Master The Art Of Heat Control

Heat Control On A Charcoal Or Wood-Burning Grill

One of the biggest challenges when first starting out grilling on a charcoal or wood-burning grill is controlling the heat. This is due to the variability in fuel and fire.  Each one burns differently!  Once you master the art of heat control, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a backyard pitmaster!

There are 4 main ways to control heat on a charcoal or wood-burning grill: time, layering, air flow, and grate height.


    Research shows that a charcoal fire loses 50 to 100 degrees every hour it burns. By varying the amount of time between lighting and putting the food on the grill, you can control the temperature inside the grill. 

    When using a chimney starter, it takes approximately 15-20 minutes to ignite the entire basket. After another 5 minutes (20-25 since ignition) the coals start to ash over. If working over a hot grill, you will need to place the food on shortly after.  If using a lower temperature, let the coals burn a little longer before putting on the food.  Many newer grills come with a built in temperature gauge, this will help you get the grill to the temperature you need. 


      Layering means raking coals into a pile or spreading them out on the bottom to thin them out.  This concept is also known as creating Zones.  The high heat zone will have the coals piled 3 layers high, a medium zone will have a double or single layer, and a cool zone may have a few or no coals. Think of it as a gradual decline in the amount of coals that are piled up. 

      Use the high heat zone for searing or crisping.  The medium zone is good for cooking, and the cool zone is good for warming or letting food cool off if it starts to get too hot!

      Air Flow

        Nearly all charcoal and wood-burning grills have vents at the bottom and top.  Oxygen makes coals burn hotter and the lack of oxygen puts them out!  By adjusting the vents, you can raise or lower the heat. Adjust to get to the desired temperature. 

        Grate Height

          Simply put, the closer the grate is to the heat source, the hotter it will be.  Raise and lower the grate (if your grill has the option) to help control the temperature. 

           Learn more about grilling on a charcoal grill here: How To Use A Charcoal Grill

          What’s on your grill?  Let me know in the comments…

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