How Do You Use A Camping Charcoal Grill?

Grilling is a great way to cook food, and there are tons of different methods. But one of the most popular methods is charcoal grilling. 

It’s pretty simple, but it can also be a little tricky. To learn how to use a camping charcoal grill correctly, we’ve put together this guide:

A Beginners Guide to Using a Charcoal Grill
– Properly lighting the charcoal grill is essential for successful cooking.
– Preheating the grill allows for even heat distribution and reduces the chance of food sticking.
– Using a chimney starter or lighter fluid can help ignite the charcoal efficiently.
– Controlling the airflow through the vents helps regulate the temperature of the grill.
– Adding wood chips or chunks to the charcoal can enhance the flavor of the grilled food.
– Cleaning the grill after use helps maintain its performance and prolong its lifespan.
– Practice safe grilling techniques, such as using long-handled tools and keeping a fire extinguisher nearby.

Build A Fire

To start your campfire, place the charcoal briquettes in a circle around the middle of the grill. Lay them down as close together as possible without overlapping each other.

Next, place crumpled pieces of newspaper in between each briquette and light it with long handled matches or a lighter. 

Leave it alone for about 15 minutes until the paper has burned all the way through and you have a nice layer of coals ready to go!

When it comes to camping, having a reliable fuel source is essential. If you’re considering using propane tanks, check out our article on refillable camping propane tanks to learn about their advantages and how they can enhance your outdoor cooking experience.

Choose The Right Charcoal

Before you start grilling, it’s important to choose the right kind of charcoal. If you have a larger grill, you can get away with using charcoal briquettes. 

They’re made up of sawdust, and they burn for about 45 minutes per pound because the additives help them ignite easily and keep burning longer than other types of charcoals. 

Briquettes are easy to find at most grocery stores or hardware stores and they come in convenient blocks that make loading your grill simple.

If you have a small grill or want something with more flavor (and less chemicals), try using lump charcoal instead. 

Lump is made from wood that has been compressed into chips before being burned down into briquettes; this gives it a much better texture than briquette coal when lit on fire—and also makes your food taste better! 

Lump burns at lower temperatures than briquettes but will last longer overall once lit properly

Charcoal TypeDescription
Hardwood LumpNatural charcoal made from hardwood, burns hot and provides a smoky flavor.
BriquettesCompressed charcoal with added binders, provides consistent heat and burns longer.
Coconut ShellEnvironmentally-friendly option made from coconut shells, burns with a mild flavor.
BinchotanTraditional Japanese charcoal, burns at high temperatures and provides clean flavors.
FlavoredCharcoal infused with flavors like mesquite or applewood, adds a distinct taste to the food.
Instant LightCharcoal coated with accelerants, easy to light but may have a chemical smell.

Wait Until The Coals Are Ready

Once you’ve lit the coals and they’re starting to burn, wait until they’re glowing red. This is a good time to make sure that your grill is in working order! If any parts are loose or broken, fix them now so that nothing falls off while you’re cooking.

Next, place the food on top of the grate over indirect heat (or on a drip pan if there’s no grate). If it’s raw chicken breasts or steaks you’ll want to cook these directly over high heat for about two minutes per side; if it’s hamburgers or sausages, flip them every five minutes until cooked through. 

When grilling vegetables like peppers and onions for fajitas or kabobs, keep an eye out for flare-ups from dripping fat and turn frequently so that nothing catches fire in front of your face!

Don’t forget to pack the essentials for a comfortable camping trip! Our guide on packing a blanket and pillow for camping provides useful tips and techniques to ensure you have a cozy and restful sleep under the stars.

Spread The Coals Evenly Or In A Pyramid Shape

Spread the coals evenly or in a pyramid shape. This will help avoid hot spots, which can result in uneven cooking. If you’re using a charcoal grill for indirect cooking (see below), you’ll want to arrange the coals in a pyramid shape so that one side of your grill has no heat and the other side has moderate heat.

