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Adjusting the Temperature of a Charcoal Grill

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  • Bulldog
    Club Member
    • Aug 2020
    • 20

    Adjusting the Temperature of a Charcoal Grill

    I'm a newbie griller experimenting with my new (Weber) charcoal grill, trying to teach myself how to control the temperature. Experimenting has been fun, but the results leave something to be desired.

    Once I've pre-heated my grill at 500 - 550 degrees for 10 - 15 minutes, how do I lower the temperature to my desired cooking temperature without it taking all day?

    I know how to lower the temperature by adjusting the bottom damper, but it takes forever to reduce the temperature that way (as measured by the lid thermometer) even if I also adjust the top damper. By 'forever' I mean 30 minutes or more.

    To make things move along faster, I tried removing the lid for about 20 seconds. That was a mistake! Once the lid was back on, the lid thermometer was useless (it had dropped to 300) and who knows how hot the cooking grate was.

    I must be 'missing something' fundamental. I'll appreciate any ideas you can offer on how to get a charcoal grill to cooking temperature efficiently. Thanks!
  • pkadare
    Club Member
    • Jun 2019
    • 906
    • Bobcaygeon, Ontario
    • My gear:
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    #2
    Your approach is not quite correct. The goal is to not overshoot your desired cooking temp. You want to slowly approach your desired temp. Far easier to ease the temp up than it is to overshoot and then try to bring it back down. You also should not rely on the lid temp. Get yourself a good probe to monitor the grate temp.

    Comment


    • jfmorris
      jfmorris commented
      Editing a comment
      This!

    • klflowers
      klflowers commented
      Editing a comment
      Yep
  • Uncle Bob
    Club Member
    • Feb 2019
    • 376
    • Salado, Tx
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    #3
    Don't feel too bad, those are common "mistakes" made by folks in the learning phase. You'll be better off paying attention to the temps as they approach your target cook temp. You didn't say what that was, but let's just pick 275 for example. Start dialing in the adjustments you say you already know when the temp is somewhere 25-50 degrees below that. You may find you adjust too much either side of target, but you'll be closer than the overshoot you've been doing. Then, realize that if you try to be absolutely precise you'll spend your day chasing temps, up, then down, then up, then down. Don't be too worried if you're off by 15-20 degrees, particularly the longer the cook is. Inside the kitchen ovens can vary/cycle as much as 50 degrees and folks learn to live with it because they don't bother to watch the swings. You can learn the same for the outdoor cooker. And lifting the lid lets in air that fuels the fire rather than letting temperature escape near as much. If you think you're having fun pulling the reins, imagine the newb kamado user who does the same thing only has to fight the thermal mass of the ceramic as well. Lot's of us have been there, done that.

    Comment


    • HouseHomey
      HouseHomey commented
      Editing a comment
      This.... Too!
  • Texas Larry
    Club Member
    • May 2017
    • 1425
    • Wilson County, TX
    • Kamado Joe Big Joe 2
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      Favorite beer: Alaskan Amber

    #4
    Good advice from Uncle Bob. I might also suggest you start by lighting only a few coals, add more when those are well lit. More fuel = more heat. Much easier to go up than down. Work your vents from there. Experiment to learn. We’ve all been there!
    Last edited by Texas Larry; August 10, 2020, 10:48 AM.

    Comment


    • Richard Chrz
      Richard Chrz commented
      Editing a comment
      I do this a lot, I find you can better control t3mps, when you don’t start it with more heat then needed.
  • rickgregory
    Founding Member
    • Aug 2014
    • 691
    • Seattle, WA

    #5
    What are you trying to do? If you're trying to get to typical smoking temps, @pkdare is right... you want to approach it relatively slowly. Here's what I do for by 22" weber with SNS. You could replicate this for any indirect method:

    1) Set the lower vents to 1/4 open.

    2) Light 6-12 coals and let them ash over. Do not light them when they're in contact with other coals - light them on their own.

    3) Once ashed over, I pour in the rest of the coals. The SNS contains them so they don't spill out over the grill. IF you don't have an SNS make sure that they're piled up on one side of the grill with some in contact with the full lit coals. You want the lit coals to slowly light those in contact with them, etc so the fire proceeds from one side to the other.

    4) Place wood chunks, including one on the lit coals. Place the grill thermometer and cover with the top vent 1/2 open.

    5) walk away for 15-30 minutes. You want the temp to ramp up and the smoke to settle down.

    6) Place the meat. Walk away. DO NOT keep popping the lid off to see what's up. Use the thermometer on the grate and in the meat to keep an eye on things.

