How to Keep Your Charcoal Grill Hot

Tips

  • Practice keeping your fire going for as long as you can by adding charcoal regularly. Note how the temperature changes when you add new charcoal or close the vents partially.

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  • Invest in a grill thermometer to keep a closer eye on your fire.

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How do I control the heat on my propane grill?

Heat Management Here are some tips for how to manage all the heat: Always preheat your grill on medium heat for 10-15 minutes before cooking. Use high heat for searing only for a short time. The rest of the time, use medium for cooking hot and fast, and low heat for cooking more slowly or holding finished foods.

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Enjoy Cooking on a Charcoal Grill

A charcoal grill brings a delightful flavor to whatever you grill on it. Understanding how to keep just the right temperature will help you make excellent dishes time and time again. 

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Use Lump Charcoal

Another way to make your grill hotter is to use lump charcoal rather than charcoal briquettes. Lump charcoal consists of large blocks of almost-pure carbon. In comparison, charcoal briquettes are made of burned sawdust and other particles held together with a binding agent. While similar in size, lump charcoal offers the highest level of performance when grilling. It burns hotter, cleaner and produces less ash than charcoal briquettes. By using lump charcoal, you’ll create a hot fire that’s perfect for grilling meat.

Lid Opened or Closed on the Grill?

Most gas grills work best with the lid closed. The lid needs to be down to generate the intense heat necessary for high-temperature grilling. Indirect grilling also requires the lid to be down. 

How to Stop Charcoal Grill

If you are done with cooking and want to put out your charcoal grill, there is a fool-proof method for it.

You can simply close the lid. Yes it can be this easy. When you are tired and can’t be bothered, close the lids and vents on your grill and let it sit like that for a while. 

The lack of oxygen will eventually cause the fire to die. The coals however can take 2-3 days to completely cool down. This method is by far the safest way to put out a charcoal grill.

Open the dampers

As important as having a healthy supply of charcoal or wood chips is in your grill to keep going at a reasonable temperature, oxygen plays just as an essential role.

Your grill uses two main fuels: Charcoal and oxygen. So making sure that you have a good amount of air flowing into the chamber is key.

Photo: Mike Stavlund
Photo: Mike Stavlund

Before starting, locate your grill’s dampers. There should be two. One is the intake damper, which is often found towards the base of your grill, near where your charcoal sits. The other is an exhaust damper, which is usually located in the lid.

The two of these work in conjunction to have a healthy air supply flowing in through the intake damper, and out through the exhaust damper. If either one of these is shut then you’re depriving your lit charcoals of good air supply.

Open both dampers before you ignite your grill. As the heat rises, you can adjust these later as you need.

Lighting

During the summer and warm weather months, lighting is not an issue. The daylight is usually visible well past 7 pm sometimes 8 pm local time, whether you’re on the west coast, east coast, or in the midwest. But this isn’t the case in the winter months. Some months the sun can be down as early as 5 pm. That can make it hard to grill if you worked all day. By the time you get home and get your food prep done, it might be dark out.

So it is important to have the proper lighting up and ready even before you heat up the grill. This way if you’re still grilling when the sun goes down, your food doesn’t get ruined over not being able to see it.

If you do not have bright outside lights in the area that you are grilling, you might want to consider getting portable lights. It would be wise to purchase some wireless but very bright battery-powered lights you can put near or on your grill. There are lights on the market just for grills. They have a magnet on them to keep them on your grill. There are also ones that go on the handle of your lid. But if your grill has a smaller handle, as my grill does, these lights don’t leave a lot of room for your hand. You can click here to see my reviews and recommendations on portable lights for grilling.

Now because you are grilling in the wintery weather, it is important to remember that after the sun goes down, winds tend to pick up. So with the proper lighting, it will be easier to find things if the wind blows them over or anything you might knock over accidentally, especially the grill full of burning hot charcoal briquettes.

For those people with no interest in charcoal grilling in cold weather at night, it would be best to start your grilling early – particularly before 1 pm so that you can be finished around 3 pm depending on how much food you are grilling. This will give you around 2 hours – ample time to clean out the charcoal grill – before the sun goes down. It usually goes down around 5 pm at least where I live in the winter seasons.

You’re going to know better than myself about what time the sun goes down in your area. So you can adjust the time to what’s going to work best for you. So whether you are a morning person, or a night person, and whether you have night lights available or not, you can still enjoy charcoal grilling in cold weather.

How to Grill Vegetables

If you’ve been grilling meats but have yet to try vegetables on a grill, you are in for some exciting new flavors. Grilled vegetables add a whole new dimension to their taste and texture. You may find yourself loving vegetables that you avoided in the past. When it comes to cooking vegetables on a grill, you can only be stopped by your imagination. New combinations and techniques are available on the grill that you may not be able to get in a kitchen. That familiar smokey aroma takes vegetables to a new flavorful place.

In this section, we will discuss how simple it can be to grill vegetables and the importance of proper cook times. We’ll explore the advantages of cooking veggies on a skewer and the benefits of package cooking. Get ready to add a new layer of flavor to vegetables when grilling outdoors.

Add Light Oil to Vegetables

Even if asparagus, zucchini, and squash aren’t your favorites, they take on a new personality when grilled outdoors. Grilling many vegetables is amazingly simple. Just slice, add some light oil (vegetable or olive) and toss on some salt and pepper.