Use a drip pan under the food to catch drips. To prevent flare-ups from dripping fat, put some foil down on your grill grate before placing food on it. If you don’t have foil handy, use an old pan or dish instead of placing raw meat directly on hot metal grates—this will keep grease from getting everywhere!

Place The Grill Grate Over The Coals

Place the grill grate on top of the coals. The grate should be hot before you add food, so make sure to let it sit for a few minutes before cooking. If you are using a charcoal basket, place it over the coals now as well.

Use tongs to move the grill grate and not your hands!

If you need to rotate your meat or vegetables while they’re cooking, use tongs again! They’re much safer than using your bare hands (and they prevent burns).

Grate PositionDescription
Direct HeatPlace the grill grate directly over the hot coals for high-temperature grilling.
Indirect HeatPosition the grill grate away from the coals for slower, indirect cooking.
Two-ZoneDivide the grill into two heat zones by placing coals on one side and leaving the other side empty.
Vortex MethodArrange the coals in a vortex pattern with the grill grate positioned in the center.
ElevatedUse a grill grate with adjustable height to control the distance between the coals and the food.

Remove The Grill Grate And Add Fuel If You Need To

Before you ignite your barbecue, remove the grill grate and brush out any ash that has accumulated in the bottom of your grill. 

You’ll want to use long-handled equipment for this task—a small shovel or a medium-sized metal brush will do nicely.

If there are a lot of ashes, use tongs or another tool to remove them from the bottom of your grill. Keep these ashes in a safe place until you can dispose of them properly (don’t just dump them on the ground).

Remember: charcoal isn’t biodegradable! Don’t put used coals into your campfire pit; instead, store them in an empty plastic container until you’re ready to leave camp and dispose of them properly back home at some point later on during your trip.

Looking for ways to improve your camping experience? Consider investing in a high-quality camping pad. Check out our easy guide on making a camping pad to learn how to create a comfortable sleeping surface that will make your outdoor adventures even more enjoyable.

Use The Right Tools

A careful cook will always have the right tools on hand when grilling. A long-handled grill brush, a small shovel, and a fire extinguisher are essential. 

You’ll also want to keep a fire blanket on hand in case of emergencies; it’s easier to put out a small flame than tackle one that has spread throughout your tent! 

Finally, you’ll need an ample supply of water for extinguishing any fires (and for washing yourself off after cooking).

Clean Up Promptly

After you’ve used the grill for cooking, clean it up promptly. Make sure you have a damp cloth handy and make sure that the charcoal is out and cool before you begin cleaning. 

Avoid using harsh chemicals to clean your grill grate, as this can damage the metal over time.

Cleaning TechniqueDescription
Wire BrushUse a wire brush to scrape off residue and food particles from the grill grates.
Grill CleanerApply a specialized grill cleaner to remove tough stains and grease buildup.
Aluminum FoilCrumple aluminum foil into a ball and use it to scrub the grates for a quick clean.
Vinegar SolutionSoak the grates in a mixture of vinegar and water to help loosen grime and residue.
High Heat Burn-OffHeat the grill on high for a few minutes to burn off excess debris, then brush the grates clean.

Make Sure Your Charcoal Is Completely Extinguished When You’re Done

You might be tempted to leave your charcoal in the fire pit when you’re done cooking, but don’t do this. While the coals are still hot and glowing, they’ll be easy to dump into a trash bag or container. 

Once they cool down, they will no longer be able to conduct heat evenly and may burn through whatever materials you place on top of them.

Also, don’t dump it on the ground; if it rains before you get back home with your grill, there could be potential for water damage. 

And please refrain from throwing your used-up coals in any trash cans at campgrounds—that can lead to disastrous consequences! 

Instead of one big mess (literally), make sure all ashes have been thoroughly extinguished before taking them anywhere near open flames again by placing them in a metal container filled with sand or dirt for over an hour at room temperature (or until no more smoke appears).

