Prepare Your Cooker

Prepare Your Cooker

Knowing how to prepare your cooker is critical to your success. Don’t just dump lit charcoal into your pit & cook your meat above. I highly recommend you prepare your cooker for indirect cooking. Regardless of your cooking method, let’s get started correctly. Don’t be in such a rush that you skimp on safety!

Jump to: Basic Charcoal Cooker | Side Firebox/Offset Smoker | Gas Grill

charcoal chimneyCooking with Charcoal:

About 20-30 minutes before cooking starts, remove your cooking grate and prepare a chimney of charcoal (lump charcoal preferred) on the charcoal grate. Never use lighter fluid or the instant-light type of briquettes which can impart nasty off-flavors. When the coal tips are covered in a fine white ash, use gloves and pour the lit charcoal onto the charcoal grate.

Basic Charcoal Cooker:

  • While the charcoal starts, check your grease cup and empty if necessary. Also scrape off any excess grease inside your cooker (I use a putty knife) and check your grates for cleanliness.
  • If you are using the indirect cooking method in a charcoal grill, pour the charcoal on one side of the cooker, not in the middle, and place a shallow water pan on the opposite side of the coals. Disposable aluminum pans work great for this and they come in various sizes. Replace your cooking grate. I also put a small water pan, such as a disposable loaf pan, directly above the coals.
  • I clean my cooking grates after the meal is eaten, the coals have died down, and the cooker is still a little warm. This leave my clean & ready to cook the next great BBQ dish. If you didn’t do that, you may need to brush and clean your grates after they have warmed a bit. Allow the cooking grates to warm a little and brush them clean with a good brush per the manufacture’s directions. I use a wide wire brush my grates. Check the grates & remove any stray wires left from your grill brush.
  • If grilling a lean meat, lube your grates. Use tongs to hold a rolled paper towel dipped in vegetable oil as you quickly and carefully oil the entire surface of the grates.
  • Close your lid and allow your cooker to come up to the desired temperature.

For important details about creating and maintaining temperature in your cooker, read my guide to pits and cooking temperatures and you should also know the fundamentals to indirect cooking.

Jump to: Basic Charcoal Cooker | Side Firebox/Offset Smoker | Gas Grill

Charcoal Cooker with Side Firebox (Offset Smoker):

  • While the charcoal starts, check your grease cup and empty if necessary. Also scrape off any excess grease inside your cooker (I use a putty knife) and check your grates for cleanliness. I clean and brush my cooking grates after the meal is eaten, the coals have died down, and the cooker is still a little warm. If you didn’t do that, you may need to brush and clean your grates after they have warmed a bit.
  • Because pits with a side firebox aren’t really designed to cook meat at high temps, you probably won’t need to lube your grates (lean meats are typically cooked at high temps). Fattier cuts of meat render their fat during the cook so a prior cook probably left your cooking grates seasoned nicely. If for some reason you need to lube your grates, use tongs to hold a rolled paper towel dipped in vegetable oil as you quickly and carefully oil the entire surface of the grates when they warm up a bit.
  • Place a water pan, such as a disposable loaf pan, on the cooker’s cooking grate directly above the heat entry point into your cooker (where the side firebox connects to the main cooking chamber) and fill with water. This is where it will be too hot to place food on the grate. The mass of the water will help buffer temp fluctuations and humidify the cooking environment.
  • My side firebox has cooking grates inside of it above the charcoal grate which can be handy at times. I remove them for a basic cook to make room for plenty of coals.
  • When the charcoal is ready, and wearing gloves and closed-toe shoes, pour the coals on the charcoal grate in the firebox.
  • Close your lid and allow your cooker to come up to the desired temperature

For important details about creating and maintaining temperature in your cooker, read my guide to pits and cooking temperatures and you should also know the fundamentals to indirect cooking.

Jump to: Basic Charcoal Cooker | Side Firebox/Offset Smoker | Gas Grill

Gas Grill:

  • Check your grease cup. If using smoke (and why wouldn’t you?!), place a smoker box loaded with chips directly on a burner. I place chunk wood directly on the burner under the cooking grate. Light all the burners per the manufacturer’s directions.
  • Check your grates for cleanliness. I clean and brush my cooking grates after the meal is eaten. I go back outside and heat the cooker on high then scrape and brush the grates per the manufacture’s directions. If you didn’t do that, you may need to brush and clean your grates after they have warmed a bit. I use a wide wire brush on my grates. Check the grates & remove any stray wires left from your grill brush.
  • If grilling a lean meat, lube your grates. Use tongs to hold a rolled paper towel dipped in vegetable oil as you quickly and carefully oil the entire surface of the grates.
  • If cooking with indirect heat, turn off the burner(s) below the spot where you will place your food and place a water pan on the cooking grate directly above the burner that remains lit.
  • Warm to the proper cooking temperature per your recipe.

For important details about creating and maintaining temperature in your cooker, read my guide to pits and cooking temperatures and you should also know the fundamentals to indirect cooking.

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