This section of the website is about charcoal. How much charcoal to add to achieve a certain temperature is a very tricky question to answer. Here I am going to try to answer this question.
To begin, I am going to take notes on how many coals I add and what the resulting temperature is. After a while of doing this we will be able to graph the results and be able to answer this question, so keep checking back often this page will be udpated.
For smoking pork shoulder, I begin with about 12-14 coals. This results in a temperature of 250 degrees.
For a medium high heat, I added 40 coals and after ash over the temperature was about 400 degrees (this is with the rotisserie ring added, so the volume of the kettle is larger).
For a high heat, I added 55 coals and after ash over the temperature was about 450 degrees.
How to use a Weber Charcoal Chimney
For all of the grilling recipes posted on this website, I have used my Weber Charcoal Chimney. The purpose of the chimney is to light the charcoals and to provide a means of keeping the coals in proximity while being lit. When using the Weber Performer (which has the small propane ignition feature to light charcoal) I fill my chimney either 1/4, 1/2, 3/4 or totally full - depending on the application. I then sit the chimney over the flame port and light it for about 2 minutes. There is no need to go longer than this and if you stick to 2 minutes you will be able to use your mini propane tank for a very long time. The goal is just to get a few coals lit and then the others will light afterwards. If you don't have a Weber Performer you can either use an olive oil soaked paper towel or some newspaper. Just put the paper towl or newspaper underneath of the chimney (above the grates) and use a match to light it. After a few minutes the coals will ignite. Another question that pops up is when to dump the coals out of the chimney? Do you wait until you see flame pouring out of top or do you wait until some of the coals are lit and the top layer of the chimney isn't. I think this answer depends on your application. If I want a very high heat charcoal then I let the flames come out of the top of the chimney before I dump. If I want a more medium heat I will dump the chimney before the top coals are lit. This lets the rest of coals get lit after the chimney is dumped, which will lead to a slower burning less intense fire overall. I have noticed that when the flames come out of the top of the chimney it takes a little while for the flame to die down after dumping the coals. Thus, you have to be careful cooking with such an intense flame - it's very hot and you can easily burn things!
How do you know when your charcoal is ready at a particular temperature?
As a handy tool, use your hand! You can roughly approximate the temperature by how many seconds you can hold your hand over the coals. I usually hold my hand about 1 inch over the grates to do this little test. Count how many seconds you can hold your hand over the coals before you are in pain. If you can hold your hand over the coals for 5 seconds, you are dealing with low heat. 4 seconds - medium heat. 3 seconds - medium high heat. 2 seconds - high heat. If you can't hold your hand there for 1 second or less, you are not ready to cook!