The smells that waft from a barbecue are so inviting that it’s hardly a surprise when guests ask the chef “Is it ready yet?” However, there’s a skill to lighting the barbecue well and ensuring the food is cooked beautifully and thoroughly with a nice even heat.
Charcoal barbecues hold a certain charm for many barbecue fans, although they are undeniably harder to light than gas barbecues. You need to factor in the extra time needed for the charcoal to heat up sufficiently and for the flames to die down before placing the meat, fish and vegetables on the grill.
Especially when the weather turns cooler and winter descends, the challenge of lighting the barbecue can become trickier. But this doesn’t mean you should put your BBQ away until the spring – absolutely not. There are plenty of ways you can still enjoy winter barbecuing, and with our 10 tips lighting the barbecue at any time of the year should be easy.
1. Buy quality charcoal and keep it somewhere cool and dry. Damp charcoal that you find at the back of your shed is not a good choice for the BBQ!
2. Position your barbecue on an even surface as this helps when spreading the charcoals out for an even heat distribution, and keeps you safe for the cooking process too. If the weather’s windy, place the device somewhere sheltered to help the charcoals get hot.
3. Choose charcoal briquettes as these are easy to light and retain their heat well.
4. Open the air vents on your barbecue before you light the charcoals as this ensures there is plenty of oxygen available to feed the fire. You can then close the vents once the charcoals are well lit.
5. Use lighting cubes or barbecue lighters to speed up the process, placing a couple at the bottom of the BBQ with charcoal piled on top, in a pyramid shape.
6. Light the lighting cubes using a long match and once lit be patient. You need to allow time for the charcoals to get hot, and don’t be tempted to pour more charcoal on too soon.
7. Once lit, stay with the barbecue and don’t leave it unattended – not only is this a safety issue but it also means you can’t monitor the charcoal. By watching it, you can take action, for example if the flames die down too quickly use a newspaper to fan it and provide more oxygen to keep the fire going.
8. Timing is key – on average, it takes around half an hour and a little longer in winter, for the charcoal to get hot enough. You’ll know when this happens as a thin layer of white ash forms on the tops of the charcoal, the flames subside and there is a red glow beneath the charcoals.
9. When hot enough, give the charcoals a stir with a poker to spread them across the base of the device and ensure an even heat distribution.
10. Add new charcoal when needed, placing around the edges so they have time to reach the right temperature before you move them to the middle.