Can You Add More Charcoal While Cooking?

I’m sure we all remember a time where our charcoal was depleting and burning up and we weren’t quite done with the cook! Panic? No. But something must be done. Can you add more charcoal while cooking? Yes. But there are a few things to remember to not sacrifice the quality of the cook and risk losing too much temperature.

Can You Add More Charcoal While Cooking?

The short answer is yes. You can add more charcoal while cooking, whether it’s grilling or smoking. If you can, it’s best to first light the charcoal before you add it. This will help keep a consistent temperature while you cook. However, as long as you’re not using quick light charcoal, you can add both lit or unlit charcoal with very little impact on the cook.

Is It OK To Add Unlit Charcoal While Cooking?

Yes, as long as you are not using quick-light charcoal as it has chemical additives that are supposed to be burnt off as it lights. If you’re going to add unlit charcoal while cooking it’s always best to use 100% all-natural briquettes or high-quality lump charcoal for smoking or lump charcoal for grilling. 

If you don’t have any easy way to light the charcoal first, an easy way to light the unlit charcoal quickly without losing out on temperature is to distribute them in a single layer, spread evenly over the top of the burning coals.

However, if you can light the charcoal first and it’s easy to do then you might as well light it. This is solely for the purpose of keeping a consistent temperature. This applies to both high temperature grilling and low and slow smoking. This can be done simply by using a charcoal chimney. 

For a full guide on the best ways to light a charcoal grill, click here.

How To Add Charcoal During A Cook

There are several easy and effective ways to add charcoal throughout the cook should you need a top-up. The method of adding charcoal will change depending on whether you’re grilling or smoking and what unit you’re using.

How To Add More Charcoal While Grilling

  1. Using a chimney starter: simply refill your chimney starter with the desired amount of charcoal, add newspaper or a natural firelighter and get it burning. Once it’s ready to go, carefully take off the grill grates and pour the fresh charcoal evenly over the bed of coals.
  2. Using unlit charcoal: After carefully removing the meat and grill grate, place a single layer of charcoal evenly over the lit charcoal. NEVER add lighter fluid to already burning coals! It shouldn’t take long for it to catch, and if you’re closing the hood, open the vents to allow a bit more airflow until it combusts.

How To Add More Charcoal While Smoking

If you’re using the indirect heating method on a charcoal grill it’s very simple to add charcoal during the cook.

If you’re using the snake technique you don’t need to light the charcoal at all, simply add more charcoal to the end of the snake and return the grill grate and meat to extend the cook.

If you’re using the 2-zone method, it’s up to you whether you want to light the charcoal using a chimney starter first, or just add a few extra coals in a single layer on top of the burning charcoal.

The best charcoal briquettes for smoking should be all natural, quick lighting, and long lasting.

As a backup plan, you can always prepare to finish off the cook in the oven. Most of the time it works great – like when finishing pork ribs in the oven.

How To Add More Charcoal To Big Green Egg/Kamdo

If you’re mid-way through smoking a brisket or pork butt using your Big Green Egg and you think you’re going to need more time, you are able to add more charcoal.

As quickly and as carefully as possible remove the meat and grill grates and then pour in your lump charcoal. Safely put the grill grates back in place and resume the cook. Remember, if you’re using unlit charcoal, carefully place a single layer spread evenly over the coals. To get it lit more quickly, slightly open the vent at the bottom and top to allow a bit more airflow, but watch the temperature and adjust accordingly.

Lump charcoal for kamado should always be 100% all-natural and high quality. Never use lighter fluids or self-starting charcoal as the additives can contaminate your unit.

Final Words

If you had any fears that adding unlit charcoal during the cook would compromise the quality, fret no more. Just be aware that adding too much unlit charcoal during the cook can lower the cooking temperature. Therefore, if it’s easy and you have the tools to do so there is no harm in lighting the charcoal before adding it during the cook.

Be sure not to add any charcoal that has additives in it such as quick-light charcoal, and don’t add lighter fluid to the unlit charcoal before adding it. This is so you can avoid any nasty chemicals infusing into your meat during the cook. If you’re adding unlit charcoal, utilize your vents to control the temperature and keep it consistent!

Happy cooking!

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