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I've never heard anyone else talk about this problem, but it seems to happen to me all the time:

I've been grilling regularly on a Webber charcoal grill for about a year. I have done my best to follow the instructions in the Webber manual about how to use the grill. I always use "the direct method" as I am usually cooking burgers or steaks, and frankly the results have not been too shabby so far.

But here's something I don't understand. When I cook a particularly juicy meat, especially a marinated meat, the juice always falls down on the charcoals, and it seems to extinguish many of them, at least partially. This wouldn't matter so much, except that it seems to lead to a big discrepancy in temperatures between the time I put the meat on until I flip, and then between the flip until the meat is ready. So if a recipe calls for 6 minutes on each side, after the first 6 minutes one side is super charred, and then I need to leave it on the second side for longer than 6 minutes to achieve the same. It's also painful because I often will grill a vegetable after the meat is done, and it always seems to take much longer than I expect.

Does anyone else have this problem? What should I do? I've seen drip pans at the store, but again the manual for my Webber suggests that these are only necessary when grilling by the indirect method.

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Are you sure you're getting the coals hot enough? They should be about a third to a half white when you start. I typically have the opposite problem of flare ups –  Rikon Aug 14 '11 at 22:06
    
Likewise I usually have to opposite problem of fat and oil dripping from the meat causing flames to leap up. –  Rincewind42 Aug 15 '11 at 6:42
    
Yeah, thanks guys. Based on the answers I am getting below, I think it may be a problem of not enough coals, and therefore not hot enough of a fire. –  Nels Beckman Aug 15 '11 at 14:47

2 Answers 2

up vote 8 down vote accepted

As a fellow Webber'er and long time griller, I'm going to wager one of three things going on here:

  • Your coals aren't hot enough. One of the biggest problems I see with folks and charcoal grills isn't waiting long enough for the coals. There's should be no visible flame and slightly more than half of the coals should be white. In a chimney starter - this is around 25 minutes for me. If you're using another method, YMMV.
  • You don't have enough coals. If you've just got enough coals to spread a thin layer across your grill, then they won't keep heat well and they'll cool down fast. If the liquid hits them too much here, they won't heat back up well. They should be grouped together somewhat and generally a couple layers thick for best heat.
  • There is waaaaay too much marinade still on your meat when it hits the grill. If its been soaked properly in the marinade, you don't need to have it still be gushing fluid when it hits the grill.
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If there are enough hot coals, #3 should not be an issue (it takes a lot of water to cool really hot coals). BTW if your hand can stand four seconds just over the grill, it is cold. –  belisarius Aug 15 '11 at 4:22
    
Thanks for the answer. From what I am hearing, it seems like #2 must be my problem. Regarding issue #1, I don't think this is the problem as I pretty much always wait until the coals are 90% ashed-over (I guess I could be waiting TOO long but...). Regarding #3, I don't think this is the problem either, as I often have this problem even if I'm using nothing but salt and pepper. So about how much charcoal should I be using for a Webber 18.5" grill? The instructions say 40 charcoals, and I literally counted them out last time. Too few? –  Nels Beckman Aug 15 '11 at 14:49
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I use natural lump charcoal and have for years, so I'm not sure what 40 bricks really looks like. Doing some visualization, this sounds like a bit too little if you're going to fill the grill - if you're spreading them all out and it comes to little more than a single layer, then either bunch them up more or add more charcoal (its rare than I/others spread them out over the whole grill as often times you want multiple zones of heat). Also, try lump charcoal - its just better all around (hotter, cleaner, less ash, etc). –  rfusca Aug 15 '11 at 15:11

Here is what I think is happening. Bear in mind, I'm going off some assumptions which I'll note in my response.

If you are following directions from Weber, you are probably cooking with the lid on (which you should). I think the amount of liquid being released from your meat is working against you. More steam than can be exhausted is being generated, thereby starving your coals of oxygen. As your coals cool, they will no longer boil off the liquids that fall on them, which amplifies the extinguishing effect.

Here are some suggestions, any combination of which may mitigate your problem (it will require some trial and error, but the results of even your failed trials should still be delicious):

  1. Dry your meat before putting on the grill. Try to get the initial rush of liquid out of your meat before cooking. You can do this by leaving it out at room temperature for 15-30 minutes, and patting it dry with paper towels right before putting it on the grill (going straight from fridge to grill will ensure maximum juices run out onto your cooking fuel).
  2. Use more fuel, and make sure it's fully-ignited.
  3. Go for depth, not breadth, with your charcoal. Only cover about half the charcoal grate with the same amount of fuel. Sometimes spreading your coals across the grate can create oxygen supply problems.
  4. Make sure you have enough airflow through the grill. Both the top and bottom vents should be open to 100% during direct grilling. Use the bottom vent to regulate temperature if you need it. If you feel you need extra airflow, prop the lid open a little.

Hopefully this helps. Good luck, and happy grilling!

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I've never heard of excess steam causing issues. I use a water pan regularly and don't have problems with it extinguishing coals. –  rfusca Aug 15 '11 at 14:09
    
In a sauna, for maximum steam effect, do you put a water pan in the middle of the floor, or do you pour water directly over the heated rocks? There's a world of difference between water sitting in a pan, away from the heat and slowly evaporating and water being superheated through direct contact and expanding into steam. If you fill the chamber with steam, you will invariably displace oxygen in the area around your fuel. –  Sean Hart Aug 15 '11 at 14:29
    
The only time that there's going to be some massive direct contact is right as they're laid on the grill, in which case the lid should still be open. Other points are good, I'd just be really shocked if excess steam was choking out the coals. –  rfusca Aug 15 '11 at 14:33

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