Aside from having the correct dry rub and wood chips when grilling or smoking meat, it will also help to master how much time you would cook and how you can maintain the correct temperature of the grill throughout the cooking process. The former, of course, requires you to be mindful of time. The latter, however, requires you to use a thermometer to monitor the temperature of the grill.
If you fail to monitor the temperature on the charcoal grill, you may end up either with overcooked meat, which can be mushy and disgusting to eat, or undercooked meat that is sickening to eat likewise. Keeping the consistency of the charcoal grill’s temperature requires skills. Thus, if you are new to grilling or smoking, keeping a consistent temperature would be a challenge for you.
The 225°F temp range is the most recommended temperature when smoking meats. It is the sweet spot. It is likewise the temperature that can yield you the tenderest and juiciest barbecue meat. Yet, many fail in keeping their grill in that range. So, they end up with meat that is scorched and tough to eat.
Charcoal grilling, of course, is one of the most exciting forms of outdoor cooking. The smoke that emanates from the grill is quite engaging and appetizing. However, charcoal isn’t easy to light. Moreover, its temperature is quite challenging to control. This is because the grill’s temperatures fluctuate much.
But it is necessary to keep its temperature at the recommended level to ensure a tender result. Fluctuations can create hot spots across the grill surface. These hotspots can ruin your meat.
Ways to Keep Your Charcoal Grill Consistently Hot
Upon knowing the importance of keeping your charcoal grill consistently hot, it will help if you are mindful of the following ways to keep your charcoal grill at the recommended temperature level:
Often Check the Charcoal
One method you should employ throughout the grilling process is to check your charcoal frequently. If you’re grilling hot dogs, you can get by mixing some partially used charcoal with fresh stuff. But if you cook meat or ribs, the half-burnt briquettes will just last for a short time.
So, it will be best to start with fresh and whole charcoal if you would engage in hot and long cooking. Ensure that you use dry ones and avoid using those that have already absorbed moisture because they’ve been stored for a long time. Such charcoal will not light with ease and will burn poorly.
Kindle Your Coal Correctly
As a tyro in grilling, it will be best to know that there are three items you should have in your arsenal when grilling: a charcoal chimney, an external thermometer, and lighter cubes. Using the lighter cubes and charcoal chimney would not require any elaborate monitoring. However, the use of an external thermometer requires patience and consistent tracking. The chimney, of course, optimizes the airflow for the coals. The cubes, however, provide lighting fuel to kick things off sans leaving ash.
Adjust the Dampers Accordingly
Aside from consistently supplying charcoal, it will also help to keep watch on the oxygen inflow. For the charcoal to burn, you need to keep the oxygen flowing into the smoker or griller. So, at the onset, you need to locate the dampers of the grill. Grillers usually have two. One for the intake (intake damper) found underneath or at the grill’s base, adjacent to where the charcoal sits. The other damper is called the exhaust damper that you can see in the lid.
The positions of these two dampers determine how the oxygen gets supplied. If one of these dampers gets shut, then the airflow dynamics get disrupted. So, you need to open both dampers when igniting your grill. Later, you can adjust the dampers accordingly.
Find the Right Distance
Depending on the meat you want to grill, it will be best to monitor its distance from the fire. The closer the meat to the fire, the quicker it will cook. If your charcoal grills come with grates that you can lower or raise, you can move the food closer or farther from the smoldering coals.
However, if your grill doesn’t have movable grates, you can position the coal at the grill’s back to control the heat.
Divide the Grill into High- and Low-heat Cooking Zone
The smokers usually have zones wherein you can position meat depending on the amount of heat you would like the meat to have. If it doesn’t have, then you need to set up two zones with charcoal grills, one for the high heat zone and one for the low heat zone. To create these two zones, you can transfer the lit coal to one side. Once you’ve positioned the top grates, you can place the meat on the grill’s opposite side, where it gets indirect heat.
Keep the grill covered to create an even low temperature in the low-heat zone. The 2-zone arrangement is the traditional arrangement and is the common arrangement employed by most grillers. The direct zone is the side with the coals. The zone devoid of charcoal is the low-heat zone or the indirect zone, like an oven.
Be Mindful of Adjusting the Vent When Needed
When trying to maintain the temperature at 225°F, you need to adjust the vents when needed. Some experts, like Meathead Goldwyn, readily suggest that you leave the exhaust damper ajar throughout the cooking process. You only need to control the temperature by making adjustments to the intake damper.
Well, such advice is good, considering that it will be difficult to maintain temperature if you adjust both dampers. If the temperature goes up beyond the 225°F sweet spot, you can reduce the inflow of oxygen by partially closing the intake damper. Every five minutes, you should check the temperature and be wary of what you need to stabilize.
If the temperature decreases, you can open the grill’s intake damper a bit. If it gets too high, you can close it a bit. As you become more experienced in grilling, you will soon master the ideal range of how to close or open a bit your intake damper to maintain the temperature at 225°F.
Do Away with Ashes
You will notice that while the charcoal burns, it leaves ashes behind. These ashes stay at the grill’s bottom. The ashes can choke the burning coals and eventually extinguish them. You can dispose of these ashes with ease if your grill comes with an ash disposal system. Every thirty to sixty minutes, you can remove the ashes.
