How Much Charcoal to Use [BBQ Grill & Smoker Guide]


Charcoal grilling needs the right fuel setup for the best results. Learning exactly how much charcoal to use for your barbecue grill is the best place to start. Find out everything you need to know about lump charcoal methods to take your grilled food to the next level.

how much charcoal to use

The knowledge of how much charcoal to use either in your grill or smoker is fundamental. When you are grilling or smoking, you need to know that too much charcoal results in wasting more fuel, affecting your monthly or yearly budget. Less charcoal means that whatever you are grilling or smoking will have insufficient energy, and that can result in under-grilled or under-smoked food. Below is a more detailed explanation of the importance of how much charcoal can you use when you are grilling or smoking.

how much charcoal to use

How much charcoal to use when grilling

What determines how much charcoal when grilling is what you are grilling and how much you are grilling. There is a classification of tender meats, burgers and sausages and fast food. You have to know the charcoal amount you need to the temperature you need to grill your meat. Barbecue needs charcoal for grilling for better results.  The size of your meat and thickness also determines the amount of charcoal you need. This helps you achieve your desired texture on your meat.

lump charcoal embers in kettle grill

Beginners will need some help since they might not know the amount of charcoal to put. Thin pieces of meat need direct-heat grilling and a single layer of charcoal.  A hundred briquettes can be enough as they are the standard amount you need. A lot of cuts require different temperatures. 

Indirect heat can be good for such meat. The other half should have charcoal and the other half charcoal zero. When your meat is about to get ready, you can use the part with charcoal for a well-refined flavor and the outer part of the meat to have a crispy texture. 

Thin cuts can be best put on the other side for indirect heat. You can use briquettes that range from 50 to 100. If you are using the method whereby you place the space in the middle of the grill part, you can use 100 briquettes. The snake method requires 100 pieces of briquettes. They have to be arranged in a circular motion. This is ideal for cuts of meat that take time to get ready.

How to set up charcoal in a charcoal grill

For direct heat

Direct heat is used when you use the side with a heap of heated charcoal, unlike indirect heat that has to take the heat from the heap of charcoal in an indirect way. It tends to be too hot to prepare thick meat or any other type of meat like chicken that requires low heat. You might have the skin of the meat done, but the center part will still be fresh or undone. Direct heat is not that good when it comes to inexperienced people. 

You need a special skill to control your temperature; otherwise, your meat will get burnt before it is even ready. This type of heat has a way of keeping high temperatures constant which is not suitable for a type of meat that has a grilling temperature and a finishing temperature. Thin slices of meat will be great when it comes to this type of grilling.

For indirect heat

Indirect heat is known as a 2-zone cooking method. You have more freedom of space and control over your space when you are using this method of grilling. Temperature regulation is quite important when it comes to charcoal setup. You are allowed to grill using indirect heat. This method tends to use less heat than when you are using direct heat. 

You have to put your charcoal on one side of the grill. You then have to use the side without charcoal for indirect heat. The heat is directed from the other side with charcoal to the side you are using that does not have charcoal. When you are using indirect heat, you should be grilling meat or any type of food that does need slow and low heat. Steak is ideal for this type of grilling method. Thick steak can be well cooked.  

Minion method

The Minion Method works well with the low and slow. You have to fill the charcoal ring with briquettes which are wood products that were compressed by additives. They do light and burn consistently, unlike charcoal (Source). Stability and steadiness best describe the wood. It is very good when it comes to temperature regulation. 

You do not have to light them instantly, but you just have to light a small quantity and pour them on top of the rest. The temperature is made to rise gradually, like a graph without giving you more energy instantly. The air vents will help you increase the temperature. Stability is what you experience with this method.

Snake method

The Snake Method is best when you are using a kettle-style grill. You have to place a double layer of charcoal briquettes inside the smoker. It only has to occupy the semicircle of the smoker, not the whole space. You then add some wood bits on top of the charcoal and set the other end alight using the briquettes. 

It has a special way of directing the lighting from one end, not the whole charcoal to burn simultaneously. This also allows your heat or lighting to grow or rise as it follows the pattern. It keeps the heat low and very steady. In this case, you do not have to waste useful energy.

charcoal embers in chimney before grilling

How much charcoal to use when smoking

Low and slow

Unlike grilling, smoking needs a different way of charcoal distribution. It includes two types of smoking. These include low and slow and hot and fast. I believe the titles explain it all. A lot of barbecue recipes use the low and slow type of smoking. Any type of meat smoked between 225-250 degrees F is considered low and slow. 

The heat should be that low hence taking more time to cook the meat. Pork and chicken can use this type of heat, as well as brisket and smoked duck. I cannot dictate the amount of charcoal when you are using the low and slow as it also depends on the type of smoker you are using and the set-up. This type of method requires a lot of patience.

Hot and fast

When I am referring to the hot and fast method, I am referring to any temperature that ranges from 325 degrees F to the maximum. This heat is ideal for chicken, turkeys, and ducks. This type of meat is categorized as poultry. It has a great way of leaving your food with a smoky flavor. 

The smoker has to be full of charcoal, unlike the low and slow that does not require a lot of charcoal. More charcoal means more energy, more fuel, more heat and more temperatures. Vents play an important role as they are used to control heat. The air regulators also keep your temperature steady. Such an amount of heat needs attention and control. 

The Final Word

What matters most about the amount of charcoal you need when grilling or smoking is determined by the type of meat you are grilling and its size. The texture you want to have is also another factor. I advise you to use low temperature on thick pieces of meat and hot temperatures on thin cuts. When you feel that you are no longer a beginner, you can experiment more. You might just come up with some helpful skills.

About the Author

Ben Isham-Smith

A BBQ obsessive, Ben is behind 250+ of The Online Grill’s recipes, as well as countless barbecue guides to help barbecue newbies get to grips with the world’s best form of cooking.

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