Does your friend or neighbour have a charcoal grill that’s rarely used? Do you own a charcoal grill that you never use? Yes, there are many reasons why most people don’t use their charcoal grill but the main one is because it’s hard to control the temperature. If you want to avoid undercooked, overcooked or charred meat, you need to know how to choose the right temperature and maintain it. Charcoal grills, unlike gas grills, need a lot of skill to control the temperature. However, with the right techniques, you should be able to control the temperature and impress your friends accordingly.
How Does A Charcoal Grill Work?
A charcoal grill relies on 2 fuel sources which are combustible material (wood or charcoal) and oxygen. It is referred to as the combustion or fire triangle. This concept relies on 3 elements required for the fire to ignite such as fuel, heat and oxygen. If any of these elements are removed, the fire will not ignite. It should help you better understand temperature control when using a charcoal grill since you directly control the oxygen and fuel present.
Build A Two-Zone Fire
When you create a hot zone for searing as well as a cooler zone for indirect cooking, it’s easy enough to control how well-cooked your meat will be. That’s because you can simply move it to the right side of the cooking grate. When building a two-zone fire, you need to follow these steps.
• Place all the coals on one side of the coal grate.
• Make sure you spread them evenly to cover half or two-thirds of the area.
• Replace the cooking grate
The area above the coals will be the direct cooking or grilling area. On the other hand, the area far away from the coals will be used for in-direct cooking. If you want to cook your food indirectly or stop cooking, you should move the food across to the side of the grate without any coal underneath. Any food in the indirect cooking area should always be cooked by convection. Here, warm air will be circulating around the food. As such, the food will be evenly cooked both inside and out. You should also know the amount of charcoal you need in the hot zone for the best results.
Invest In A Good Temperature Probe
Your grill should remain at a stable temperature of 225 degrees Fahrenheit. Therefore, you need to keep an eye on the temperature as you use the grill. Keep in mind that most built-in grill thermometers are often inaccurate. Most food experts often recommend an air probe to track the ambient temperature inside the grill with utmost accuracy. You should be able to notice the changes that happen immediately after changing the fuel and airflow. You should set up the air probe closer to the location of the food (preferably in the middle of the cooking area on the indirect side) so you can have a better idea of how hot everything gets.
Controlling The Exhaust And Intake Vents
For the coals to remain properly lit, oxygen is very crucial. Most of the charcoal grills use 2 ways to control oxygen. These include:
• Intake Damper – It is located near the bottom part of the grill and close to the charcoal.
• Exhaust Damper – It is found at the top part of the grill and allows gas to escape.
You can use the intake damper to control temperature since you can expect more oxygen to come through it. As such, the fire becomes hotter and in order to reduce the heat, you should close the vent thereby reducing the amount of oxygen in the whole system. Note that, if the intake vent is closed completely, the fire will starve and burn out even when you open the exhaust damper.
As the heat rises through the charcoal, the heat, combustion gases and smoke go out through the exhaust damper. The draft or pressurized system results in more oxygen coming through the intake damper so it’s prudent to keep it open. You should partially open the exhaust dumper every time you are using the charcoal grill to prevent the fire from being smothered by the combustion gases.
How To Adjust The Temperature
Before you begin the process, you need to know that it takes time to calibrate the grill. You can do runs without any food as the intake and exhaust vents are open all the way. With the fire settling, adjust the bottom part of the intake vent. Next, you can close the vent halfway and see the changes in temperature. Don’t adjust the temperature and vent at the same time since it will be disastrous. If you are not able to get to a certain temperature with the intake vent alone, you should start adjusting the exhaust vent.
Once you’re able to, dial in the temperature such as 225 or 325 and keep this in mind. It will make it easier to get to those temperatures in the future. Some renowned brands have a different point of view where you are asked to leave the intake vent open and only adjust the exhaust vent. That’s because of the wind, ambient temperature and the cleanliness of your grill. Note that, if you are not cleaning the ash (which you should before you start cooking), it will stifle the intake vent and choke the fire.
Amount Of Charcoal
As you can expect, your grill will become hotter if there is more lit charcoal or fuel. Note that, briquettes are more uniform than lump charcoal. They don’t have volatile burn rates but lump charcoal is more responsive to any adjustments in the vent. If you are using Kingsford charcoal briquettes on a standard Weber Kettle grill, you should consider the following estimates.
• High heat range of 450 to 550 F – 100 briquettes or 1 full chimney.
• Medium heat range of 350 to 450 F – 30 to 50 briquettes or half to ¾ chimney.
• Low heat range of 250 to 350 F – 15 to 30 briquettes or a quarter chimney.
Of course, every cooker is different but you can use the above estimates if you are using that exact cooker and grill. If you want to know the exact temperature and the amount of charcoal you can use for your grill, try using a charcoal chimney to measure the lit and unlit charcoal. That way, you can measure specific quantities of charcoal. You should make note of these temperatures in the scenarios mentioned below how long your grill holds the temperatures.
With a half chimney lit charcoal onto the empty grill, half chimney with unlit charcoal, the full chimney of the unlit charcoal. On the other hand, the full chimney of lit charcoal onto the empty grill and half chimney with unlit charcoal or full chimney of the unlit charcoal. Note that, charcoal will burn at the peak temperature when it is fully lit. Also, it is stable when it is fully stable. With time, the temperature declines as the fuel will be consumed during the combustion process. If you must add combustibles such as charcoal or fuel, you should do it when you notice the temperature dropping.
Don’t add unlit coals since it will spike temperature as they ignite to build up the temperature. That’s why it’s also preferable to adjust the intake vent compared to the exhaust. If the coals are completely lit you can control one variable compared to both the intake and exhaust. When you add lit coals it will also help avoid the spiking temperature and the by-products of combustion.
Adjust The Distance Between Your Food And The Coals
If your food is closer to the coals, it will become hotter. Also, your food will cook faster. After a few trials runs, you should be able to find the sweet spot every time you turn on your grill. Note that, some grills have adjustable cooking grates that definitely make cooking easier. If it’s getting too hot, you need to move the food further away or bring it closer if you feel that it’s not cooking better.
If your grill comes with this easy feature, you can the workaround on the best results. Start by using the 1st technique to come up with a 2 or more-zone fire. You should be to move your food between the cooler and hotter parts of the grill whenever needed.
Use A Grill Shield
If you are cooking things quicker than expected, you need to do something very fast. Use an aluminium foil to make a grill shield to block the heat properly. You can do this by folding the aluminium foil 2 or 3 times. Next, you can slip it under the food that is about to burn and guarantee the best protection. With this method, you will not stop the food from cooking completely but it will block the radiant heat from hitting the food. Rather, it slows down the process to allow better cooking.
With these tips, you should be able to control your BBQ grill temperature without any faults.