To Build a Fire

Gas grills may get the prime floor space at Home Depot, but for backyard gourmands, nothing beats the warm glow of charcoal


Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.



“Fat dripping on hot coals produces moisture, and the flavored humidity gives your meat a distinct taste that gas can’t match. Plus cooking with charcoal makes you feel more like a man.” CHRIS LILLY, Ten-time barbecuing world champion

Though the basic idea of a charcoal grill caveman like fire! has never changed, today’s best models bear little resemblance to the traditional steel bowl and lid. Viking’s stainless-steel Charcoal Ceramic Cooking Capsule features a ceramic interior for heat retention, porcelain-coated cooking grids that prevent food from sticking, and a built-in thermometer. $3,000 (complete Outdoor Cooker, shown here, with two gas burners for heating sauces or keeping food warm, $5,000);

BRING THE HEATFive steps to the perfect charcoal fire, from Rick Rodgers, author of the Kingsford Complete Grilling Cookbook

1. You can use either hot-burning lump charcoal or even-burning briquettes, but for best results, mix them together. In an average grill (22 inches), use about three pounds of each.

2. Stuff the bottom of a charcoalchimney with two newspaper sheets (don’t overstuff the paper or it won’t ignite). Pour in the coals, light the paper, and set the chimney on the smaller of the two grilling grates.

3. When the coals are glowing, pour them into the grill. 

4. Bank about half the coals on one side of the grill and spread the rest in a thin layer over the bottom to form two cooking zones. Sear meat over the hot zone, then move it to the cooler zone for more even cooking.

5. Close the lid to trap heat inside the grill and cook the food from all sides, not just the bottom.

Own your next weekend cookout with grill guru and New Yorkrestaurateur Aarón Sánchez’s Yucatán-style grilled lobster

1/2 habanero chile (seeded and deveined)
1 garlic clove
1/2 cup sour orange juice
1/4 cup lime juice
1 tbsp honey
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1 tsp whole black peppercorns
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds

Liquefy the puree ingredients in a blender. In a skillet, toast the spices over a high flame until they smoke. Run them through a coffee grinder and mix into the puree.

Using a large butcher knife, split a live lobster down the middle, leaving the meat in the shell but removing any roe. Generously spread the sauce over both halves and grill them for six to eight minutes per side. Serve with lemon wedges.