I’ve owned one propane grill and about ten charcoal grills. In the end I’m a charcoal guy. Weber makes a nice assortment of grills but at the current time I am using a Brinkmann grill and heartily recommend it. Both Weber and Brinkmann grills have controllable air vents on the top and bottom, that’s a must. Both do an excellent job of preparing steaks, chicken, fish, kabobs and veggies. If you have an interest in exploring the world of smoked meats buy a Brinkmann…. You will be happy you did.
A chimney starter, available from either company or from a local patio shop is also a good investment. It allows you to start your charcoal fire using newspaper or a minimum of charcoal starter. This eliminates any petroleum residue and one more foul taste that can creep into your food. Never, I repeat, never, use that easy start charcoal soaked in starter fluid. Buy Kingston Charcoal.
Remove the grill cover, open the bottom vents wide open, (extremely important), build a pyramid of briquettes (or fill your chimney starter) add a minimum of starter and light the fire. Fifteen minutes later your coals will be white hot and ready for cooking. I turn my grill on edge and use it to spread the coals out, or use a log or wire brush to do the same. Set the grill in place and let it warm up for about three minutes. The old food residue will now have loosened up and quickly yield to a wire brush. Your grill surface will be shiny and bright.
Place your steaks, chicken or whatever on the grill, and replace the cover with the vents wide open. Gradually close them to control the temperature you want to cook at. If both the bottom and top vents are open, your grill is set on “high”. Obviously, the size of your charcoal fire is a variable here as well. That’s why I like to use a chimney starter….. it gives me uniform number of briquettes and I can develop a familiarity with vent settings.
You can generally cook a good 1 1/4″ New York Steak to Medium by giving it 7 minutes on each side, using a chimney starter fire and open vents on the top and bottom of the grill. If the smoke plume from the top vents has grown intense during the last 3 minutes I close them half way. As a matter of fact, cooking 1 1/4″ New York steaks is my rule of thumb for everything I do on the grill. If someone prefers their meat medium-rare, they get it 6 minutes per side. Salmon cooks faster than steak so I cook it about 5 minutes per side, and so on.
Charcoal fires are an inexact science, when the heat becomes a bit intense (I do use a hood thermometer) I slow the fire down by closing the top vent 1/3-1/2 of the way….. sometimes all the way. The edges of the coals and indirect cooking methods provide great utility as well. I cook sweet corn by wrapping it in foil, starting it over direct heat for 5 minutes, then moving it off the coals while I cook the steaks. Chicken and fish also prefer cooler fires or slower indirect heat. Experiment, that’s at least half the fun of cooking on a grill.