How Much Charcoal to Use in a Grill?

Figuring out how much charcoal to use in a grill is one of the first steps to becoming a grill master!  Luckily the process for figuring out how much you need is pretty easy!

Lit Charcoal in a Weber Grill

Just because we have to start someplace I am going to make two assumptions:

  • You are cooking on a 22 inch Weber charcoal grill
  • You are using Kingsford briquettes

The 22 inch kettle and Kingsford charcoal are the most popular grills and charcoal brands out there.  If you are using something different then use this information as a guide and adjust accordingly.

The Basics of Grilling with Charcoal

The two factors we want to influence are:

  • How hot do we want the grill to be?
  • How long do we want the grill to be hot?

The temperature of your grill will be determined by how much charcoal you use and how much air is available to the charcoal. In general, more fuel and more air creates a hotter grill.

How long the charcoal burns at the temperature you want will depend upon how the charcoal is arranged and lit.

Let’s look at some specific examples:

Hot and Fast Grilling for a Crowd (4.5 lbs)

This example is the biggest user of fuel and will consume about 4.5 pounds of charcoal.

Let’s say you want to grill up a platter of hamburgers and a few chicken drumsticks.  This is a case where you are going to want some high heat for about an hour.

I am figuring an hour because you might be doing the burgers in batches or maybe you want to cook the chicken separate from the burgers.

In this case I would fill a Weber charcoal chimney completely full of charcoal.  This will take about 90 briquettes of Kingsford Blue which is about 4.5 pounds worth of fuel.

Use the chimney to light the charcoal and, once the coals are ashed over, spread them evenly across the charcoal grate.  Keep the bottom and top air vents completely open.

Hot and Fast Grilling for a Few (2.5 lbs)

Let’s say that you just want to cook up a couple of ribeye steaks and some grilled asparagus for you and your sweetheart.

You are going to want to have high heat for a short amount of time.

In this case I would fill the chimney halfway full with about 45 briquettes of Kingsford Blue.  

Use the chimney to light the charcoal and, once the coals are ashed over, dump them into a pile in the center of charcoal grate.  Keep the bottom and top air vents completely open.

The charcoal is going to burn hot for longer than you really need but will be hot enough in the time you use it for some serious searing action.

Low and Slow Grilling/Smoking (1.5 lbs + More as Needed)

Not everything benefits from Hot and Fast grilling and there are times when Low and Slow is the better option.

Think about things like Country Style Ribs or maybe a stuffed pork chop.

In these cases I like to use around 30 briquettes, about 1.5 pounds worth, and bank them on the left side of the grill.  I like to light one side of the charcoal bed with either a paraffin wax cube or even a propane torch.  Let the fire slowly burn across the charcoal bed while your meat cooks on the opposite side of the grill.

If the fire gets low before the food is finished you can always add 5-10 more unlit briquettes on top of the lit charcoal to extend the cooking session.

29 thoughts on “How Much Charcoal to Use in a Grill?

  1. I have a 14 inch charcoal grill. How many briquettes should I put to cook skirt steak, 2 sausages and 2 hamburgers.

  2. So today I smoked a 9 on pork butt. I use a Weber grill with indirect heat. I keep finding myself having to keep refilling the chimney about 1/4 full every 2 hours or so. Is there a better way to do this? Like maybe get the initial heat going with the chimney and instead of using the chimney over and over again maybe add some coals onto the already lit coals to keep the temp up? Will that work?

    1. Yes. Place 5 briquettes on each side every hour. I do that for a turkey at thanksgiving after doing my initial coal bed. Split it and push to each side with a drip pan in the center. Then add hourly by tossing them on the side hourly as I said before.

  3. Generally speaking, do you recommend more coal/heat if you are grilling more pieces of meat? I’m used to grilling for myself alone (1 burger/chop/steak). If I’m grilling for a few more people on the same-sized grill, should I use more charcoal?

  4. How many pounds of bricketts do I need to cook an 80 pound pig at 220 degrees. I figure about 8-10 hours of heat.

  5. How much coal would I need for a BBQ party of 100 people, cooked over 5 hours. Have 80 lbs of chicken, 120 burgers and 40 lbs of beef to cook.

    Thank you.

    1. Wow, that’s a tough question to answer. I don’t know what type of cooker you’re using, what temp you’re cooking at over those 5 hours…but I would guess you’ll need a full bag of charcoal at your disposal to be safe. Just keep a good even layer going and add as needed.

      1. We have 2 30”x14” charcoal grills, 1 2’x3’ charcoal grill and 2-3 small 14” grills. We have 10 bags of 18lb coal in each. Would that be enough?

  6. How much coal briquettes needed to make 6-7 pieces of chicken thighs (tandoori Kabab)? I use an 18 inch kettle. Thank you..

  7. i have a big brickman to use for inderect heat. i smoke alot of ribs. i use half hickery half apple chips. what do u recemend?

    1. I’m a big fan of mixing woods. Hickory and Apple is a good combo. Hickory and any fruit wood is a good combo. If you find hickory to be too strong, go with all fruit. On the flip side, if you feel like it’s not strong enough – go with all hickory!

    1. You absolutely can, Ed. We’ve actually used our Party as a pizza oven with great success. The best way to achieve and maintain a hot cooker is to eliminate the water. I’ll simply lay tin foil in the water pan to catch drippings, open up the vents and let that baby fire up.

      Yesterday I burned out my fatboy to help clean it after a day of cooking ribs. I emptied the water, opened all the vents and had plenty of lit charcoal in the firebox. What temp did I hit? 550.

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