Greed, lust, pride, envy….these are some of the cardinal sins that have plagued men (and women) since we were banished from the Garden of Eden. And not having enough hot coals for your meat is unforgiveable, and should see you burned at the stake.
You’ve just spent a small fortune on top quality meat, so don’t screw it up by getting short-sided on coals. Unfortunately, calculating how much charcoal is not as simple as one would hope. There are numerous factors which ultimately affect the amount of heat required, and generated.
How large is your grill? How many people. Charcoal briquettes or lump coal? Burgers, steak or some slow cooked ribs?
Charcoal briquettes or lump coal?
Lump charcoal - bags of burnt wood that look like they were gathered from the last forest fire. Lump charcoal is made by slowly burning pieces of wood in the absence of oxygen until all the natural chemicals, sap and moisture are expelled. Often lump charcoal manufacturers use discarded lumber, which can be loaded with impurities. If it’s the last bag in the shop, then grab it.
Briquettes are made from sawdust and leftover woods, combined with chemical binders and filler and compressed. The additives hold the materials together in order to achieve clean, uniform little blocks which make them easier to stack. Just ensure you stock up on a reputable brand.
How to measure charcoal
The volume ratio of briquette to lump coal is about 1:1½ kg. So you need 1½ the amount of lump to get the equivalent heat output and burn time from a compressed briquette.
The general rule of thumb is that the ratio of charcoal briquette to meat needed is 1:1. So for every kilogram of meat, you will need a kilogram of briquette charcoal.
1kg of meat = 1kg briquettes
1kg of meat = 1½ kg lump coal
As with most things in life, one has to be careful about generalizations, because each brand is different. As a great poet famously said - not all briquettes are made equal; some are better than others.
The truth is that only through trial and error can you truly nail the amount of charcoal you need for your own grill. One thing is for certain though, it sure is fun practising!