    Using that technique, I get about 250F though of course it can vary depending on wind, outside temp etc. If you need to adjust, make the changes in small increments and let things settle for 20-30 mins. Changes in a charcoal kettle will take awhile so if the temp is too low by a lot, don't crank the vents from 1/4 to full open. Open then a little. Wait. See what's what.

    Also don't obsess over temps. I get the appeal of a nice flat temp that's +-5F but it just doesn't matter for good 'que. think about all the old pit masters who just get to know what works. Did they have a Fireboard? Hell no. Does their stuff taste great? yeah.
    Last edited by rickgregory; August 10, 2020, 10:50 AM.

    Comment

  • JoeSousa
    Club Member
    • Sep 2016
    • 878
    • Spokane, WA

    #6
    How much charcoal are you starting with? A full chimney will get you 400-500 degrees. If you only light 12 or so briquettes to start it will usually be around 225. 20 or so will get you at 275. If you are trying to cook at a lower temperature don't use a full chimney of briquettes or totally fill the grill. Use fewer lit briquettes to start and add more unlit coals depending on how long you want to cook.

    And like others have said, it is easier to raise the temperature than lower it.

    Comment

    • JeffJ
      Charter Member
      • Feb 2015
      • 2409
      • Michigan
      • Jeff

      #7
      I've switched to adjusting the size of my fire depending on what I'm going to cook. I'll range from a fully lit chimney poured on top of a single layer of Weber briquettes to a 3/4 lit chimney. All vents wide open. Granted, when doing low/slow, the fire is small and the vents are utilized to maintain a certain temperature range, but outside of that I always leave the bottom vents wide open and if I need to choke down the fire a bit I'll do so with the top vent.

      Comment


      • mrteddyprincess
        mrteddyprincess commented
        Editing a comment
        This is pretty much what I do too on the PK 360. I leave bottom vents wide open.
    • Bulldog
      Club Member
      • Aug 2020
      • 20

      #8
      Wow - thanks for all that great advice! I'm looking forward to my next experiments.

      I should have added that, as a beginner, I'm trying to get the basics right first, and that means steaks and hamburgers, and that means mostly direct heat.

      There is something I'm missing here: You folks are speaking about starting off at a lower temperature and working up - which I can understand is easier than starting off high and then cooling down. But I read that I have to start by preheating the grate with a full chimney of briquets and 500 - 550 degree temps for 10 - 15 minutes. I need that high temperature both to clean off the grate and to get that beautiful sear on my steaks and hamburgers. Then, I'm supposed to lower the temperature down to where I want it - somewhere between 400 to 450 - to finish cooking the meat to my desired 'done-ness' as measured with my IR thermometer. If that sounds like a lot of barbecue videos you've seen, then you know where I'm coming from.

      So you can understand my confusion over the seeming contradiction.

      Comment


      • Dewesq55
        Dewesq55 commented
        Editing a comment
        jfmorris - I think he meant Instant Read, not Infrared.

      • jfmorris
        jfmorris commented
        Editing a comment
        Dewesq55 ah! Good to know. I've always seen IR as shorthand for infrared, like the one I use with my Grillgrates and griddle.

      • Old Glory
        Old Glory commented
        Editing a comment
        Set up two zones. Cook your burgers over the coals then slide them over to the safe zone to finish.
    • Attjack
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      • Aug 2017
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      #9
      I'll add that though Meathead and lots of others like to use the bottom vent for adjustments I use the top vent for temperature adjustments as Weber directs. So I usually choose full open (or half if you are going low) for the bottom vent. After that, it's much easier to access and see your adjustments on the top vent.

      Comment

      • SmokingPat
        Club Member
        • Sep 2019
        • 65
        • Coastal southern California

        #10
        You didn't mention the type of charcoal. Charcoal briquettes are best for learning heat control, since they burn slowly. Lump charcoal burns faster, and you chase temperatures more.

