal snake method. It sounds complicated, but it’s actually quite simple.

By arranging a double semicircle of charcoal briquettes along the inside of your smoker, you create a slow-burning line of charcoal that will keep a consistently low temperature.

This allows you to smoke your meat for hours on end without having to fiddle with the temperature or worry about burning your food.

-Minion Method:

Preparing for a long smoking session can be daunting, but using the right technique can make all the difference. If you’re using an ugly drum style smoker or a Weber Smokey Mountain, arranging your charcoal in a doughnut shape can be a game-changer.

The process is simple:

1)Start with a full chimney of briquettes, dump them in your smoker, and arrange them in a circle.

2)Then, fill your chimney again, but just 1/4 of the way this time.

3)Light these smaller briquettes and deposit them into the middle of your doughnut once they’re ashed over.

The fire will slowly spread in all directions, providing even heat over a prolonged period. While using lump charcoal is also an option, it requires careful hand arrangement to ensure the pieces are spread evenly to prevent gaps in the fire.

-Charcoal Snake:

If you’re a fan of barbecue, you’ve likely heard of the Minion Method. But have you heard of the Snake?

This technique is similar to the Minion Method, in that you light a few coals and let the fire pass through them slowly.

However, the Snake differs in its arrangement – a stacked semi-circle around the inside perimeter of your cooker. To build your Snake, you’ll need a full chimney of briquettes, neatly stacked by hand.

The beauty of the Snake is that you can really draw it out for a long session; want to smoke a brisket for 20 hours? No problem.

Plus, you can always remove unburned charcoal and save it for another time. Once you try the Snake, you may never go back to other methods!

-Kamado or Offset:

Smoking meat is an art. And just like any skill, it requires patience, dedication, and the right tools. With kamado style smokers, controlling the temperature is no longer a daunting task.

Thanks to their ingenious venting system, you can effortlessly adjust the cooking temperature to suit your needs, whether you prefer slow-cooking at low heat or roasting at high temperatures.

What’s more, you do not have to worry about how much charcoal you use, as the vents help regulate the heat regardless.

So, fill your chimney, dump it in, and light just a single spot for maximum duration. It is that simple!

And when you’re ready to upgrade your smoking game, check out our article on how to use kamado-style smokers for all the tips and tricks on nailing the perfect meal.

-Hot and Fast:

Hot and fast smoking is a cooking technique that can leave you with a smoky, flavorful meal in a fraction of the time compared to low and slow cooking.

Getting your smoker to the right temperature can be a bit of a challenge, but with a full chimney of hot coals and some careful regulation of the vents and air regulators, you can maintain a steady heat between 275 and 350°F.

While this method can create a lot of partially burned coals, don’t toss them out just yet.

There are many ways to reuse them, such as adding them to your garden as a natural fertilizer or using them as a DIY fire starter for your next grilling session.

Guide on using charcoal grills

When it comes to cooking with charcoal, there’s nothing more important than setting up for two-zone grilling.

This technique gives you complete control over your cooks, ensuring that your food is cooked to perfection every time. And while it might sound complicated, the truth is that it’s surprisingly easy to set up.

-Two-Zone Grill Setup:

Grilling enthusiasts need to know about the two-zone grill setup. With this setup, you can have all your charcoal banked over to one half of your grill, while the other half remains empty of charcoal.

How much charcoal to use?

This setup creates two zones which give you almost infinite control over the temperature range from very low to screaming hot.

  • The first zone is directly over the coals and is perfect for high heat grilling.
  • The second zone is not over the coals, and the temperature is much lower, giving you a broader range of cooking options.

You can now cook food at different temperatures and gradually move it towards the hottest part of the grill, creating delicious meals that will impress family and friends.

We advise you always to set up your grill in this manner.

-Medium Heat:

When it comes to firing up the grill, we all want to make sure we get the right temperature for that perfect cook. But how much charcoal should we use to achieve that desired medium heat, which hovers between 350–450 °F?

The answer is in the amount of briquettes we put on the chimney. If we go for a 1/4 to 1/2-full chimney, we’ll have a decent amount to keep the heat going.

