How to Properly Prepare your Charcoal for Cooking

I love to cook using my Dutch ovens but having said many people seem to think that Dutch oven cooking is magical.  How can you put something in a pot, cover it, and place it on coals really cook something.  Well, the answer is simple.  The metal of the pot holds the heat and acts just like an oven.  While this concept may sound and appear foreign, it really is quite simple.

As easy as the concept of Dutch oven cooking is, it appears that lighting or starting the charcoal can be a mystery.  Yes, I have just place charcoal in the fire and started it that way but this is not the best approach.  While it does work, there is a right and wrong way of starting your charcoal for Dutch oven cooking. 

charcoal.cookingTo begin the process, you will need some type of chimney.  The one I use is a homemade version that is made from a tall, metal can that has air holes poked into it.  Yes, this works but I have to have a heavy duty glove to move it or a metal rod to just knock it over when I want my coals.  The best approach is to spend the money and buy one from a camping or box store.

The next step is to learn how to use your charcoal chimney.  The process may appear easy but there is a science behind it.  The just of this science is that once the charcoal is lit, hot air goes out the top which draws cool air into the chimney from the bottom.  This air, in turn, fuels the fire.  This will continue until the fire burns out.

Now that you know the science, let’s learn how to use the charcoal chimney.  To begin this process, one will need to know how many “coals” you are going to need for your dish.  Once you know that, place that number in your charcoal chimney plus a few extras.  Next, make sure that your chimney is on a fire resistant surface.  The next step I frankly do not do but some people believe in adding an accelerant, which means lighter fluid.  If this is something you want to do, this is the point by which you add the starter.  After that is done, allow it to soak in for a few seconds.  Next, crumble up some paper and place underneath the chimney.  Tip the chimney away from you and light.  Once the paper is lit, tip the chimney to an upright position and wait.

After your chimney is lit, the question remains how do you tell if the coals are ready?  A good rule of thumb to follow is the 20 minute mark.  Regardless of the brand of charcoal you choose, most will be ready around the 20 minute mark. 

Once the 20 minute mark is reached, you are ready to place them on your Dutch oven but this is not the end of story.  If your dish is going to take longer than 45 minutes you will need to restock your charcoal in your chimney and light it after your dish has been cooking for 20 minutes.  Doing this will guarantee that you always have hot coals for your Dutch oven cooking.