Enhance your camping menu with delicious baked treats! Our article on baking suggestions for camping trips offers a variety of mouthwatering recipes that can be prepared using a charcoal grill. Get ready to indulge in some campfire culinary delights!

Open Any Vents For More Heat Or Close Them For Less Heat

To increase the heat, open any vents. To decrease the heat, close them.

Open vents: More airflow means more smoke and more air flow (which is helpful if you want to keep a large pot of water from boiling over).

Close vents: Less airflow means less smoke and decreased air flow (which is helpful for low-temperature cooking).

Learn From Mistakes & Repeat

The best campers are the ones who are open to learning something new. Even if it didn’t quite come out like you imagined, take the time to learn from your mistakes. If this means speaking up and asking for help, do it!

You can also use our handy cooking guide below as a reference when trying any new meals or recipes on your next camping trip:

Weather conditions can greatly impact your camping experience. Stay prepared and informed with our guide on being aware of weather conditions when camping. Learn how to plan and adapt your outdoor activities to ensure a safe and enjoyable time in the great outdoors.


Don’t be afraid to experiment with your charcoal grill! You may not get it right the first time, but you can learn from the mistakes and repeat what works. 

Eventually, you’ll have a new hobby that you enjoy as much as camping itself. It may take some time before you feel like an expert but don’t rush things because it will only make things more frustrating for yourself. 

Take your time and enjoy this new adventure!

Further Reading

Here are some additional resources to further explore the topic of using a camping charcoal grill:

  • How to Use a Charcoal Portable Camping Grill: A comprehensive guide that provides step-by-step instructions on using a portable charcoal grill for camping. Learn the best practices for setting up and cooking delicious meals outdoors.
  • How to Cook on a Small Charcoal Grill: This article offers valuable tips and techniques for cooking on a small charcoal grill. Discover creative recipes and learn how to maximize the cooking space on your grill while achieving great flavors.
  • Grilling Basics: Using a Charcoal Grill: Weber, a renowned grill manufacturer, provides an informative guide on the basics of using a charcoal grill. From lighting the coals to controlling the temperature, this resource covers essential techniques to help you master the art of charcoal grilling.


Here are some frequently asked questions about using a camping charcoal grill:

How do I light a charcoal grill for camping?

To light a charcoal grill for camping, follow these steps:

  • Step 1: Ensure proper ventilation and place the grill on a stable surface.
  • Step 2: Arrange the charcoal briquettes in a pyramid shape.
  • Step 3: Use a chimney starter or lighter fluid to ignite the charcoal.
  • Step 4: Let the charcoal burn until it is covered with white ash.
  • Step 5: Spread the hot coals evenly and place the cooking grate on top to start grilling.

How do I control the temperature on a charcoal grill?

Controlling the temperature on a charcoal grill can be done by adjusting the air vents. To increase the heat, open the vents to allow more oxygen into the grill. To lower the temperature, partially close the vents to reduce the airflow and limit the oxygen supply.

Can I use charcoal briquettes or lump charcoal for camping?

Both charcoal briquettes and lump charcoal can be used for camping. Charcoal briquettes provide a consistent and long-lasting heat, while lump charcoal offers a natural smoky flavor. Choose the option that suits your preferences and cooking needs.

How long does it take for charcoal to heat up?

The time it takes for charcoal to heat up depends on various factors, including the quantity of charcoal, ventilation, and weather conditions. On average, it can take around 15-30 minutes for the charcoal to reach the desired cooking temperature.

How do I clean a charcoal grill after camping?

To clean a charcoal grill after camping, follow these steps:

  • Step 1: Allow the grill to cool down completely.
  • Step 2: Remove the ashes and debris from the grill using a brush or scraper.
  • Step 3: Wash the grill grates with warm, soapy water and a grill brush.
  • Step 4: Rinse thoroughly and dry the grates before storing.
  • Step 5: Clean the exterior of the grill with a mild cleaner or soapy water, and wipe it dry.