However, if we opt for lump charcoal, it’s best to stick to 1/4-full to 1/3-full, so the heat doesn’t become too intense. With the right amount of charcoal, we’re sure to have a sizzling success on the grill in no time.

-High Heat:

Summertime is all about grilling, and there’s nothing more perfect than a sizzling hot dog or juicy hamburger fresh off the grill.

But getting those perfect char marks and ensuring the meat is cooked through requires hitting high temperatures.

  • For that, a full chimney of briquettes is necessary, providing the necessary heat to cook your food in record time at 450-550°F.
  • For those who prefer lump charcoal, a 3/4 full chimney should do the trick, given its higher burning temperature.

-Screaming Hot Searing:

With temperatures that reach a blazing 800°F, this technique is not for the faint of heart.

To execute it, you’ll need half a chimney of charcoal and a cooking grate laid across the top of the chimney.

While it may seem intimidating, the Afterburner Method is perfect for searing meats to perfection and achieving that coveted delicious char.

-Low Heat:

While many recipes call for different levels of heat, there’s one thing that remains constant: low heat has no place in the world of grilling.

Whether you’re cooking up a steak, chicken, or even vegetables, a consistently high heat is crucial in order to lock in those savory flavors and get a nice char on the outside.

So, while low and slow might be the way to go when it comes to BBQ or smoking, it’s a whole different ballgame when it comes to grilling.

How to set up charcoal in a charcoal grill

How much charcoal to use?

-For direct heat:

Using direct heat for grilling can be tricky for novice grillers. Unlike indirect heat which takes the heat from a heap of charcoal in an indirect way, direct heat is used when you place your food over a heap of heated charcoal.

Though this method may be great for thinner cuts of meat, if you’re grilling something thick like chicken or a roast, you may struggle to maintain the temperature. If you’re not careful, you can end up with burnt meat on the outside, but uncooked on the inside.

Direct heat can be a powerful tool for grilling, but it’s best left to those with the skill and experience to control the temperature properly.

-For indirect heat:

Grilling is an art form, and the more you experiment with different methods, the more you’ll discover just how much creativity is possible with your grill. One such method to explore is indirect heat grilling, also known as the 2-zone cooking method.

This method is ideal for beef lovers; it allows for that oh-so-delicious steak flavor without sacrificing tenderness or juiciness.

With indirect heat, you gain more control over the temperature, creating a space that’s perfect for slow and low cooking. Simply place your charcoal on one side of the grill and reserve the other side for your meat.

This way, the heat from the charcoal side will be directed to the side without charcoal, providing the ideal conditions for perfectly cooked steak, every time.

-Minion method:

Smoking meat is a great way to achieve rich, tender, and delectable dishes that just melt in your mouth, but it requires patience and knowledge. One of the best methods for achieving this is the Minion Method.

This method is designed for low and slow smoking, and it involves filling the charcoal ring with briquettes. Unlike charcoal, briquettes are wood products that were compressed by additives. Due to their consistent burn, they are ideal for the low and slow method.

Once you light them, the temperature will rise gradually without causing a sudden spike in the smoker, thanks to the air vents that regulate the temperature. Moreover, the stability of the temperature gives you a perfectly cooked meat that is juicy and tender.

-Snake method:

The Snake Method has proven to be the go-to for those using a kettle-style grill. By placing a double layer of charcoal briquettes inside the smoker, only occupying a semicircle of the smoker, and igniting a few wood bits on top, the Snake Method directs the lighting from one end, allowing for the charcoal to burn steadily over a longer period of time.

How much charcoal to use?

This technique keeps the heat low, creating the perfect conditions for slow-cooking meat to perfection.

The Snake Method may take a bit more time to set up, but it’s definitely a worthwhile investment for any barbecue enthusiast looking to elevate their smoking game.

How Do I Calculate How Much Charcoal I Need?

How much charcoal to use?

-Type of Charcoal:

When it comes to charcoal, there are two main players – charcoal briquettes and lump charcoal.

