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Grilling & Barbecuing

How to Control Temperature on a Charcoal Grill

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Grill Temperature

The most common mistake made by beginning grillers is placing food on their grills when the fire is either too hot or not hot enough. To make sure you grill your food at the right temperature, you have to know how to monitor and increase or decrease your grill’s temperature.

How to Monitor Your Grill’s Temperature

Though some newer models of grills come with built-in thermometers that tell you the current temperature of the grill, most do not. Here are two methods for determining your grill’s temperature.

Use a Digital Probe Thermometer


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You can use a digital probe thermometer to get a precise reading of the temperature of your grill.

  1. Open the vents in the lid of your grill.
  2. Place the lid on the grill (if it isn’t already there).
  3. Holding the thermometer, lower the probe on its cord through the vent so the probe is dangling just above the grill grates. Don’t let the probe touch the grill grates—doing so will give you a false reading.
  4. Wait 5–10 seconds.
  5. Pull the probe carefully back up through the vent.

Use Your Hand

You can gauge the approximate temperature of your grill using your hand. Hold your hand three or four inches above the grill grate and count the number of seconds until you have to pull your hand away due to the heat.

Approximate Temperature
1 second
Over 400°F
2–3 seconds
4 seconds
5 seconds

The ideal temperatures for grilling are between 300–400°F, so you should be able to keep your hand over the fire for 2–4 seconds.

How to Adjust Your Grill’s Temperature

How you adjust the temperature of your grill depends on whether you have a gas grill or a charcoal grill.

How to Adjust Temperature of a Gas Grill

Adjusting the temperature of a gas grill is easy: simply turn the control knob. Turning it toward “high” immediately increases the temperature; turning it toward “low” immediately decreases the temperature. For details about how the control knob on your gas grill works, see your owner’s manual.

How to Adjust Temperature of a Charcoal Grill

It takes more skill to control the temperature of a charcoal grill. The air vents on the top and bottom of a charcoal grill are the primary means of temperature control.

  • Decrease temperature: Close the vents. Closing all the vents will lower the fire temperature more quickly than closing just the top or bottom vents. Just be aware that keeping all the vents closed for more than 10 minutes or so may put your fire out.
  • Increase temperature: If some vents are closed, opening them will increase the fire temperature.

It usually takes about five minutes for the temperature of the fire to rise or fall from an air vent adjustment.

Other Ways to Decrease Grill Temperature

  • Spread out the pile of coals with your tongs: When spread out, the coals won’t reinforce each other’s heat and will cool down a bit.
  • Spray the coals with water: The water cools the coals but also generates soot, so be sure to remove any food from the grill first.

Other Ways to Increase Grill Temperature

  • Cluster the coals closer together with your tongs: The coals will reinforce each other’s heat and heat up the grill.
  • Add fresh coals on top of the pile of burning coals: Add only a few coals at a time. Adding too many fresh coals to the pile will partially smother the fire and actually lower its temperature.
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