Culinary Adventures, Our Growing Edge
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10 tips for charcoal barbecue noobs


The Koala doesn’t spend much time in my kitchen our kitchen, but like most red-blooded kiwi males, The Koala is happy behind a barbecue (with beer in hand). We haven’t had a barbecue for a few years so The Koala and I bought ourselves a charcoal barbecue for Christmas.

Introducing our Charmate 57cm Premium Charcoal BBQ. There were 3 options for this size which we dubbed the cheapie ($80), the middle of the road ($200) and the Weber ($400). We went for the $200 option and also picked up a cover, a barbecue tool set, a lighter, Manuka wood chips and 2 bags of hardwood lump coal. Yes, we got ourselves coal for Christmas! We must have been bad this year.


Bacon jam and beef burgers with melted smoked brie (by Evansdale Cheeses), manuka smoked steaks and marinated chicken drums.


Gas barbecues are super popular here in New Zealand because they are quick, convenient and cheap to run. But we figure, we cook with gas in our kitchen every day. We know what gas cooking tastes like. We would like a new experience please!


We put on the meat and ask our guests to bring a salad or a dessert. This way we can plan our barbecuing in advance.


Charcoal is different to gas (no shit). You get a real smokey flavour that you just can’t get with gas, but there is a fair bit of tinkering involved and a steep learning curve. Neither of us had cooked on a charcoal barbecue. Ever. So like good little internet-age kids, we turned to Youtube. We quickly got clues on how to become a charcoal barbecue snob. We started off with purist ideals and then tweaked it (got lazy) as we went along.

Here are a few things we’ve learned…

10 tips for charcoal barbecue noobs:

1. Patience grasshopper

As excited as you might be (we sure were), don’t plan a barbecue the same day you plan on assembling the barbecue. Assembling a barbecue took much longer than we expected and was um…a bonding experience. The Koala had to nip out to the hardware store because one of the nuts was missing threading. Due to every step of the process (assembly, prep, starting, cooking) taking a bit longer than we anticipated, we (including our guests) didn’t sit down to eat our first barbecue until 9pm.

2. Use hardwood lump charcoal

Lump charcoal is the stuff that purists use. Made from hardwood only. Check out the difference between lump charcoal and briquettes here.

3. Start coals in the barbecue

Don’t worry too much about the where or which side of the barbecue you want to cook on. Just pile it up in the centre to start. Once lit, you can carefully tip the barbecue to one side which will shift the coals wherever you want them. We also tried starting the coals in a makeshift chimney starter but found it a little scary having to transport hot coals. If you have a chimney starter, that is also good.

4. Hot and cool spots

By keeping your coals to one section of the barbecue, your grill will have hot and cool sections for direct and indirect cooking.

Slow cooking meats (chicken) is best started on hot sections (directly over coals) until browned and then moved to a cool spot (such as on a rack) to cook right through. Covering with the hood is good for indirect cooking.

Quick cooking meats (steaks) are best directly over hot coals. Don’t turn too often or you’ll make a mess up your beautiful grill marks.

5. Newspaper drizzled with cooking oil

Is an ideal starter. If this fails, use fire starter cubes. Never use lighter fluid.

6. Don’t be greedy

Don’t cook too much food. Until you get a feel for the length of cooking time, avoid the desire to cook a mountain of food on the barbecue. Limit it to one or two rounds of cooking. If you have more food than will cover the grill surface twice, you have too much food.

7. Water bottle

Fiery flare ups can happen, particularly if you are cooking meat with sweet marinades or fatty sausages. A little squirt with a water bottle can alleviate flare ups. Also good to identify a water source in case of any emergencies. We barbecue beside an outdoor tap. Never spray oil on a hot barbecue. Oil should be sprayed on the grill surface only and well before any sign of fire.

8. Surface matters

Until you’re super confident, you might want to place your barbecue on concrete or flat grass. The deck on our rental property is not a good place for hot coals.

9. Booze

It is tradition to enjoy a beer or two or three or four while tending to a barbecue. Please resist this urge until you are confident. It’s easy to get distracted with guests around, even more so when you’ve had few drinks! Personally, I’d  would limit to 2 drinks, you can drink more (and relax) when cooking is finished. If you’re too drunk to drive a car, you might be too drunk to play with fire.

10. Sugar and Smoke

Sweet marinades can burn quickly so avoid sweet marinades or baste them on right at the end of cooking. A handful of Manuka (a native New Zealand hardwood) wood chips can give your food a wonderful smokey flavour. Add chips towards the end of cooking and cover with lid.



Summer fun with our charcoal barbecue.


our-growing-edge-badgeThis post is part of Our Growing Edge, a monthly blogging event to encourage bloggers to try new food related things.  Kim from Love Live Life by Kim is the host for this month’s event.

If you have a blog and you are eating or cooking something new this month, click below to join. More information here.



  1. So glad I found your blog! Great post and from browsing your site, looks like you’ve got a lot of great food and great ideas. And can I mention how much I love the bunny pictures?! Looking forward to following your culinary and bunny-related adventures.

  2. We dumped our gas BBQ at the cottage two years ago and opted for the cheapie Weber which is $150 here but we bought it in the US for about $100! I strongly recommend a chimney starter, no need to splurge on a name brand, we have a no name and it works like a charm, literally reducing your charcoal prep time. We don’t use briquettes either, way too many chemicals. Smoking is exceptional in this baby.

    • What a bargain! We figured that we would give this charcoal BBQ a go and if in 5 years time we really love it, we would splurge on a Weber. They’re $400 here, though we might be able to find one on sale. I’m looking forward to smoking. Oh baby!

  3. Pingback: Our Growing Edge February Round-up | Love Live Life by Kim

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