Charcoal briquettes are like the popular kid on the block, infused with lighter fluid for an easy-to-light experience and a longer burn time.

However, there’s a catch – the chemical smell and significant ash production can put a damper on your BBQ party.

Enter lump charcoal – the cleaner, hotter burning alternative. It may come with a higher price tag and burn out quickly, but it produces minimal ash and lacks the chemical stench of its briquette counterpart.

But before you make the switch, heed this advice: 3lbs of lump charcoal equals the burn rate of 2lbs of briquettes, so it’s a 2:3 ratio. The more you know!

-The Size of the Charcoal Grill:

When it comes to charcoal grilling, it’s important to choose the right size grill for your needs.

Whether you’re looking for a portable option for tailgating or a larger grill to host summer barbecues, there are various types available.

Of course, with different sizes come different amounts of charcoal needed to fuel the fire.

On average, smaller grills require around 30 briquettes, while larger grills can require anywhere from 50 to 75 briquettes.

Additionally, it’s helpful to keep in mind that for every pound of charcoal, there are roughly 18 briquettes.

Thus, it may be necessary to use up to 4 pounds of charcoal for larger grills. If you prefer to use lump charcoal, estimate using around 2.5 pounds for a smaller grill and up to 6 pounds for a larger one.


Whether you’re going for a low and slow smoke, a medium heat grilling session, or high heat direct grilling, the temperature you cook at will directly affect the outcome of your meal.

To properly monitor and adjust grilling temperature, the amount of charcoal used plays an integral role.

-For direct heat grilling, the rule of thumb is: the more charcoal, the hotter the grill.

-For low heat, 1.5lbs of briquettes should suffice, whereas for medium heat, you’ll want to use around 2lbs. High heat requires a bit more fuel, around 2.5-4.5lbs.

However, if you’re using the two zone method for indirect heat, you’ll only need about half the amount of charcoal.

-Type and Quantity of Food:

Are you planning a grill session? Don’t forget to consider what type of food you’ll be cooking.

Burgers can handle medium heat, but if you’re going for a juicy steak, crank up the heat. And let’s not forget about smoked brisket – low and slow is the way to go.

But how much food are you cooking? That also plays a role in how much fuel you’ll need. Don’t waste your coal on a small grill party, and likewise, don’t skimp on the fuel when hosting a feast.

Using a Charcoal Chimney as Measurement

If you’re feeling befuddled by the infinite variables of charcoal grilling, you’re not alone. The question of how much charcoal to use in your grill is notoriously tricky.

But fear not! I’ve got a nifty little trick up my sleeve to make it all easier. Allow me to introduce you to the chimney starter, your new measuring device bestie.

Typically, you can heap between 80 to 100 briquettes into this handy tool. Bye-bye, to confusion, and hello to deliciously grilled meats, and veggies.

How much charcoal to use?

Here are the guidelines that you can follow if you are using this device:

  • Low heat: 25 percent full
  • Medium heat: 50 percent full
  • Medium high heat: 75 percent (this can also be useful for cooking a fully packed grill on medium heat)
  • High heat: 100 percent full chimney

There are instances where you may want to push your grill to the limit and reach high temperatures of around 800°F. If you find yourself in this situation, then you will need to take a different approach.

Instead of the usual indirect grilling setup, you will need to fill the chimney starter halfway and place the cooking grate directly above it. The food then goes on top of the charcoal grate, producing a concentrated heat towards one point.

This will require you to double the amount of charcoal used, but it will be worth it to achieve that high heat cooking.

So, if you’re looking to push your grilling skills to the next level, consider this method for reaching those high temperatures.

How to Make Your Charcoal Last Longer?

If you want to make your charcoal last longer and get the most bang for your buck, there are a few things that you can do.

-Use High Quality Products: The quality of charcoal makes a world of difference. Look for natural lump hardwood charcoal, which has no additives or chemicals and burns for longer periods of time.

-Light Charcoal Carefully: If you are using lighter fluid, make sure to never pour it directly on the coals as it can cause flare-ups that will waste your fuel. Instead, light the charcoal in a chimney starter and add to your grill when ready.

