Having trouble managing the temperature of your charcoal grill and thinking about how to keep the charcoal grill hot? A few easy tips and tricks can save your day!
Dishes cooked from the charcoal grill are the best for an outdoor program. The glowing warmth and smoky aromas increase the appetite and make the food taste even better! However, the cooking process in a charcoal grill isn’t that difficult but keeping it hot surely is! Because the temperature of charcoal gets fluctuated frequently and quickly, especially when you’re cooking for hours and without maintaining the temperature level, you won’t get the desired result of your food. Then how come some people managed to cook the finest dish out of the charcoal grill? Because they know how to keep the charcoal grill hot, and today you’re going to know too after reading this article!
Type of Heat You’re Going to Need for Your Charcoal Grill
The cooking arrangement or method you’re going to use to set up your charcoal grill has a significant impact on the heat level later on while proceeding further. The cooking set up indicates the heat zones you’re going to have for getting extra control over the grill. There are basically two popular cooking methods on a charcoal grill. They are described below.
- Direct cooking
If you’re planning to cook fast, such as burgers, sausages, hotdogs, etc. then the direct cooking method is perfect for you. For direct cooking, first, you’ve to gather at least five lit coals to get the desired temperature that is up to 225-250 F. Then, evenly spread the unlit coals on one side of the coal grate.
After that, put the lit coals over the unlit coals and, again the placement should be even. And finally, place the food on top of the coals and close the lid. You need to open and close the lid a couple of times to control the temperature level for the food you’re cooking.
- Indirect cooking
On the other hand, if you’re planning to cook slowly, then you should go for indirect cooking. Indirect cooking also requires a limited number of coals. You can take five coals which will raise the temperature to 225-250 F. However, the arrangement is different. Here you’ve to make a plie with the unlit coals on one side of the coal grate.
Then take five lit coals and place those closely on the center of the coal pile. In indirect cooking, you’ve to put the coals against the cooking grate and place the lid over the grill. If you want to maintain the heat for a long time, then keep adding more coal to the pile.
Light Your Charcoal Grill First
To get the desired level of heat, first, you need to decide how to light your charcoal grill. Although the lighting process isn’t much complicated, you have to consider a few things, such as preparing your grill, choosing either lighter fluid or charcoal chimney to light the grill.
For the preparation part, you have to clean the grill properly. Many people skip this part but that’s a huge mistake. Always keep the grill clean unless you’re using it for the first time.
Then you need to choose the right charcoal for your grills such as briquette or lump or wood charcoal. You also have to learn how to arrange the charcoal. It depends on the cooking method you are going to choose.
Then comes if you’re going to use lighter fluid to light the charcoal grill. Lighter fluid is easy to use and the charcoals get quickly lit. If you’re too impatient to wait for the grill to get ready, then the lighter fluid is the perfect option for you. However, lighter fluid needs to be handled cautiously. Adding excess fluid might result in accidents.
If you’re willing to wait to follow a proper way to light the charcoals, then the chimney method is for you. It’s a recommended method by professional chefs, as it allows easy mobility and proper ventilation while the charcoals start to be heated up. So, it’s up to you which method for lighting a charcoal grill you find yourself comfortable with and have adequate knowledge of.
How to Keep Charcoal Grill Hot
Charcoal is very difficult to control and a little mismanagement can make you end up with a burned steak, sausages, or chicken. Also, the improper heat makes the outer portion seem perfectly cooked but when you start to eat, you may find the inside part of the food completely raw!
That’s why for being a perfectionist at charcoal grilling, you must know how to keep the charcoal grill hot. So, here are some ways that will surely help you to master this skill!
Pile It On
First, you need to take a sufficient number of charcoals and place them on the grill. If you don’t know any specific way to do it, then follow the instructions written on the bag of the charcoal. It’s better not to take too much charcoal initially, by thinking more charcoal means more heat. A little amount of charcoal can also provide a good amount of heat and you will find it less difficult to keep the grill hot.
