How to Control the Temperature on a Charcoal Grill

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If you are just getting into the charcoal grilling world, you might be having trouble with temperature control.

After all, if you are using a propane or electric grill, you can use the temperature dial to adjust the temperature. However, this is not something you can do with a charcoal grill.

With a charcoal grill, controlling the temperature is a bit more complicated, as it is something that you have to do manually, not just with the rotation of a dial.

Luckily, there are a few good ways on how to control the temperature on a charcoal grill. Let’s talk about them.

How to Control the Temperature on a Charcoal Grill

1. Adjusting the Vents

The first method of adjusting the temperature on your charcoal grill is to manipulate the vents. Even the most basic charcoal grill should have two vents one located in the lid and one under the coals. Now, contrary to what you might think, closing the vents won’t make the grill hotter.

Yes, common sense might dictate that closing off all holes will keep more heat in, but in fact, this is not the case.

Charcoal needs a lot of oxygen to burn properly and get white-hot. The more airflow there is and the more oxygen the charcoals get, the hotter they will become, and the higher the temperature in the grill will get.

There are debates as to what works best whether you should open the top or bottom vents, or both at once. Here, to raise the temperature, we would recommend fully opening the bottom vents and opening the top vents halfway.

This will allow plenty of oxygen to flow through the grill, and it will retain most of the heat. Admittedly, this takes a bit of experimentation, as the exact effects will depend on the design of your grill.

2. Adjusting the Distance Between Coals and Food

Another way to adjust the charcoal grill’s temperature is to change the charcoal’s distance and the food you are cooking. To do this, it is best if you have a charcoal grill that allows you to adjust the height of the grilling grate.

The further away the food is from the charcoal, the lower the temperature at the food’s position. If you don’t have a grill with a height-adjustable grate, you can always just adjust the charcoal’s height at the bottom of the chamber when you initially set it up.

3. Manipulating the Lid

Another way to adjust the temperature inside of the charcoal grill is to manipulate the lid. This way isn’t for long-and-steady temperature control, and this method isn’t for maintaining one temperature over a long period.

Instead, if the charcoal grill is too hot, you can simply take the lid off for a few seconds or a minute, and this will let a lot of the heat out.

4. The Number of Coals

Something else that will make a difference in terms of the grill’s temperature is how many coals you put in the grill when you begin.

Quite simply, the more charcoal you put in the grill, the hotter it will be.

Exactly how much charcoal you need to achieve a specific temperature will depend on the grill’s make and size. However, you can follow a simple rule of thumb here more coal means more heat.

Control the Temperature on a Charcoal Grill

5. A Grill Shield

If you find that the grill is too hot and you have too many coals in there, coals that are now causing your food to burn, you can use a grill shield, which is anything that you can put in between the food and the coals that will decrease the amount of heat getting to the food.

Most people will just fold a piece of tinfoil 3 or 4 times and put it under the food.

6. Making a Two-Zone Fire

You can always make a two-zone fire for accurate temperature control right off the bat. To do this, make two piles of charcoal, one large one and a much smaller one.

You can then cook food over the large pile for high and direct heat and cook other food over the sparse coals for indirect and low heat.


As you can see, there are many ways to control the heat on your charcoal grill. It may take a bit of experimentation, but controlling the temperature should be more than doable if you use the right method combinations.

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