How to Control Charcoal Grill Temperature?

Jeremy Bivens
Jeremy Bivens
Research Writer
Jeremy Bivens is a passionate writer and grilling enthusiast. He's been working as a freelance journalist for over 15 years now and has a particular interest in food writing read more
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Bruce Williams
Bruce Williams
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Claims that grilling is the art that he has been learning all his life long and is not planning to stop. Has been grilling for as long as he can remember. Author of numerous read more
Last updated: August 09, 2023
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Many people think that a charcoal grill’s temperature is dependent on the amount of charcoal they use. This is not true! So how to control charcoal grill temp? The heat in the grill depends on the air dampers. The way you adjust the former determines whether the heat or temperature of your grill increases or decreases. When there is too much air in it, it gets hotter and hotter. The less air it has, the cooler it gets.

When you understand how this works, it becomes easy for you to lower the temperature on your charcoal grill. With this being said, you must know that there are various useful ways and techniques that you can use to control the heat in your grill or smoker. They are very easy to set up, and they prevent your food from burning. By applying them, you enjoy nice and well-cooked barbecue meals.

How Does a Charcoal Grill Work?

How to Control Charcoal Grill Temperature?Before going deep into how to regulate the temperature in a charcoal grill, it is important to know how it works. When you light it up with fire, you want it to remain light. For that, your equipment needs three elements to set up or ignite the fire: oxygen, a combustible material (wood or charcoal), and heat.

Once these three elements are united, the fire comes alive. Take one of those away, and it dies. It is your responsibility as the charcoal grill’s owner to ensure that your unit is well lit and that the flame is tamed. The electric charcoal starters can help you with that. When that is done correctly, you can consistently cook your food and follow your recipes’ timing easily. It makes you enjoy well-cooked meals.

Measuring the Heat: How Hot Is It?

How to lower temp on a charcoal grill? Before considering reducing the temperature, you must first measure the heat to know how hot your grill is. Although charcoal grill doesn’t necessitate some type of precision when it comes to its use, trying to cook different meals over the same level of heat affects the quality of your preparation. That is why you need to know when it is too hot so that you can tame the fire. You can know how hot a charcoal grill is by using one of these two methods:


How to Control Charcoal Grill Temperature?One of the ways that can help you determine the heat level of your charcoal grill is by using a thermometer on the lid. However, you must make sure that it possesses one. The grill’s temp will appear on the thermometer and, when reading it, you will know whether it is excessive or not.

Hand Test

How to Control Charcoal Grill Temperature?Another way of testing your grill’s temperature is by using the hand test. Rest assured, the method is not dangerous, and it does not cause you any injury or burn. You simply have to put your hand over the charcoal. Make sure, however, that it stays at a safe distance, at least 5” from the grates. How do you know that your unit is hot?

When putting your hand over the grates, if you have to pull it away after two to four seconds, then your grill is very hot, and its heat is high. On the contrary, if you put up with the heat for five to seven seconds, then the heat level is medium.

However, if you can put up with it from eight to ten seconds, then the heat level is low. Translated into Fahrenheit measures, the heat level appears as such:

  • Low: from 250 – 350°F
  • Medium: from 350 – 450°F
  • High: from 450 – 550°F

Guide to Control the Heat

If you are here, you probably want to know  how to control temperature on a charcoal grill Trusted Source How to Control the Temperature of a Smoker - WikiHow Smokers are a great way to cook your food to perfection. It can take a while before your meal is ready to eat, but the results are well worth it. The dampers are the primary way to control the temperature, but you also have to consider other factors too, such as wind, fuel, and outdoor temperatures. Once you understand how these affect the smoker, you can become a master at smoking meat. . There are five ways that you can adjust or control the heat level. Depending on how you use it, you can end up relying on two or more of these methods. Either way, we must acknowledge each option. Knowing them will help you choose the appropriate one for you.

Set Up a Two-Zone Charcoal Fire

How to Control Charcoal Grill Temperature?One of the first methods as to how to lower temp on a charcoal grill is to set up a two-zone charcoal fire. This simply means that you must create a “hot or radiant heat” zone and a “cool or safe” zone. The first one (the radiant heat or above the fire) can serve you for direct cooking of food that requires excessive heat.

Concerning the second one (cooler or safer zone), you can use it for indirect convection heat, i.e., for cooking food across to the side without the charcoal underneath.