Grilling vegetables can benefit from the purchase of a vegetable grilling sheet or pan that allows the flames and heat to directly contact the vegetables without having them soak in oil. Many prefer to cook vegetable combinations in chunks or slices. Try making a medley of carrots, green peppers, onions, zucchini, and squash. Grilled thick onion slices with a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper make superb toppings for burgers. Add some sugar for a sweeter flavor.

Grilling vegetables is a terrific way to expand your diet and your grilling skills. Explore and enjoy!

Know the Proper Cook Time

Grilling times for vegetable can vary widely depending on their density, how large they are cut and at what temperature they are cooked. A thicker, full carrot will take significantly longer to grill, for example, than grilling some cherry tomatoes. Vegetables of similar consistency will cook at approximately the same times. This can include pairs like onions and peppers, and zucchini, squash and eggplant.

Most vegetables can be cooked to tender in about 10 to 12 minutes. Potatoes, especially whole uncut ones, will take much longer. One of the most efficient ways to reduce cooking time is to cut them into smaller pieces.

Cut Into Smaller Pieces for Faster Cooking

A very simple way to get vegetables to cook quicker when grilling is to cut them into smaller pieces. This is effective whether in cubes or slices. The additional benefits of slicing, cubing or chunking vegetables is it helps the vegetables absorb more of the grilling flavor. The heat penetrates easier and cooks more thoroughly.

You can cut and grill vegetable pieces either separately or combined in a variety of cooking vessels. Don’t forget that you can use your cast iron skillet on the grill. The way you cook vegetables will impact their cooking time and flavor. Here are some of the more popular options.

For Small Pieces, Cook on a Skewer

Grilling smaller pieces or chunks of vegetables can be easily accomplished on a skewer. A skewer is simply a long stick or thin rod than can be run through the center of pieces of vegetables, connecting them together in a shish-kabob style for grilling.

When cooking vegetables on a skewer, it is important the vegetables are pierced near the center to ensure they will firmly stay on the skewer. Skewers can either contain an amount of the same vegetables or a variety of vegetable pieces.

Skewers can be infused in flavor with a variety of marinades or oils that will also help to grill them without sticking.

Those interested in skewering a variety of vegetables may include larger chunks or pieces of onion, green pepper, cherry tomatoes, mushrooms and more. An interesting option for grilling potatoes is placing chunks on skewers and coating them in oil or butter and flavored with salt and pepper. Another option for grilling vegetables is placing them in aluminum foil packets.

Cooking in Packets

“Foil packs” have long been a favorite for campers. Simply put, a combination of potatoes and/or other vegetables would be placed in an aluminum foil pack, or envelope, with seasonings and butter or oil. These packets would then be placed above, or in some cases, in a fire for cooking. These foil packs allow for a wide range of errors in cooking and even overcooked packs are often tasty.

Preparation is straight forward. Place large sheets of foil on a countertop and coat with butter, spray oil or light vegetable or olive oil. Add the vegetables you would like to cook and season as desired. Fold the aluminum to create a packet of food that is ready to put on the grill.

Keep in mind, the foil used must either be thick enough or in enough layers to be durable enough to be turned several times while cooking.

Foil packet cooking steams and grills vegetables at the same time. This often results in a tasty, tender side dish that is absolutely delicious. Caution should be taken when opening cooked foil packets as the steam can cause burns.

Start your coals off right

There are three items I think every baby griller should have—an external thermometer, a charcoal chimney, and lighter cubes. Using the last two is the easiest, quickest way to get your coals super hot and ashy without resorting to using lighter fluid. The chimney maximizes the air flow around the coals and the cubes provide the quick-lighting fuel you need to kick things off without leaving behind any ash (as you would if using newspaper or something similar). You can make your own lighter cubes with paraffin wax and an egg carton, or buy 24 of them for five bucks.

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Temperature Guide for the Grill

With a gas grill, the temperature dials are a good indication of how high or low the heat is. If you have a charcoal grill, how do you really know how hot medium-high heat is? There is a method to gauge temperature using only your hand. Carefully hold your hand just above the cooking grate and start counting the seconds until you cannot tolerate the heat (it will feel like your skin will burn). The longer you can hold your hand above the fire, the lower the heat. This technique can be used for gas and charcoal grills. The guidelines to follow are:

  • 5 Seconds = Low heat
  • 4 Seconds = Medium heat
  • 3 Seconds = Medium-high heat
  • 2 Seconds = High heat
  • 1 Second = Very high heat

How to Grill Steak

To me, there is nothing more satisfying than a grilled bone-in ribeye. However, there is a lot to consider when pursuing the lofty goal of a perfectly cooked steak: the cut, thickness, and general size all play into the type and amount of heat needed on the grill.

A 1 1/2 inch ribeye can achieve a “wall-to-wall” medium rare of 135º F internal with only eight total minutes on the grill over direct high heat. However, to achieve the same results with a 2 1/2 inch tenderloin filet, I use a combination of indirect low and direct high heat, also known as the reverse sear, to evenly cook the inside before searing the outside.

How to Grill the Best Steak

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Do not just gravitate to the old steak standbys, though. While I love to grill ribeyes and porterhouses, less frequented cuts such as flank and skirt pack in a lot of meaty flavor.

Grilled Flank Steak with Mushrooms

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Grilled Chili Lime Flank Steak

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Grilled Skirt Steak Skewers Recipe

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Elise Bauer

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