How hot is it?
Barbecuing with the right level (or levels) of heat is just as important as how you arrange the coals.
Charcoal cooking does not require the precision of baking or sweet-making but trying to barbecue everything over the same level of heat oversimplifies things and misses brilliant opportunities for creating superior tastes and textures.
There are two different ways of knowing how hot a charcoal fire is.
One is to use the thermometer in the lid of your barbecue – if your barbecue has one.
If you barbecue often using indirect heat (e.g. roast chicken, pork ribs, ribs of beef), look for a barbecue with that feature.
Otherwise you will be tempted to lift the lid too often, just to see how the coals are doing and that causes troublesome peaks and valleys in your cooking temperatures.
The Hand Test
The other way to gauge the heat of the coals is to extend your palm over the charcoal at a safe distance.
Imagine that a beer can is standing on the cooking grill, right over the coals.
If your palm was resting on the top of the can, it would be 12 cm from the cooking grill.
That’s where you should measure the heat of charcoal.
Always pull your hand away from the heat before it hurts, and be sure that nothing flammable, such as a sleeve, is dangling from your arm.
If you need to pull your hand away after 2 to 4 seconds, it is high heat.
If you need to pull your hand away after 5 to 7 seconds, it is medium heat.
If you need to pull your hand away after 8 to 10 seconds, it is low heat.
High (230° to 290°C): 2 to 4 seconds
Medium (180° to 230°C): 5 to 7 seconds
Low (130° to 150°C): 8 to 10 seconds