        Comment

        • ecowper
          Founding Member
          • Jul 2014
          • 3267
          • Maple Valley, WA
          • Grill = Hasty-Bake Gourmet Dual Finish
            Smoke = Weber Smokey Mountain 22.5"

            Thermometer = FireBoard FBX11 with 2 ambient and 6 meat probes
            Thermometer = Maverick ET732
            Thermometer = ThermoWorks Chef Alarm
            Thermapen Mk IV = Light blue
            Thermapen Classic = Grey
            PID Controller = Fireboard Drive + Auber 20 CFM Fan

            Favorite cook = Tri-Tip for the grill, whole packer brisket for the smoker
            Favorite wine = a good Bordeaux with steak, a good Syrah with pork, or a nice bottle of Champagne or California sparkling wine
            Favorite beer = Sam Adams Boston Lager or Shiner Bock
            Favorite whisky = Lagavulin 16 year old single malt

            Best Cookbooks - Meathead's "The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling", Chris Lilly's "Big Bob Gibson's BBQ Book", Aaron Franklin's "Franklin BBQ"


            Eric Cowperthwaite aka ecowper

          #11
          Bulldog I'm not sure where you are reading about heating the grill to 500F for 10-15 minutes and then lowering the temp as needed. Also, not really sure you need to do that. Although I don't have a Kettle, I do cook on a charcoal grill. When I want to clean the grates, I burn off the grates as a separate cook aimed at cleaning my grates and nothing else.

          Anyhow, there are 3 particular types of cooking you can do on a grill .... any sort of grill, actually. And the concepts apply to all types of grills

          Before we talk about that, let's talk about mastering your grill with 2 zone cooking, which will give you far more control over your grill. The idea is to set your grill up so that you have a direct and and indirect zone within the grill. Think of the direct zone as being like a burner on your stove applying heat directly to the bottom of the cooking surface and cooking whatever comes in direct contact. The indirect zone is like your oven and cooks by warm air moving around the entire food surface.

          Learn how to create a 2 zone set up on your grill first. The simplest way to do this is to pile all your charcoal on one side of the kettle and put an aluminum pan, or similar on the other side of the fuel grate to create an indirect space. Now you will have a lot of direct heat on one side and lower indirect heat on the other. This is very important, even for cooking burgers and brats. You can move things back and forth between the zones to control cooking temp, how the meat is cooking, etc.

          Ideally your indirect zone will be somewhere between 250F and 350F depending on what you are cooking and your direct zone around 450F-550F.

          Weber sells charcoal baskets you can use for this, or you can go all in and get a Slow n Sear, which does this as a very natural function of the Kettle plus Slow n Sear.

          Three types of cooking

          Indirect Low n Slow - Somewhere around 250F for things like ribs, pork shoulder, brisket, etc

          Indirect Roasting - Somewhere around 325-350F for things like chicken, turkey, etc

          Direct Sear - Somewhere around 500F for searing/browning your meat, like burgers, steaks, brats, pork chops, etc

          I personally like to reverse sear. I start the steak, burger, etc on the indirect side and slowly bring up to within 10 degrees of my target temp. Then I move to the direct zone and sear about 3 minutes per side. I pull and let the meat rest and carry over cook .... Carry over will gain you another 5 odd degrees of cooking. It's the perfect way to get perfect medium rare steaks :-)

          Hope all this helps

          Comment


          • jfmorris
            jfmorris commented
            Editing a comment
            I am with ecowper on this - never have I read anything about preheating a charcoal grill to 500F. If you do that, you will have the issues you are having - the charcoal will be mostly used up by the time you get the temperatures down.

          • Alabama Smoke
            Alabama Smoke commented
            Editing a comment
            ecowper just wrote you the meal deal. Follow this. I never go for 500F unless I am putting a final sear on an otherwise smoked piece of slow cooked meat. A Slow N Sear will be the best investment you can add to your kettle....and learn how to use it. He already gave you most of the how to. About the only other use I have for such high temps is to clean my dirty grill grates. I fire up the gasser for all the old gal has.....all burners wide open after I have centered a dirty grate.
        • jfmorris
          Club Member
          • Nov 2017
          • 3016
          • Huntsville, Alabama
          • Jim Morris

            Cookers
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            • Whatever I brewed and have on tap!

          #12
          Bulldog I am 100% with pkadare and ecowper on their advice to you.

          The ONLY time I would fire up the grill with a full chimney of lit coals and preheat at high heat is if I plan on cooking at high heat the entire cook. If you want to sear something at high heat, then cook indirect, the Slow 'N Sear is the way to go there - and your heat might be 1000F right over the coals, but be 300 in the indirect zone. You will never know if you are going by an IR thermometer or by the dome thermometer on your kettle. I often cook indirect then sear over the SNS when doing steaks, or sear first, then cook indirect to my desired doneness. I don't worry about dome temp or about changing the kettle temp when doing two zone so much as just monitoring the meat. If cooking chicken indirect, I'll monitor the indirect for 350ish, or if smoking, 225. That's about it.

