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An Illustrated Guide To Charcoal Grilling

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For Bon Appétit, by Rick Martinez.

Credit: Illustration by Hisashi Okawa

There's something so satisfying about cooking an outdoor feast on a charcoal grill. But knowing what to grill--and when to grill it--can be a little intimidating, especially while you're entertaining a horde of hangry guests. So we nerded out with a stopwatch and a thermometer to bring you this guide to charcoal grilling.

Getting Started
Stuff two balled-up sheets of newspaper in the underside of the charcoal chimney. Fill the top chamber with charcoal briquettes. Remove the top grates from your grill, place chimney in the center, and light. About 15 minutes later, when the top coals are just starting to ignite, dump the coals into the grill, remove the chimney, and replace the grates. The charcoal will be hottest a few minutes after you pour it out of the chimney, so anything that was stuck on the grates from your last cookout will instantly burn off. Let the grates heat over the coal for a few minutes then brush briskly with a sturdy grill brush until completely clean.

Whole Corn on the Grill. Photo: Peden + Munk

Heat: Minute 5
Stage: When cooking on high, it's best to have a cool zone, so arrange all the coals on half of the grill. Sit tight (or clean the grill grates). After about five minutes, when coals are glowing red but not aflame, it's go-time.
Cook these: T-Bone steaks, peppers, corn, onions, burgers, squash

Heat: Minute 25
Stage: Most of your cooking happens in this sweet spot. This is the moment for thicker cuts of meat that need time to cook through (like chicken), sweet marinades that will burn over high heat, and more delicate fruits and vegetables.
Cook these: Pork chops, chicken, fish, hot dogs, pizza, kebabs, pineapple, scallions

Grilled Beet Baba Ghanoush. Photo: Linda Xiao

Heat: Minute 45
Stage: Nestle whole skin-on veg right in the coals, cover, and cook, turning occasionally, until flesh is tender.
Cook these: Eggplants, carrots, beets

When coals are ashy but still hold their shape, top with another chimney's worth of the bag and let sit for 10 minutes. The new coals will smoke and start to glow. Keep on grilling.

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