When Is Charcoal Ready to Cook On? (In-Depth Discussion)

How can you ensure an efficient cooking experience in a charcoal grill? Well, to ensure efficiency, you have to follow a proper method while cooking. However, the most important factor to consider for the optimal result is to know how to cook in a charcoal grill and when charcoal is actually ready to cook on.

Nowadays you might find some of the top-notch charcoal grills under $200. Nevertheless, if you do not know the actual cooking method and fail to match the proper timing, you can never get the result you expected. Do not panic! I am here to help you out.

Let’s know how to cook on a charcoal grill and when charcoal is actually ready to cook on. Read the full article carefully.

When is charcoal ready To Cook On?

There is a myth concerning charcoal grilling that when the charcoal turns white, it is ready to cook food on. If you are one of those who think so, you might experience unevenly and uncooked food very often.

My experience says, there are certain things that guarantee and let the user know that the charcoal is ready to cook on. Follow these steps to cook food efficiently:

  • Wait until the charcoal reaches an even temperature: you have to wait until you find that the charcoal is evenly burned and evenly heat. Before you place any food on the grill grates, you have to be sure of it.

When you see the charcoal turning white initially, it does not actually mean the charcoal hot both inside and outside. Rather, the charcoal remains cool in the inner part. Therefore, it is important to wait until you see two-third of the charcoal turns white.

Pro tips: One of the easiest and certain ways to understand that the charcoal is evenly hot both outside and inside is to look for the smoke. If you see no smoke coming from the charcoal, it is fully burned and has reached an even temperature.

If you want to light charcoal with minimal smoke, read my article on it.

  • Move the charcoal around: It is not only about waiting until two-third of the charcoal turn white, as even the distribution of charcoal inside the grill is also important. At this stage, you have to move the charcoal around using a grill tool of any sort. Do it carefully and ensure that the charcoal is scattered in on the entire basin. Doing so will further add to the evenly heating capacity.
  • Notice the thermometer frequently: It is not always possible to keep track of the temperature if you remain indifferent about it. Therefore, keep your eyes open and take notice of the temperature gauge very often.
  • Use a meat thermometer: It is not about the charcoal temperature only. You should also be careful about the inside temperature of the grill. It will give you a rack if the food temperature, thus helps pervert the food from overcooking or undercooking.

What about using lighter fluid to light the charcoal?  

You can definitely light your charcoal using the lighter fluid method. However, in the same way, you have to be careful whether the charcoal is ready or not to cook on.

Simply, the charcoal is ready when it takes a fully gray tone. The coal usually seems to take a cover of gray ash; it happens when the fluid burns off totally. Eventfully, the coal keeps burning and the ash starts to spread gradually to cover the entire briquette. The whole process usually takes 12-15 minutes.

Pro tips: When two-third of the coal is covered with the gray ash, the charcoal is all set to cook on. You can just spread the charcoal a bit more and start cooking calmly.

What about using a match light to light the charcoal?

Nowadays some people also prefer using match light to light up the charcoal.  If you are wondering how to be sure whether the charcoal ready to cook on or not, the answer is “when it gets a gray tone.

The same technique goes for it that I mentioned in the lighter fluid technique. You just need to wait until two-third of the coal is covered with gray ash. When you light up the coal, the flames disappear at a point then the coal starts to turn gray and gradually spread to the entire briquette. The whole process takes up to 12 minutes. Then you can just spread the coal and cook on it.

Pro tips: Like the lighter fluid method just let the whole flames subside then you will see the coal turning gray.

What happens if you cook when the charcoal is not ready to cook on?

I have mentioned about the chances of unevenly and partially cooked food earlier. If you place certain food on the grill, the very moment the coal turns ashes, it will leave you with unevenly and partially cooked food eventually. For instance, if you try to cook food like the steak or hamburgers, uneven or improper heating will leave it partially cooked.  You might find it cooked outside, but the inside is not cooked.  

You can try to avoid such occurrences by leaving the food on the grill for a longer period. It may ensure that the food is fully cooked, both outside and inside. Yet you cannot just strike out the chance of partially cooked food.

Therefore, the Importance of knowing the actual period for cooking is vital if you want to cook food satisfactorily.


No matter what method you follow to light up your charcoal grill, it is always important to cook on charcoal detecting the actual period of cooking.  If you do not know when the charcoal is ready to cook on, you will end up with unsatisfactory cooking experience. That is why, basically, I suggest knowing the process fully before you move on to cooking on charcoal.

Follow my comprehensive guideline and cook efficiently on your charcoal grill.

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