Buy a Good Temperature Probe
If you want to keep the temperature level steady at 225 F, then you have to constantly monitor your grill. Even though there’s a built-in thermometer that exists on every charcoal grill, most of the time they show inaccurate results which creates mismanagement.
That’s why it’s better if you use an air probe, which will monitor the inside temperature of the grill and provide you the most likely accurate result. So that you can be aware of the temperature fluctuation and take necessary steps for that.
However, place the air probe close to the food, because it’s more important to know how hot the food is than the overall charcoal grill.
Open the Dampers
Indeed, charcoal is what keeps the grill hot, but oxygen plays a big role too. That’s why you have to make sure that there’s a sufficient flow of oxygen going on inside the grill. Controlling the oxygen flow through the vents is an easy way to maintain the temperature.
You’ll always find an intake damper placed near the charcoal and an exhaust damper placed near the top of the grill lid. Before adding the fuel to the grill, fully open the dampers. After the grills get heated up, you can then adjust the dampers for further control.
Set up a 2-zone Grill
To prepare the perfect barbecue, you need to create a special arrangement for the charcoal grill. A simple yet special arrangement can be a two-zone grill. In this setup, pile the lit charcoal on only one side of the grill.
After you’re done with setting the top grate, put the food on the opposite side of the grill. It’ll help you to cook slowly and also the indirect heat will keep the temperature level at a moderate level.
Adjust the Ventilation
We have already said that you have to open up both the dampers. But besides that, you have to adjust the dampers from time to time as well, to maintain the heat at 225 F. To do that, first, check the thermometer about every 5-8 minutes after you’ve added the lit charcoals on the side of the grill.
Most of the time the temperature increases after adding the charcoal and if that happens you have to close the damper which will reduce the amount of oxygen inside and will tamp down the heat.
Then again keep checking the thermometer and if you see the temperature has fallen too much then again open the damper to allow some oxygen inside. Keep doing it throughout the cooking session to get the perfect heat you need.
Monitor the Fuel
The more time you take to cook on a charcoal grill, the temperature will be most likely to fall after a few hours, even though you keep adjusting the ventilation. So, when you feel that you’re unable to maintain the 225 F temperature, it’s time to refill the fuel.
You can do this in two ways. Either you can light 8-10 charcoals in the chimney and wait till they become ash and then add those amongst the already lit coals. Or you can add the same number of briquettes to the lit coals of the grills.
The second option is an easy process, but they create a lot of smoke and temperature around the cooking area. So, you have to open and close the dampers again to keep everything the same as it was before.
Remove the Ashes
After 20-30 minutes, you’ll see that burned charcoals have created ashes and blocked the bottom of the grill. When it happens, you have to clear the area. Because those charcoal ashes will restrict the airflow to enter through the lid and get in touch with the charcoals.
As a result, the charcoal will become smoother and won’t get burned properly. You’ll find a fan blade or something like that on the bottom of the grill. Twist that fixture and ashes will be removed.
Adjust the Distance Between the Coal and Food
If you think that your food is not getting the heat that they need to get properly cooked, then a shortcut idea is to remove the distance between the food and the coal. However, don’t bring them too close and for a long period.
Because it’ll burn the outer portion quicker and the inside will remain uncooked. You need to be careful and maintain the distance at an acceptable level.
Add in Intervals
Keep adding the charcoals after every 30 minutes. It won’t let the temperature fall. But make sure to open the lid so that the newly added charcoals get the chance to be lit properly. Otherwise, it may lower down the heat even more.
Control The Heat of Your Charcoal Grill
If you’ve read all the details mentioned above then, you’ve now got a good idea regarding how to keep the charcoal grill hot. But only keeping it hot shouldn’t be your only goal because solely focusing on this part will increase the heat way more than you need and burn your food instead of cooking it properly.
So, in addition to knowing how to keep the grill hot, you must know how to control the charcoal hit as well.
Build a shield: The way it’s natural that the temperature of the grill may fall, in the same way, it’s natural that the temperature will also rise especially when you keep adding the charcoals. And neither too much nor too little heat is good for the food.