          With most charcoal cooking, you are doing the 3 types of cooking ecowper outlined. I don't really attempt to mix them beyond the use of 2-zone cooking, for the most part, as charcoal is slow to change.
          Last edited by jfmorris; August 10, 2020, 12:57 PM.

          Comment

          • Bulldog
            Club Member
            • Aug 2020
            • 20

            #13
            I really don't want to cause trouble ... Here's an example of what I've seen - these come from Weber's own website:


            https://consumer-care.weber.com/hc/e...heat-my-grill-

            and

            https://www.weber.com/US/en/blog/tip...ber-31162.html


            Attached Files

            Comment


            • ecowper
              ecowper commented
              Editing a comment
              you're not causing trouble at all. This is a place to learn and share. We all just want to help :-)

            • jfmorris
              jfmorris commented
              Editing a comment
              I think those temperatures are really intended for their gas grills - not charcoal. Ideally preheat to the temperature you plan to cook at with a charcoal grill.

            • HouseHomey
              HouseHomey commented
              Editing a comment
              How’s that working for you? Ok now... I’m not trying to be rude.... These fine gentlemen are are all FABULOUS cooks!! This thread sir is likely to help COUNTLESS others. Do not apologize for asking questions and providing reference. I admittedly skimmed a lot here but these guys are spot on. I got nothing!!
          • shify
            Club Member
            • Jun 2017
            • 454
            • Westchester County, NY

            #14
            A few things, in addition to echoing the other comments:

            1) Use a two-zone fire. Bank your coals on one side of the grill and leave no coals on the other. When you light your coals, the side over the coals is the hot side which you sear on. Then once you have a good sear, move to the cool side to finish cooking (or do it the opposite - start on cool side til close to your finish temp and then sear over high heat - that is called Reverse Sear). You'll get the sear over the coals and then the heat of the grill with the lid on will continue cooking the steak even without direct heat underneath it.

            2) Get probe thermometer and to measure the temp at the grate. The lid probe is practically useless. This goes double for two-zone cooking. Naturally two identical steaks on the same grill will cook different if one is over the coals and the other is on the indirect side - the dome temp will not be a good indicator of that. Also, taking the lid off a charcoal grill will cause the temp to spike - more air = more heat/fire.

            3) Notwithstanding item 2 - for quicker cooks like steak and burger, you can *mostly* ignore temp. You just want a hot side and a cool side. Chasing temps early on will make it needlessly complicated - and using the lid thermometer will make it futile. Once you get the process down you can start playing around with temps, number of lit coals vs. unlit coals, etc.

            There are others with a lot more experience on a Weber than me, but I would say for your next burger cook, light around 40-50 briquettes in a chimney starter. Once ashed over, dump into Kettle keeping them piled up on one half of kettle. Then add the grate and put the lid on. After 5 minutes, scrape the grate, oil it up and start cooking. Sear over the coals and then move to the indirect side until your final temp - at this point you can partially close the top vent. The lit briquettes should give you plenty of heat and time to cook some thick steaks or burgers. If you need more time, you can add some unlit coals to the kettle before dumping your lit coals from the chimney.
            Last edited by shify; August 10, 2020, 02:00 PM.

            Comment

            • ecowper
              Founding Member
              • Jul 2014
              • 3267
              • Maple Valley, WA
              • Grill = Hasty-Bake Gourmet Dual Finish
                Smoke = Weber Smokey Mountain 22.5"

                Thermometer = FireBoard FBX11 with 2 ambient and 6 meat probes
                Thermometer = Maverick ET732
                Thermometer = ThermoWorks Chef Alarm
                Thermapen Mk IV = Light blue
                Thermapen Classic = Grey
                PID Controller = Fireboard Drive + Auber 20 CFM Fan

                Favorite cook = Tri-Tip for the grill, whole packer brisket for the smoker
                Favorite wine = a good Bordeaux with steak, a good Syrah with pork, or a nice bottle of Champagne or California sparkling wine
                Favorite beer = Sam Adams Boston Lager or Shiner Bock
                Favorite whisky = Lagavulin 16 year old single malt

                Best Cookbooks - Meathead's "The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling", Chris Lilly's "Big Bob Gibson's BBQ Book", Aaron Franklin's "Franklin BBQ"


                Eric Cowperthwaite aka ecowper

              #15
              Here you go Bulldog this is from Meathead, considered by most of us to be the ultimate guru of outdoor cooking. He explains 2 zone in much more depth than I did. And bases all the illustrations, etc around a kettle type grill.

              :-)

              https://amazingribs.com/more-techniq...ature-indirect

              Comment

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