How Much Charcoal Do You Need For A BBQ?

There’s nothing worse than beginning a BBQ, only to realize you haven’t got enough charcoal. Like with most things in life, preparation is key when it comes to successful barbequing. In this article, we take a look at how much charcoal you need for a BBQ.

In terms of weight, a good rule to follow is 1kg of charcoal per guest. If you’re cooking for 4 people or less, 4kg will be sufficient. With a larger crowd, you can still follow this rule, however refilling your BBQ while cooking is crucial. Use a chimney to prepare the additional charcoal.

This general rule should make it much easier to select the right amount of charcoal for your BBQ. Now, let’s dive into some more useful information on the subject and make sure that you’re never short on charcoal again!

How Much Charcoal Do You Need For A BBQ?

How Much Charcoal You Need For A BBQ

As previously mentioned, the 1kg of charcoal per guest rule works in most cases. It’s a quick way of calculating how much charcoal you should buy before your next cooking session. However, there are a couple of other methods you can use. If for some reason, 1kg per person is inaccurate for your style of cooking, one of these is sure to do the trick.

Based On Your Chimney Starter

Another good measurement tool is your chimney starter, which is particularly useful when cooking for a smaller crowd. Here are a few different variations you can use, depending on the size of your gathering:
  • When cooking for 1-2 people, or for meats that require low heat, filling 1/3 is sufficient.
  • When cooking for 3-4 people, or for meats that require a medium heat, 2/3 of a chimney will work.
  • For 5-6 people, or for meats that require high heat, using a full chimney is necessary.

If you’re cooking for more than 6 people, you can use the above measurements to calculate how much charcoal you’ll need. Having a chimney starter will also give you more flexibility when it comes to selecting the right amount of charcoal. In most cases, you’ll easily be able to identify when you’ve underestimated coal measurements. If this is the case, a fresh batch can be prepared in the chimney starter and applied to the BBQ, as and when it’s needed.

Add As You Cook

Another method you can look to use is simply adding more charcoal as you cook. Start with one layer of coals, spread evenly across the bottom of the BBQ. Begin cooking with this amount of charcoal, using a thermometer to ensure that an optimal cooking temperature is maintained. If you notice this temperature beginning to decrease, more charcoal can be added.

As mentioned in the introduction, adding more charcoal while cooking isn’t a problem, especially if you own a chimney starter. It’s always better to have too much charcoal, as opposed to running out mid-BBQ. In any case, charcoal can be kept for decades if stored correctly. Keep in mind that only unused coals should be saved, as reusing charcoal can cause complications.

Based On The Amount Of Food

Using this formula, you will use 1kg of charcoal per 1kg of food. This may take slightly longer to calculate, especially if you buy cuts of meat that have odd weights. After adding up the total weight of all food, round up to the nearest kilogram. That number indicates how much briquette charcoal is required. If you’re using lump wood charcoal, multiply this number by 1.5. For example, 5 kilograms of meat will need 7.5 kilograms of lump charcoal.

The Amount Of Lumpwood Charcoal Needed Vs Briquettes

You might be wondering why you need to use more lump wood charcoal with your BBQ. To put it simply, briquettes are responsible for burning longer. They are also great for effective temperature control. When using lump charcoal, you tend to get a higher temperature for less time. This is not a problem if you’re only cooking for a few close friends or family members. However, cooking for a crowd will require additional coals to compensate for this decrease in potential cooking time.

Lump charcoal also tends to be more expensive than briquettes. While it’s often a minimal increase in price, this can quickly add up, especially if you’re using 50% more. Taking this into account, briquettes are the ideal solution for anyone that wants to BBQ on a budget. One positive of lump charcoal to consider is the signature smoky flavor that is associated with barbequing. This taste is much more prevalent when using lump wood charcoal to cook.

How Much Charcoal For Grilling?

Grilling involves using direct heat to quickly cook food. The method preferred by many for this type of cooking is known as two-zone grilling. This type of grilling involves covering only half the BBQ base with charcoal, which in turn gives you two different cooking areas: 
  • Direct Cooking – This occurs on the side of the grill that is located directly above the flames, the perfect place for searing and grilling meats. Heat will be much higher on this part of the grill, allowing you to cook faster.
  • Indirect Cooking - Naturally, indirect cooking occurs on the other side of the grill. The temperature here will be lower, which is best suited to food that requires a slower cook. Meat cooked correctly here will be tender and juicy. This process uses convection heat, similar to an oven but without compromising on that distinctive, BBQ flavor. 

The reason we mention two-zone grilling is that it can help to reduce the amount of charcoal you need. As you are only filling half of the BBQ, you can drastically cut back on charcoal consumption. The best part? You don’t lose any of that valuable cooking space on the grill. Successfully using the two-zone grilling method can take some practice, but it’s a fantastic way to get the most out of your charcoal.

How Much Charcoal Do You Need For A BBQ?

How Much Charcoal Is Needed To Start A BBQ?

Starting a BBQ can be done with one layer of charcoal, arranged suitably for your cooking method. In all instances, 1kg of charcoal is the minimum required. If you use smaller amounts, you run the risk of not generating enough heat to cook the meat or any other food you plan on barbequing. 

Once you’ve found the appropriate amount of charcoal for your BBQ, make sure all of the coals, or briquettes, are evenly spread across the base. From here, you can distribute firelighters or newspaper between the coals. Light the charcoal and wait 15 minutes before you start cooking. Keeping a constant eye on the BBQ is key, as this allows you to adjust charcoal amounts when necessary. The heat generated from the coals and the speed of cooking are two main factors to closely monitor.

What Impacts The Amount Of Charcoal Required?

Now that you have a rough idea of how much charcoal you need for your barbeque, we can take a look at the contributing factors. Here are the main things that help to determine the required amount of charcoal.

Type Of Food

The food being cooked will have a huge impact on the amount of charcoal you require. Some food, such as chicken, require high levels of heat to cook sufficiently. On the other hand, burgers and other beef products can cook on lower levels. The higher the cooking temperature, the more charcoal you will need. If you are cooking a variety of different meats, which require different temperatures, the aforementioned two-zone grilling method could be very helpful.

Amount Of Food And Guests

While the type of food has an impact of the required intensity of the heat, the number of guests has an effect on the length of cooking. Of course, the more mouths you have to feed, the more charcoal you will require as a result. If you can speed up the process, by utilising a higher temperature to cook, the amount of charcoal required will drop. Keeping an eye on the food is also crucial. The faster you can rotate food, the more efficient your cooking will be. This will also help to avoid burning the meat.

Size Of The BBQ

Contrary to popular belief, a smaller BBQ doesn’t always lead to less charcoal being used. In some instances, it can actually mean you end up using significantly more coals to cook the same amount of food. This is largely down to cooking area. Stacking your coals in a smaller BBQ will give an intense heat, but a smaller grilling area will limit the speed of cooking. If you can maintain a sufficient cooking temperature while expanding your cooking area, you will use less charcoal over time.


Hopefully this article has helped you to identify exactly how much charcoal you need for your next BBQ. Remember that having too much charcoal is never a bad thing, providing that you store it correctly for next time. A chimney starter will also help you to keep track of how much charcoal you’re using, particularly for those that cook for larger crowds. Check out our other articles and our range of products on offer.




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