Elevate your grilling game with these simple tips and put away the instant-light charcoal bags!

Sure, a gas grill is quick and easy to use, but there's nothing like the flavor of something cooked over charcoal. As an added bonus to going old school, you don't need much to get started. Here are some tips to get your summer grilling off on the right foot.

1. Gather your supplies.

All you need is some plain charcoal, matches, and brown paper grocery bags or fire starter pellets made out of pressed wood shavings. Forget the lighter fluid—the next step will change your charcoal game forever. If you want to get fancy with your smoke, experiment with wood chips like mesquite or applewood in a little smoke box.

grill, charcoal

Courtesy of Kingsford (via Facebook)

2. Get a charcoal chimney starter.

Trust me: this weird-looking contraption will be your new best friend. To get your coals started, you load it up with a few balls of crumpled paper, a heap of plain charcoal, and more crumpled paper or a fire starter in the lower chamber. Do NOT use instant-light charcoal with this if you value your eyebrows.


Once you light the paper, the chimney's design will pull the flames up through the coals. You'll be ready to cook up those burgers and veggies in about 15 to 20 minutes, when the flames have died down and the coals look consistently ashy.

3. Experiment with cleaning methods.

The easiest way to get crud off your grill rack is to get your coals going to generate some heat. Close the lid, wait about five minutes, then get to scrubbing. Personally, I prefer a silicone brush, as metal bristle scrubber heads can sometimes break apart. Who wants unexpected shards of metal in their burger?

Instead of using a standard grill brush, you can try something a little more natural. Cut a big onion in half and make a handle by stabbing it with a fork. Rub the cut side of the onion on the rack to loosen any debris. The heat and the juice from the onion will do some quick magic with minimal effort. A cut lemon will have the same effect, but you will definitely need more than one to get the grill clean.

4. Invest in a good, all-weather cover.

Extend the life of your grill by covering it when not in use. There's nothing more embarrassing than finding a big rust spot before you host a backyard BBQ. In addition to pollen and dust, it should also protect from rain and surface scratches.

5. Oil it up.

After your coals die down, carefully remove the rack and give it a good spray with your hose. Use a few paper towels and a good glug of vegetable oil to keep it pristine until the next time you use it.

With a bit of care and some simple tools, you can keep your charcoal grill in tip-top shape all summer. Take the time to do it right!

Do you have any other tips for taking care of a charcoal grill? Share them with us in the comments.