How to Evenly Cook Your Meat on a Charcoal Grill

How to Evenly Cook Your Meat on a Charcoal Grill

Learning how to cook meat evenly on a charcoal grill will help you get bold, awesome flavors while cooking food thoroughly. The good news is that a charcoal grill allows you to cook meat really evenly, really easily!

In this post, let’s take a look at how to cook meat evenly on a charcoal grill. Grilling is a lot easier when you’ve got the right baskets and accessories, so check out our selection as well.


Grilling Basics

Baskets and Grates

Using the baskets and grates that fit your particular grill will help you cook things evenly through. Any sort of odd combination of metals and odd positions in the grill will make the heat uneven on different sides of the meat, which will cause things to cook unevenly. This is where grill baskets come in handy. They let you aerate your coals and quickly sift away ash for a better cook.

Aerated Coals

The most important thing about grilling charcoal is getting the coals ready. You’ll be tempted to toss on lighter fluid, but the lighter fluid can add some flavors to the food that you don’t want. The chimney starter is going to be your best friend here. This video does a great job of showing you how to get that fire started; we also recommend investing in a grill torch to light things up.

You might think that the best way to cook your meat evenly is to load up the coals evenly in the middle of the grill. But if you are going to be cooking different kinds of food, or need different temperature zones. To get the perfect ratio, you can use a basket divider. 

Once you put the coals in the grill, you should allow it to heat up for about 5 to 10 minutes before tossing any protein onto it. That’s important because it causes the proteins and veggies to sizzle and char as soon as they get on. This helps you create a good char and edge to the food without overcooking the middle of it.


Internal Temperature of Meat Safety

Beef Cooking

Beef cooking can vary drastically based on the cuts of beef that you’re cooking.

Steaks should be tossed on a grill that is between 450 and 500 degrees. This will allow the steaks to cook as quickly as possible without burning it up. If your steak is about 2 inches thick, then it can be cooked for about four to five minutes. Then flip them and allow them to cook another four to five minutes. If the steak is thinner, you’re going to look for only a few minutes per side.

If you’re cooking a roast, the general rule of thumb is that you cook to about 135 degrees, and it will take about 15 to 20 minutes to cook per pound. 

Seafood Cooking

Before grilling fish, brush some olive oil over it and season with a lot of salt and pepper. You can stuff the fish with some parsley, garlic, and lemon. When grilling fish, you’ll want to grill for 4-5 minutes per side for every inch of fish. So if you have fish that is two inches thick, then you’re going to want to grill for about 8-10 minutes on the first side before flipping to cook for 8-10 minutes on the other side.

If you have fillet fish, then you can cook them on the skin side down for a bit before finishing them off on the skin side so that the fish gets a nice crust. You can go in either order, but the best way is to grill flesh-down before flipping to the skin. That prevents the fish from disintegrating.

For shrimp, get the grill to about 400 degrees. Grill the shrimp over direct heat for about 5 minutes. Turn the shrimp a couple of minutes into the cooking process. You know that the shrimp is done when the outside of the shrimp is a kind pink color and the meat inside is still white.

Chicken Cooking

Chicken needs to be cooked to an internal temperature of 165. Chicken breasts should be grilled over 350 degrees for about 8 to 12 minutes. Flip them halfway through the process.

Because chicken can easily dry out on the grill, it is important to marinate it beforehand. You can marinate chicken between 30 minutes and 4 hours before grilling — or really commit to a good flavor by marinating overnight. The key with chicken is to cook it slowly and make sure that it reaches that 165 degrees.

Chicken breasts with the bone will take longer to cook. You should cook these for about 30 to 40 minutes over indirect heat, also at about 350 degrees. If you’re cooking legs or thighs that have the bone in, it’s also going to be about 30 to 40 minutes over indirect heat. 



General Considerations

Also keep in mind that as the temperature changes, you might begin to perceive differences in the way that you cook. For example, if cooking in the winter, then make sure to pay attention to the actual temperature of the inside of the meat. Your perceptions of the temperature outside can cause you to overestimate or underestimate the real temperature of the grill and the food. Thermometers will be your best friend here!

If you’re cooking non-meat items, like this list of things that you never thought to grill, you may not have to hit a certain target temperature. But be careful when you are combining uncooked meats with non-meat items. If you have any contact between raw or uncooked meats and the other food, like any plates or utensils or anything, then you may want to make sure that the non-meat foods get cooked thoroughly as well to kill off any bacteria.

Also, make sure to create multiple zones of heat with the coals so that you can cook food evenly on one side before keeping it warm on the other side — remember that the couple zones of heat encourage the air in the grill to circulate more.


Keep it Clean

Cleaning your charcoal grill properly allows the heat to circulate freely. Especially keep the vents clean so that the temperature circulates well. 

After you cook each time, it’s important to take a brush and scrub the grates down while the grill is still hot. You don’t want to wait until the food sticks onto the grate, but you certainly don’t want to burn yourself either! Make sure to dip the bristles into the water so that you can get a clean scrub. After the grate cools down, even more, you can wipe it down further to remove grime and grease.