Separating your charcoal grill into a two-zone fire helps you move your cook your meals evenly. They will not only cook on the surface but also inside.

Open or Close the Vents

How to Control Charcoal Grill Temperature?Another way to control your charcoal grill temperature is by opening or closing the vents. Firstly, you must know that almost all charcoal grills come with two oxygen’s entries:

  • The intake damper – it can be found near the charcoal
  • The exhaust damper – is found on top of the grill.

Whichever entry you use to bring in the oxygen, if the amount of oxygen in your unit is high, it will cause the fire to be hotter. That is why we recommend you reduce it by closing the vent. This will decrease or cause the fire to cease. When you find out that the fire’s level is too low, you can reopen the vent to bring in the oxygen.

Another best way to understand how vents works are by knowing that the exhaust damper controls the oxygen that gout out of the grill. Concerning the intake damper, it controls the amount of oxygen that comes in it.

Whether you are using your grill without the lid, always controlling the intake damper is important. The more it is opened, the more oxygen comes in and lights the charcoal. On the contrary, if you are cooking with the lid on, you must control the exhaust damper. Like we previously mentioned, its role is to enhance heat escaping. If you don’t want a high temperature, you can partially open it.

Regardless of the vent you are manipulating, always keep in mind that closed vents mean less oxygen and less fire/heat in the grill. Your charcoal, therefore, burns slowly. On the contrary, opened vents mean more oxygen inside and more fire/heat. This means that the charcoal burns rapidly.

Use Adjustable Cooking Grates

How to Control Charcoal Grill Temperature?Contrary to the gas grill, you can also control the temperature on the charcoal grill by using adjustable cooking grates. When moving your food closer to the fire, it cooks quickly because the fire is hotter. However, knowing exactly where to put the food to avoid burns is not an exact science. That is why you can use a charcoal grill that comes with adjustable grates. By doing so, you can move your food closer if you feel like the fire is not enough, or move it away if you feel like it is too hot. To do that, you simply lower the grates to bring the food closer to the fire, or you raise them to keep them farther away from the source of heat.

If your model doesn’t come with adjustable grill grates, you can shift the charcoals towards the back of the grill and monitor the heat by moving the food farther or closer to the source of the fire as the need arises.

Make a Grill Shield

Do you want to know how to control charcoal grill temp? Another easiest and practical way is by creating a grill shield or food guard. This helps you add another layer of protection between the source of the fire and your food. It means that the shield forms a barrier by preventing your food from burning and enhancing slow cooking. You can use aluminum foil to create the grill shield that you need. When using it, your food is not directly exposed to heat.

How do you create the grill shield with aluminum foil? Simply take some, and fold it like a letter you want to put in an envelope. To benefit from its protection, you can fold it in three layers thick. It will have more impact on temperature control.

Add More Coals

Do you think that your charcoal grill does not produce enough heat to cook your food? We recommend you add more coals to it. It is not necessary to add lighter fluid. By adding coals to the existing ones, the lit ones will start the new ones.

For this method to be effective, however, you must plan it adequately. Firstly, know that unlit coals take 15 minutes at least to light fully. Therefore, you must not wait until the lit ones are almost out of the heat to add the new ones.

A good strategy to provide heat or flame to the new coals is by lighting a chimney and pouring the new coals inside. When it is sufficiently hot, you can remove them and add them to your charcoal grill.

What about Smoking?

Low-heat smoking is another excellent method to regulate the temperature on your charcoal grill. You can even apply the concept of the two-zone setup with this method. Instead of putting your food directly on the heat, you can place them in the safe zone. However, unlike in the high heat-scenario, you don’t need too many lit coals to achieve the correct temperature used for smoking (between 225 – 325°F).

You can also place lit coals into unlit ones and cook your food away from the direct heat source. The advantages of doing this are many: first, your charcoal grill will not run hotter than you need it to. It means you can easily start with a few lit charcoals to achieve the desired temperature, instead of starting with a lot of them and bring down the temperature.

Direct and Indirect Cooking

How to Control Charcoal Grill Temperature?When you are using a charcoal grill, you must be familiar with direct and indirect cooking. Both methods are important when you use your unit, as they help you achieve different cooking results. Whichever method you are using, there is one thing you need to keep in mind: when they are lit, coals represent the source of heat, and when they are unlit, they represent the source of fuel.

