Hi and welcome to the forum, The crackling is normal. There was a thread a while back discussing why it makes the noise, I don't think we came to a conclusion about the noise...
If your fire is starting, and burning, the method is sound. If you have a bed of burning coal, I just open the air draft control under the fire [usually the ash pan door or vent] and let the fire get hot, then add coal to the fire, and leave the air open under the fire untill the new coal has blue/white flames coming up. Then close the air to the normal position.
So whatever is working for you and your stove is fine.
From reading your description I wouldn't have bothered with making the hole or depression in the embers, I would just add the coal over the top, about 2" thick, let the blue flames appear, then add enough coal to come up to the top of the firebrick in the firebox.
If you make too large a hole in the embers, the coal in the middle of the depression may have a hard time getting burning, just go ahead an put coal right on top of the fire, it takes a lot of heat to start anthracite coal.
Enjoy the heat. Greg L