This is a bit of an afterthought, but in reviewing my own blog I “discovered” that I had left out a few fairly important general tips about using charcoal/coal chunks for BBQ-ing, Grilling, Smoking, Dutch Oven cooking, and outdoor cooking safety in general.
Folks, we are talking about fire and very high temperatures concentrated in a small area – so due caution in always in order.
One of the easiest items to forget that should always be handy for your outdoor cooking is a spray bottle of water. Whether cooking with coals, propane, or both – you can use it to help with flare ups. (I can still remember the excitement on my Grandson’s face the first time he saw a flare up from the fat dripping off a mess of Ribeye Steaks we were searing before moving them off of direct heat. HE knows the value of a handy spray bottle! ;)).
I’ve already alluded to gloves, small shovel, whisk broom, an old galvanized bucket, etc. But another item I failed to mention was a chimney to start your coals:
The one in the picture is “Webber style” and they are available at places like Home Depot, Lowes, or just about anywhere that deals in BBQ equipment/accessories, including on-line stores like Amazon.com.
The one you should look for will have a heat shield mounted on the handle so you have a bit more protection between your hand and the hot tube, but this old boy will never be caught handling a hot one without his gloves on – period. 8)
These days, I prefer to use something like Kingsford self-starting coals, and if I am cooking on the dutch oven table will probably just form a pyramid of them right on table and light them with a long stemmed match or butane starter to get things going – BUT if the meal takes a long time to cook, requiring more coals to be pre-heated, that old chimney is just the handiest/safest way to go.
20 years or so ago, you might have seen me using “charcoal lighter fluid” – there are plenty of funny videos about the dangers involved in using lighter fluid on YouTube.com – if you have picked up charcoal that ISN’T self-starting, (and yes, Kingsford still sells it), but it is far easier/safer to just crumble up a couple of newspaper pages and stuff them underneath your chimney. Put your desired number of coals in the top (they will stop at the grate on the bottom), and light the newspaper. Heat rises, the coals all rapidly catch and bake up to that white covering of ash you are looking for to cook with – and this is a *very* effective way to get your coals prepared for cooking inside 15 minutes. My recommendation is to get rid of that lighter fluid or whatever. We simply don’t need to introduce yet another danger to the same environment our kids and grandkids will be in.
Finally, and this is important for backyards, tailgates, camping, etc., keep one of those little fire extinguishers handy. The spray bottle is for handling “flare ups”, NOT for fighting fires. Enough said?