Direct Cooking

Direct cooking is used for cooking meals or food that require excessive or direct input into the heat source. It is recommended for meats, steaks, and all types of food that need cooking for 30 minutes and above. Using the direct cooking method is not difficult:

  • Light up a good quantity of charcoals to achieve the right temperature on your grill.
  • Then, you must put the unlit coals over one side of your grates. Make sure that you spread them evenly.
  • The next step consists of placing your lit charcoals evenly among the unlit ones.
  • Then, place your food on top of the charcoals and cover it with the lid.

From time to time, you can remove the lid. It helps you control the airflow and prevents your food from burning. Also, make sure that you reduce lit coals as the need arises. It also prevents your food from burning and enhances even cooking.

Indirect Cooking

When it comes to indirect cooking, we are suggesting the slow cooking of your food using the lowest source of heat. Using this method also requires regulating the temperature of your charcoal grill. However, setting up the grill here is different from the measures used in direct cooking:

  • First, put your unlit charcoals on one side of your grill grates in a pile.
  • Second, place the lit coals close together, at the center of the unlit coals’ pile.
  • You can place your food opposite the pile of the charcoals, on your cooking grates.
  • Last, replace the lid.

Like direct cooking, if you want to cook your meals at a higher temperature, you must add some lit coals. However, if you need to cook your food longer, you must increase unlit charcoals.

Other Variables to Keep in Mind

When using a charcoal grill, there are other variables that you must keep in mind. They can determine how effective your model is and whether or not you can easily control or regulate its temperature. With this said, here is what needs to be looked out for.

Outside Temperature

The outside temperature has an important role to play when it comes to regulating your charcoal grill temperature. For example, maybe you are grilling or cooking on your unit in the middle of winter, and the weather outside is ice-cold.

This factor influences how easily you will be able to build the temperature in your unit. Indeed, the metal of your charcoal grill will be cold. Even if your charcoals are excessively hot because you poured some lighting fluid on them, the overall internal temperature of the unit will take much time to rise.

It means that cold temperatures affect the built-in temperature of your charcoal grill. In this case, you must be patient and cautious when trying to regulate the temperature.

Ash Bin

How to Control Charcoal Grill Temperature?We also recommend you keep an eye on your ash bin. It also affects how you use your charcoal grill. Depending on the briquettes you are using, they can burn out rapidly and quench the fire. Make sure that you are using quality briquettes. They burn slowly, plus the ash doesn’t pile up quickly.

Ensure that you empty the ash bin once in between cooking sessions, especially if you are using your charcoal grill all day.


Another variable that can affect the charcoal grill temperature is the wind. For example, if you are grilling with your lid open, you want to make sure that your unit achieves and keeps the right temperature. However, that might be a little bit tricky because each time the wind will blow, it will try to snuff out your grill’s flames. It is, therefore, your duty to ensure that it doesn’t happen.

The right thing to do here is to check the weather reports. If they are not reporting any wind speeds, then you can use your unit with the lid off.

Another thing you can do is install your charcoal grill perpendicular to the wind. This helps you prevent the wind from blowing off too much on your grill.

Grease Fires

When using a charcoal grill, grease fires are bound to happen. Indeed, grease and fat always build-up, even if you clean your unit often. They usually build up when you are cooking a high volume of food. However, it is contained in a bin or basin on your grill.

When grease fires happen, you should avoid pouring a high quantity of water on them. As you know, oil and water don’t mix. What you can do, is spray little water on the fire. It will dampen some of the flames.

Final Thoughts

Now you know how to control charcoal grill temp. This unit is excellent in that it brings out their flavor and helps you cook tasty meals. Although it comes in several nuances, once you get past the learning procedure, it becomes easy for you to use it. If you have a charcoal grill appliance that you haven’t been using, we recommend doing so. On the contrary, if you feel that you need a replacement for your current grill, consider the Kamado Joe KJ23RHC Classic II. For short trips, you can go for the portable Weber Smokey Joe.


How to Control the Temperature of a Smoker - WikiHow
Smokers are a great way to cook your food to perfection. It can take a while before your meal is ready to eat, but the results are well worth it. The dampers are the primary way to control the temperature, but you also have to consider other factors too, such as wind, fuel, and outdoor temperatures. Once you understand how these affect the smoker, you can become a master at smoking meat.

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