How to Control Temperature on a Charcoal Grill -

How to Control Temperature on a Charcoal Grill?

There are many people out there who are unable to utilize their grills properly. The main reason behind this is people’s inability to control the temperature of the charcoal grill, for which the food cannot be cooked right.

Controlling the temperature and maintaining it are very crucial steps of cooking on a charcoal grill, as the wrong heat will not cook the food right. There is a chance that it will be overcooked, maybe undercooked at times, or might even get burnt altogether.

So, to avoid situations as such, it is essential for charcoal grill owners to learn and master the art of temperature control.

Read the full article to be clear how to control temperature on a charcoal grill.


Three Important Things for Your Grill

For you to be able to control the fire or the temperature of your charcoal grill, there are three things called the 'Fire Triangle' you will have to keep in mind. They are;

  1. Heat
  2. Oxygen
  3. Fuel

If you have complete control over these three aspects, then rest assured your food will be cooked to perfection. You will not have to worry about serving something raw or overdone. But do keep in mind that the oxygen and the fuel must be monitored as an unlimited supply of it might lead to danger.

So, keeping the flame in check will also be a part of your job when you cook. 

How to Control the Grill Temperature?

Temperature maintenance and control are required in three separate areas when it comes to your charcoal grill. If you can cover all those bases, then you will have no problem getting the result you wish to when you start cooking something. So, here is what you should be doing;

Increase and Decrease the Airflow with the Help of the Vents

Here is the step-by-step process for you:

Step 1: Limit the Air Around Your Grill

First and foremost, it is common knowledge that the more the air flowing in and out, the hotter your grill is going to become. So, when you want to lower the temperature or the flame, then you must limit the air around your grill and let more of it in if you want the fire to be more significant. 

Step 2: Ensure the Vents Are Opened

Now, at the beginning stage when you are starting your grill, you must make sure the vents are open entirely so that plenty of oxygen can flow in and you should have no problem getting the grill to work. The coal will have to start glowing before they start heating the grill. 

Every grill has vents on both the top and the bottom; it is through the bottom vent (intake damper) the air flows through and reaches the coal. And the one at the top is known as the exhaust dampers, this needed to let the smoke out. Keeping this open would lead to a healthy flow of air through the system.

So, at the start, like it has been mentioned before, keep the intake damper open all the way, but keep the exhaust open about halfway.

Step 3: Close the Intake Damper

Then, when you see that the coal is glowing and has heated the grill, you can completely close the intake damper 3/4th of the way.

You should invest some money in a pit probe, with which you should be able to keep track of the temperature until it reaches your desired point.

So, in case such a situation arises when your grill is not going to your target temperature, all you must do is open the top vent again and just let the coals heat up. You will have to do the opposite if it gets too hot, close it half the way.

Step 4: Manage the Vents

You might have to maneuver the top and bottom vent a few times before you can get the vent to the temperature you like or need to start the cooking. Managing the two together is very important as closing one down will automatically begin to kill the fire, and therefore your food will not be what you expect it to be.

If you are new at it, then you will have to go over everything a few times till you get it just right. It might take a while to get used to, but once you are there, it should not be difficult.

However, a more relaxed version of this would be getting a temperature controller. There many you can find in the market. This will enable you to reach your target heat in no time and with less work. It will cut down your work time and effort.

The whole thing depends on a bit of guesswork and experience.

Make Use of the Grill Shield and Be Mindful of The Distance of the Meat from Heat

So, first, the actual temperature is essential, the next thing you must keep in mind is how close the heat is to the food your cooking. The closer it is, the faster the food is going to cook. And chances are the outer layer will cook and look like the inside is done too, but, it might not be the case.

While cooking on a smoker or even a grill, this might be something you have to think about as the flame is going to be touching the heat. Just be careful. Otherwise, you might end up with something unpleasant to eat. 

Now, sometimes you will see that the grill is becoming too hot too fast, or the food starts to cook more quickly than it should. That is when you need to do something to slow the cooking down so that you do not end up with a meal that is cooked right on the outside, but not so well on the inside.

That is when you made use of the grill shield. It is just a surface or protection made of aluminum foil, made to prevent the heat from getting to the food too fast.

All you must do to make it is, get a roll of the foil. Cut a large piece of it out and then fold it a few times, twice or thrice should be good. Then put it under the food you have on the grill. This should block out a lot of the heat, and you will have more control over the temperature. 

You might be worried that the foil will stop the meat from cooking entirely, but that is not the case. It will just take it a bit longer for the heat to reach the food, thus, slow down the cooling process.

How to Control Temperature on a Smoker

Feed the Flame or Stave It Out

We all have a fundamental and shared understanding about the flame, and if you add fuel, it will only become bigger and bigger, growing when more fuel is added. Now, to manipulate it, you must control the amount of fuel you are adding to it.

You will have a far easier time controlling the temperature if while cooking, you use up the same amount of fuel. When you have a better understanding of the quantity, you will have the upper hand over the heat. You should also use a measuring tool of some sort to make a note of how much you are using.