We have already covered how to keep the heat. But when you see the heat is getting higher, then you can create a shield for the food so that the extra heat doesn’t affect the food.
And how to do that? Cover the food with foil paper. Aluminum foil paper creates a barrier against the heat and, by that your food will get the exact heat that is needed.
Layer the Charcoal in Areas: This method will take extra preparation and time but it’s worth every bit to control the heat. The layering must be done either in left to right or back to the front arrangement. There are basically three areas in a charcoal grill.
Area one is where the temperature remains the highest. In area two you’ll find the heat at a moderate level. And finally, in area three, there’s no heat, and it is called the control zone. There you can rest the food which needs some moment to cool down.
While layering, don’t put any coals in the control zone. In the other two areas, put a single layer of coal and spread them flat. Finally, on the left corner, flatly spread the second layer. By doing these when the double layer gets heated you can put the food to the single layer and then in no layer. The back-and-forth process will make the food to get cooked even better,
Use the Vents: We have mentioned that vents help to keep the charcoal grill hot. But it helps to control the heat as well. As you’ve already known, open-air triggers the charcoal fire, so when it gets too hot, close the lid or vents so that the air or oxygen flow stops.
It’ll lower down the inside temperature and you can control the situation from getting out of control!
Which Charcoal Should You Use to Get More Heat and Flavor
Good charcoal always increases the taste of the food and also helps to maintain a steady heat for a long time. But not all charcoals are equally beneficial and that’s why you should know the difference. Because only then you’ll be able to know which charcoal you should use to get more heat and flavor!
- Avoid charcoals with additives.
Additive charcoals mean the charcoals that have chemical or lighter fluid mixed with them. People use them to quickly light the charcoal but most of the time additive charcoals leave a bad taste on the food. It also increases the chance of unnecessary accidents.
That’s why even if the additive charcoals are good for more heat but not for the flavor. So, we suggest not to use them at all.
- Briquettes charcoals
Briquette charcoals are an ideal choice for cooking on the grills. They are capable of maintaining a stable temperature and usually burn for a longer time without making you add more charcoal after every 30-40 minutes.
Also, briquettes are natural and don’t affect the taste of the food. So, if you’re planning to cook something slow and steady with the perfect heat, then go for briquette charcoals.
- Lump charcoals
Lump charcoals are very authentic in quality and produce flavorful smoke that enhances the smell and taste of the food. Lump charcoal is widely available nowadays although it costs more than other types.
Lump charcoals usually produce more heat than briquettes but last for a long time as well. So, it’s up to you to choose lumps if your menu needs extra heat to get cooked.
How Much Charcoal Should You Use?
It’s a basic rule and common thinking that the more charcoal you use, the hotter will be the temperature. However, typically for a small and portable grill, it’s better to use 30 to 40 pieces of charcoal, and if your grill is bigger than use at least 50-75 pieces.
The numbers also depend on the weather. For instance, in rainy, cold, or windy weather, you’ll need more charcoal than usual.
When you’re cooking foods like burgers, sausages, or hotdogs, moderate heat is enough which can be created with a single layer of charcoal at the bottom of the grill. But when you’ll cook food like steaks, it’ll require a higher temperature which will require at least 2-3 layers of charcoals.
Also, we have already covered that you have to add charcoal in intervals after every 30-40 minutes. So that the heat remains at the desired level if you want to extend the cooking time.
If You Are Having Trouble Keeping Your Charcoal Grill Hot
Sometimes you may find it very difficult and almost impossible to keep your charcoal grill hot even after trying all the possible tricks and tips and constantly repeating them. If that happens, then you’ve to focus on other things that may be restricting you from controlling the heat.
- Is your grill clean?
We often make one common mistake, that is not to clean the grill after using it. But it’s a mandatory thing to do as, after every cooking session, the ashes produced from charcoals clog the bottom area and cools down the grill no matter how much you try to keep the heat.