-Build an Effective Fire: When you are done with adding the charcoal, spread it evenly across the bottom of the grill and wait until you have a good fire going before adding your food.

-Choose Your Grilling Method Carefully: Certain grilling methods require more charcoal than others. For instance, direct or two-zone grilling requires less fuel than indirect cooking methods that require a lot of time on the grill.

-Add Charcoal as Needed: Don’t add too much charcoal at once; instead, monitor your fire and add more as needed. This will ensure that you have a controlled flame with an even heat distribution.

-Keep Charcoal Covered: Whenever the fire dies down, cover the ashtray and charcoal with a lid or foil to keep it from getting wet. Moisture is the enemy of good charcoal, and you don’t want your fuel going to waste.

-Only Use as Much as Temperature Dictates: You should only be using as much charcoal as your food requires to cook. Don’t go overboard with the fuel if you don’t need it!

-Store Your Coals Well: When you are done grilling, allow the charcoal to cool down and store in a dry place.

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FAQs About How much charcoal to use

How Much Charcoal Do I Need for 2 Burgers?

For 2 burgers, you only need a small amount of charcoal. About 10-15 charcoal briquettes should be enough.

How Much Charcoal Do I Need for a Small Bbq?

The amount of charcoal you need for a small BBQ depends on the size of the grill and how long you plan to cook. As a general rule, you can use about 30-50 charcoal briquettes for a small BBQ.

How Long Does 1kg of Charcoal Last?

The burning time of 1kg of charcoal depends on several factors, such as the quality of the charcoal, the size of the pieces, and the airflow. As a general rule, 1kg of charcoal can last for about 1-2 hours of grilling.

How do I calculate how much coal I need?

To calculate the amount of coal you need, you should consider the size of your grill, the cooking time, and the desired temperature. As a general rule, you can use 30-50 briquettes for a small grill and 50-100 briquettes for a large grill.

What happens if you use too much charcoal?

Using too much charcoal can result in excessive heat, which can burn your food and cause flare-ups. It can also make it difficult to control the temperature of your grill.

How long do you let the coals burn before cooking?

The length of time you let the coals burn before cooking depends on the type of grill you’re using and the food you’re cooking. As a general rule, you should wait until the coals are covered with white ash before adding food to the grill.

How many pounds of charcoal should I use?

The amount of charcoal you should use depends on the size of your grill and the length of time you plan to cook. As a general rule, you can use about 1 pound of charcoal per hour of grilling.

Do you just let the coal burn?

No, you should not just let the coal burn. You need to control the temperature of the grill by adjusting the airflow and the amount of charcoal you use.

Should you empty the coals after each use?

It is not necessary to empty the coals after each use. You can reuse the remaining charcoal for your next grilling session.

Should I pour water on the coals?

No, you should not pour water on the coals. This can cause the coals to steam and create a lot of smoke, which can ruin the flavor of your food. Instead, let the coals burn out naturally and dispose of them properly.

How do you know when coal is hot enough?

When the coal is hot enough, it will be covered with white ash, and you should be able to hold your hand 6 inches above the grill for only 2-3 seconds before it feels too hot.

How long does 1 bag of charcoal last?

The length of time one bag of charcoal lasts depends on the size of the bag and how often you grill. As a general rule, one 15-pound bag of charcoal can last for about 10-15 grilling sessions.

How often do you put charcoal on the grill?

How often you put charcoal on the grill depends on the length of time you plan to cook and the desired temperature. As a general rule, you should add charcoal every hour or so during long grilling sessions to maintain a consistent temperature.

Conclusion – How much charcoal to use?

Figuring out how much charcoal to use in your grill doesn’t have to be a daunting task. If you’re using a chimney starter, you can follow the guidelines above for low, medium, and high heat cooking.

For high-temperature grilling, consider filling the chimney with twice as many briquettes and placing the grate directly above it. Also, don’t forget to use high-quality charcoal and store your coals in a dry place so you can get more mileage out of them.

Ultimately, always keep safety in mind when grilling, and you’ll be sure to have a great time!

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