There’s nothing like the scent of barbecue smoke billowing from a charcoal grill, and nothing rivals the flavor and tenderness that results when wood chips are allowed to work their magic on a great — or not-so-great — cut of meat. Whether you plan to stick with burgers and hot dogs or stretch your culinary wings with long-smoked barbecue, learn some basic techniques for barbecuing with charcoal and wood chips and you’ll be grilling like a pro in no time.

Things You'll Need

Buy good charcoal. Hardwood charcoal — chunks of dried, burnt wood — is best, as it burns hot and imparts a true wood-smoke flavor to your food.

Soak the wood chips in water to keep them from catching fire once they’re on the grill. Soak thin, splintery chips for about 30 minutes. Soak chunkier chips for one to two hours. Use about 2 cups’ worth.

Light the charcoal in a chimney. A chimney is a cylindrical container that has an empty compartment with holes in the bottom and a handle attached to the side. Fill the empty compartment with three sheets of loosely crumpled newspaper. Stand the chimney on the bottom grate of the grill. Fill the cylinder with charcoal. Light the newspaper through holes in the newspaper compartment.

Wait 30 to 45 minutes, until the charcoal is ready for grilling. The coal is ready when it’s covered by a light gray ash.

Create a pouch for the wood chips by layering several sheets of aluminum foil, spreading the wood chips in a layer in the center, and gathering the edges together to seal. Poke holes in the top of the pouch to allow smoke to escape.

Pour the charcoal into the grill. Place it directly underneath where the food will be if you’re grilling meats that need searing, like steaks, burgers or pork chops. Place the coal to one side of the grill if you’re grilling meats like ribs and roasts that require slower cooking and lower, indirect heat.

Place the cooking grate in the grill. Position the wood chip pouch directly above the charcoal. Add the food when the wood chips begin to smoke.

Cover the grill with the lid to keep in the smoke, but make sure air can get through. Prop the lid open an inch or two, if necessary. Grill food until it’s cooked thoroughly.


  • Don’t turn seared meats until they’re finished cooking on one side. If they stick to the grill, they’re not finished yet.

  • Use less charcoal if you’re grilling long-cooking meats like spare ribs and pork shoulder for barbecue. Keep the heat at about 200 degrees. You’ll need to replenish the charcoal and wood chips occasionally. If desired, place a pan of water on the cooking grate to allow steam to help keep the meat moist.

  • Keep a clean spray or squirt bottle filled with water next to the grill to douse flare-ups.