That’s why you must clean the charcoal after every time you finish cooking. Regular cleaning also helps to keep the grill in good shape.
Sometimes people arrange their picnic up in the hills. But the higher you go, such as at 5000-6000 feet higher than the ground, the amount of oxygen in the air starts to decrease. And you’ve already got to know the significance of oxygen for lighting the charcoal.
However, in situations like these, there’s not much to do. So, you need to make sure the grills are clean and position them in the open air and keep adding more charcoals to get more or less of the desired heat.
- Frozen Food
While grilling something, make sure the food is at the room temperature. Because frozen food requires more heat than you can produce in a home-based arrangement to get perfectly cooked. But if it’s unavoidable to cool off the frozen food, then make sure you’ve enough charcoals to extend the cooking time.
- Drip Pans
Drip pans are notoriously famous for restricting the amount of oxygen that are needed to be supplied inside the charcoal grill. As a result, the heat level gets reduced. That’s why it’s better to avoid using drip pans and if you can’t do that, then try to expose the surface as much as possible to increase the airflow.
For recycling and cost-saving purposes, we encourage to use of partially burned charcoal from the previous cooking sessions. But you shouldn’t completely depend on those for new cooking.
You must add new and fresh charcoals with the partially burnt ones to produce the perfect heat. Also, if you’re having trouble getting the temperature, even though the charcoals are new then check if they are in a dry or soaked state.
Because storing the charcoal for a long time could make them soaked and that kind of charcoals take more time to get heated than dry ones.
- How long will a charcoal grill stay hot?
Usually, a charcoal grill remains hot for 30-40 minutes. After that, the temperature starts to fall. So, if you want to maintain the heat, then add more charcoals to the grill in each interval.
- Do you leave the lid open or closed when heating charcoal?
It depends. If you keep the lid open, then the charcoals will get more oxygen and produce more heat. But extra heat will burn the food and when you suspect that, you must close the lid to stop the oxygen flow.
Then again you have to open it as the closed lid will start lowering the temperature after a few minutes. Actually, you have to keep opening and closing the lid based on the temperate level by monitoring the thermometer or air probe.
- How do you keep a charcoal fire going?
To keep the charcoal fire going, you can keep adding the charcoal after every 30-40 minutes. Also, keep the briquettes as close as possible.
- How many pounds of charcoal do I need?
The amount of charcoal will be needed depends on the size of your grill. If you’re planning to cook in a small and portable grill pan, then 30-40 charcoals will be enough. But bigger ones will require at least 50-75 charcoals. The amount also depends on the cooking hour and weather.
- Do you close the grill when starting charcoal?
It’s not possible to start a fire without oxygen. That’s why when you start lighting the charcoals open all the lids and vents of the grill. It’ll make the oxygen flow smoother. Once you notice that the charcoals are fully lit, then close the lids and vents and again open them according to the temperature level.
- Why does my charcoal burn out so fast?
This situation mostly happens when you keep the lid closed for a long time. Because it keeps the heat trapped inside. As a result, the charcoals burn faster. That’s why it’s better to open the lid from time to time and let the extra heat get released from the inside.
- How to light charcoal fast?
To light the charcoal fast, keep the pieces close to each other in a way so that the heat can spread to all the pieces quickly and evenly, and also, make sure there is enough space for the oxygen to feed the fire flames. Also, try to use fresh and dry charcoals for fast results.
- How do you know the coals in the grill are ready?
You’ll know the charcoals on the grill are ready when you see the outer surface of some of the coals have turned white and the inside are showing red/orange color. And then you can proceed for cooking.
Cooking food on a charcoal grill is an art and no art is easy if you want to reflect your perfection out of it. Knowing how to keep the charcoal grill hot is a major part of that art and without it, your food won’t taste the way you have imagined before and while cooking.
Also, charcoals are really difficult to handle. That’s why don’t ever depend on only one technique to keep the grill hot. Try to master at least 4-5 techniques we have mentioned above according to your convenience so that you don’t lose the hot battle!