Also, just like there is a learning curve for everything, there is one for this too. With time, you are going to learn how much fuel is needed when you are making different kinds of food. Also, how much of it you are going to need if you want to make your flame burn for a time.

Handling the Fuel

Moving on to the actual fuel, you might choose to use briquettes for fuel. Before you start your work with it, go through some guidelines and necessary information which will give you the detail on what to do and what not to do while using it.

When you use a full chimney of the briquettes, the temperature of your grill should go to 500-degrees Fahrenheit instantly. Afterward, the increase or decrease in the temperature will depend more on how much fuel you are adding to the fire, or in other words, how much you are feeding the flames.

Layering the coal is also a crucial part of the whole thing. When you want the heat to last a long time, then you must go for more depth in your coal layering. Otherwise, when you have a thinner layer, the coal will burn out too fast, and then you will have to get it started again. Why waste time on that?

Adjusting the Fire for Temperature Control

The way you set up your grill and fire will be different based on how you want to cook your food, using a long or a slow heat smoking. The number of briquettes you must add to the grill will also depend on the type of food you are cooking.

For example, the amount you need to cook steak will not be the same; you need to cook ribs, with some experience and a few mistakes along the way you will get the hang of it.

Read up on the minion method to know more about techniques you can use to build a fire. This will help you out and give you a bit of a head start, and this might even prevent you from making too many mistakes.

According to this, you should light a small amount of coal and then keep adding unlit fuel to the lit ones. Gradually the unlit will be lit up by the ones which are already lit. By doing so, you can have better control of the heat. You can turn it up or down as you desire.

Two Ways You Can Setup Your Grill

  • 2-zone fire using indirect heat- for this method you will have to place the briquettes or the charcoal on just one half of the grill, and then light only a few of them. You light up one end of the briquettes, but slowly it will burn to reach the other end.
  • 'S' or Snake method- if you want to use this method to set up your grill then all you must do is align your coal to an S or a C and then light up one end of it. This will work like the first method; the fire will move from one end to the other.

The main aim behind the two sets is to let the coal heat up slowly as the flame feeds from more charcoal or briquettes. It will help you to control the temperature from going up too fast. If it does get too high, then it might be challenging to bring it back down.

Like has been mentioned previously, fuel is also a means of controlling the temperature of your grill. If you need more heat or flame, then you must add fuel, and if you want the temperature to go down, then you stave the flame. So, you must understand when you should add fuel and when you should stop.

The Troubles You Might Encounter While Heating Your Grill

Working with grills is a problematic feat anyway. On top of that if you want to control the temperature of a cheaper grill, then you might be coming face to face with a challenge.

• Leaks

The air should come and go through the top and the bottom vents. However, with the cheaper ones, there are holes and other spaces, the air might get added to the system; this, in turn, could manipulate the temperature of the grill. That is because the air is what gets the fire going.

You can fix up the leaks to prevent excess airflow in the system. Or you could learn to live with them and try to adjust the intake and exhaust damper based on how much air flows in through the leaks.

• Ash Build-Up

Now, let us move on to another problem that might arise in some situations. Due to the build-up of ash in the bottom vent your grill might not be getting the right amount of air and thus might not be able to reach a higher temperature. That is why cleaning up the ash is crucial before you start a fire.

• Inaccurate Readings

And lastly, do not forget to invest some money on a good thermometer. Sometimes even after doing everything right, you might get a wrong reading on the thermostat, and you would have to readjust everything. Only to find out later the temperature was wrong as the food did not cook properly.

It would be a great disappointment to put in that much effort to only lose out at the end. Thus, it is better to prevent any situation such as this.

A Few Tips and Tricks to Help You with the Temperature

  • Like it has been mentioned before, get yourself a best thermometer. It will do you good and make sure you do not make mistakes in understanding how much higher or lower you should go in terms of temperature.
  • The vents are there for you to adjust and mountain the temperature, work more with the bottom one than the top. It will be more effective. The top one can be adjusted for smaller changes in temperature.
  • When you keep opening the lid of your grill, you let the heat getaway, that heat inside help with the cooking process, so do not keep opening the top to check the food.
  • If you close the vents, you will kill the fire, the top or the bottom. The top vent drags the air from the bottom one, so shutting either will stop the airflow causing the fire to get smothered. So, do not close the vents entirely.
  • Please get the leaks of your grill fixed as otherwise, the food might not cook right. This would be sad if you put in a lot of effort to only see no good results.
  • Please add lit coal to the fuel as opposed to unlit ones, and the temperature will go down if you do that. And that will not help maintain the heat or cold.

Final Thought: There are many ways you can get your charcoal grill to the temperature you desire, but no matter which one you choose, you will have to experiment a bit before you can get it right.

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Theresa Lori

Hi, I'm Theresa. My passion for grilling delicacy gradually built during the time I was living with my parents. My family members especially my mother was a great fan of grilled dishes to and from the love of food. I started preparing smoked food with my mom. This bonding helped me to know more and more about to smoke, grill what always I share on So, in two words you can call me a BBQ lover.

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