However, if your grill doesn’t have an ash-collection system, you will be forced to scoop the ashes, which can be tiresome. When removing ashes, you should ensure, however, not to disrupt the consistency of the grill’s temperature.
Frequently Monitor the Fuel
Grilling is not a set-and-go process. It requires constant monitoring of the grilling temperature. If the temperature goes lower than the sweet spot temperature, you need to adjust the intake damper a bit. Moreover, you need to replenish the charcoal or fuel. If you think the grill needs more fuel, you can add 8 to 10 briquettes to the burning coals.
You can also light 8 to 10 briquettes in the chimney until they get ashed over. Afterward, you can add them to the lit coals in your grill. However, if you add unlit coals to the burning coals, the unlit coals will add more smoke and increase temperature quickly. Hence, you need to watch over the intake damper and throttle it a bit.
Buy a Good Temperature Probe
Since the very heart of the grilling process is monitoring temperature, you need to invest in a good thermometer. Of course, if your grill comes with a thermometer, you can use this thermometer to monitor the cooking temperature of the grill. Yet, most built-in thermometers for grills are often inaccurate. So, it will be best to invest in an air probe that could track the ambient temperature within the grill.
With a reliable air probe, you will have a fairly accurate measurement of the cooking temperature and can quickly adjust the temperature and the dampers when needed. It will be best to set the air probe very close to where you position the food. In this way, you can gauge the temperature near the meat correctly.
Light Charcoal for your Fuel
To start a fire, you can utilize the chimney starter to set the coal on fire. If you see that the briquettes are already covered with grey ash, you can add them to the grill. It may take around fifteen minutes for the briquettes to be ready.
Create a Grill Shield
You can direct the heat inside the grill to a particular area by making a grill shield. Of course, you can likewise buy a ready-made grill shield. But you can also create your grill shield using pans or aluminum foil.
This grill shield allows you to keep the fire lighted and burning within the necessary temperature for cooking your food. You should configure the grill shield so that it does not create cold or hot spots within the grill surface.
Factors that Could Affect Heat Levels of the Charcoal Grill
Aside from the simple tips and methods mentioned above, it will also help if you know the following typical factors that usually affect the heat levels within your grill:
The cleanliness of Your Grill
One factor that may affect the heat level of your grill is the cleanliness of your grill. If you don’t remove the leftover ashes from your previous grilling sessions, these ashes may impede the airflow, preventing the needed oxygen flow to enable the briquettes to burn.
Thus, it is crucial that every after grilling session, you clean the grill and remove those leftover ashes. Ashes, of course, are notorious for trapping moisture that could lead to premature corroding of your grill.
You need the aid of oxygen to get your fuel burning. Most charcoal grills come with dampers, either at the bowl’s bottom or on the lid top. When preheating the grill, it will be best to leave the dampers wide open. In this way, you allow maximum inflow of oxygen to the briquettes for optimum burning. If your grill lacks these dampers, it will be impossible for you to control the cooking temperature.
Direct or Indirect Heating?
You can determine the temperature of the meat by the way you position the meat in the grill. You can place the meat over direct heat and expect the meat to cook fast. You can also set the meat away from the burning charcoal for indirect cooking.
If you want to cook fast, you can use direct heat. Direct heat, of course, is perfect for cooking burgers, hot dogs, steaks, and sausages. On the other hand, indirect heat is perfect for roasting ribs, whole chickens, briskets, and other meat.
Spending Too Much Time to Start the Grill
The temperature of the grill will get affected by the slow start of the grill. If your briquettes fail to burn quickly, you may burn out the rest while the others start slowly. In this case, you can’t completely control the temperature of the grill.
So, it’ll be best to use a chimney starter and utilize much fuel at the onset. In the absence of a chimney starter, you can use an electric starter.
Another thing that can affect the temperature of the grill is the state of the meat. If the meat is frozen when you grill it, you will find it hard to steady the meat and grill temperature. It will be best to let the food rest for a while on your countertop.
In this way, it can thaw and reach room temperature. Nevertheless, if you are in a hurry because your guests are soon to arrive and you need to grill frozen meat, you might be forced to grill frozen meat, limiting your control over the grill temperature.
Another factor that may make it challenging for you to keep the temperature in the grill is the altitude of your habitat. If you live in Tibet, which is considered the roof of the world, you will indeed find it hard to keep the temperature of your grill consistent.
Fire needs oxygen to continue burning. But in Tibet, the oxygen level is lower than when you are at sea level. As such, it will be more challenging to keep the charcoal burning in Tibet than in New Orleans.
The duration of cooking and the grill temperature are two of the essential factors that could spell out the big difference in your cooking results. If you master these two factors, you can raise your smoking and grilling skills a notch higher. The cooking duration requires you to be mindful of the time and have a reliable timer at hand. The grill temperature necessitates using an air probe for you to know the exact temperature of the grill.
Keeping your grill hot will be a great challenge, but if you got an excellent grill and an air probe, you could breeze through the grilling process with flying colors. Being cognizant of the abovementioned methods and tips will help you get a consistent temperature on your grill. Moreover, being wary of the factors that could affect the heat levels of your grill will help you avoid the things that could disrupt the level of heat inside the grill.