How To Control the Temperature of a Charcoal Grill (4 EASY Methods)

Are you trying to control the temperature of your charcoal grill and having a tough time? We are here to help!

In this article, you will discover:

  • How to control temperature on a charcoal grill
  • Tips for maintaining temperature for low and slow cooks
  • And much more!

What You Need to Know About Controlling Temperature on a Charcoal Grill

Charcoal grills are a favorite all over the nation, and it’s easy to see why. They are portable, easy to use, and give you food that has an amazing flavor you can’t get with a gas grill. But they have one flaw, and this is temperature control. 

Unlike a gas grill, where you can turn the dial to the temperature you desire, you have no control over how hot the charcoals burn in a charcoal grill. This is why you need to use airflow to control the temperature. 

The more air you allow in your charcoal grill, the hotter the flame will burn. If you want to turn down the temperature, simply restrict the amount of air entering the grill.

All of this is done using the built-in dampers on your grill. Read on to learn more about controlling the temperature of your gas grill. 

Read More >> Best Charcoal Grills Under $500

How to Control Temperature on a Charcoal Grill (4 Methods)

There are a few different methods of controlling temperature on a charcoal grill, but remember the key is airflow. You will want to do whatever possible to increase the airflow if you want to increase the temperature. The methods for doing so are outlined below. 

1. Vents/Damper

Every charcoal grill will have some form of air vents or a damper. You use this to control the amount of air entering your grill. While the exact temperature experienced with your grill will vary, below, we’ve included a general guide for achieving the temperature you want with your charcoal grill.

High: (usually 450°F-550°F) Vent/Damper fully open

Medium: (usually 350°F-450°F) Vent/Damper half open

Low: (usually 250°F-350°F) Vent/Damper one-quarter open

Slow smoke: (less than 250°F) Vent/Damper cracked or one-eighth open

Remember, your exact model of grill may vary from these temperature estimates. It is always a good idea to take a look at your manual to ensure you know how much air to allow into your grill. But if you don’t have a manual to reference, the above settings are a good place to start! 

Read More >> How To Cool Down a Charcoal Grill

2. Charcoals Placement 

Another way to control temperature is by putting all your charcoals on one side (or one-half) of the grill. This will give you a hotter area (just above the charcoals) for hotter cooking and a cooler area (not above the charcoals) for just keeping items warm.

Read More >> How Much Charcoal You Should Use

3. Grate Placement 

Besides just moving the charcoals, you can also raise or lower the temperature your food is cooking by moving your grill grate. The closer the grate is to the charcoals, the hotter it will be!  

Editor’s Note: Not all grills have an adjustable grate. Check your owner’s manual before attempting to move yours. 

4. Use Other Methods to Block the Heat

When you want to cook something low and slow on your charcoal grill, it can be difficult to judge with the vent/damper alone if you are preventing enough heat from getting in. In this case, you should use tin foil or an aluminum pan to separate the food from the heat source. 

While this won’t stop the food from cooking, it will slow down the rate it cooks at and can help keep the exterior of a piece of meat from burning! 

Related: Can You Add Charcoal While Grilling?

controlling the temperature of a charcoal grill by moving the hot coals using tongs.

Tips for Maintaining Temperature in Your Charcoal Grill

While the temperature is mostly controlled by allowing air into the grill, there are some things you can do to help your grill to better maintain temperature. We’ve included them in the tips below. 

1. Keep Your Grill Clean

Build-up of ash and other debris will stop the air from being able to flow through your grill. This means that even when the vent is fully open, your grill still may not get very hot. Take the time to clear out the ash after each use to allow your grill to get as hot as possible. 

Related >> The Essential Guide to Grilling Steaks on a Charcoal Grill

2. Trust Your Thermometer

The method for setting the temperature of your charcoal grill is not foolproof. If your charcoal grill has a built-in thermometer, use this to monitor the temperature of the grill. You should also use a temperature probe to check any meat you intend to cook on the grill rather than relying on a timer alone. 

Related>> Best Portable Charcoal Grills for Your Next Outdoor Adventure

3. Don’t Constantly Mess With the Vents

When you aren’t getting the temperature you want, it can be tempting to fiddle with the vents until you do. Don’t do this. You need to give your coals time to burn in between vent changes in order to experience temperature changes. 

We recommend changing the vent position, then waiting 20 minutes to see what happens before making further adjustments. 

Read More >> How To Keep Your Charcoal Grill Lit

4. Starting With Properly Lit Charcoals

You will not get anywhere with maintaining the temperature of your charcoal grill if you put the lid on too early. After you have lit your charcoals, allow them to become red hot before you put the lid on. We also recommend starting with the vent fully open, then closing it the desired amount once the charcoals have had the chance to burn a little.

Read More >> How To Make Your Charcoal Grill Hotter

Can You Keep a Charcoal Grill Hot for Hours?

Maybe you want to cook low and slow on your charcoal grill, and this is possible! But, before you can do so, you need to ensure you’ve got plenty of charcoals and a good way to start your charcoal grill.

Generally, a chimney starter is the best tool to use to get your grill going. 

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06/12/2024 05:17 am GMT

Once the charcoals are burning, you’ll want to close the vents/damper on your grill until only a small amount of air gets in. You may also want to use tin foil to separate your food from the charcoal since it will be there for a while. 

If using your charcoal grill as a smoker, check on it frequently, and be prepared to add more charcoals for an especially long cook. At this time, you may even need to remove some ash. But as long as you keep the lid closed as much as possible and keep the airflow low, you should be able to keep your charcoal grill hot for hours.

Read More >> Lighting a Charcoal Grill Without a Chimney or Lighter Fluid

Safety Tips

Any time you’re grilling, safety should be the first thing on your mind (okay, maybe second if you’re smelling a juicy steak). Here are a few safety tips:

Photo of author

Hope Davis

Born in Denver, Colorado as the oldest of 5 children, I learned at a young age that the grill was one of the best ways to prepare food for a crowd. And during the winter storm months, when the snow was likely to knock out the power to our house, the propane grill was a lifesaver! You wouldn’t believe the number of things you can cook on a grill when necessary. With parents who couldn’t tell salt from pepper unless you told them, I spent my late teen years making my own seasoning mixes and marinades to dress the meat before barbecues. It wasn’t long before I developed a secret marinade that people still beg me to make for them today! When I was 21 years old I bought my first smoker. Picked up some cedar chips for making a cedar plank salmon...and well, the rest they say is history! I’ve been grilling and smoking all kinds of creations ever since and I’m always excited to share my passion with others through my favorite medium--writing!

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