How to Keep Charcoal Grill Hot: Expert Advice You Should Try Out

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Last updatedLast updated: April 07, 2021
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Even if you have been grilling with gas for a while, making the transition to a charcoal grill can be daunting. One of the biggest questions that newbies to this style of cooking are constantly trying to solve is how to keep a charcoal grill hot. Unlike a gas grill that has an easy to control gauge system, it takes a bit more finesse to keep charcoal at a constant temperature. These grills are also usually used to cook in different manners as well, which makes utilizing them a bit trickier.

Thankfully, there are lots of different things that you can do to keep the charcoal nice and hot for the duration of your grilling session, which we will guide you through in this article. Even if you have never fired up a batch of charcoal in your life, once you are finished reading through our tips and tricks, you will be able to grill like a pro.

Get high-quality charcoal

The most important part of any type of fire is the fuel that you are using. In this case, you should make sure to use the highest quality charcoal that you can find. While it is always a good idea to be as thrifty as possible, this is not a spot to skimp if you want to have an easy to control fire temperature.

Once you have your charcoal picked out, you need to make sure that you only use it when it is fresh. Old charcoal won’t burn as well. You will also want to keep it as dry as possible. After all, any wet fuel isn’t going to give you a good burn. Finally, you should try to use charcoal briquettes rather than lump charcoal. Briquettes tend to burn more evenly, which makes an easier to control the temperature.

Use a chimney starter

How to Keep Charcoal Grill Hot: Expert Advice You Should Try Out

Most beginners make the big mistake of trying to start their charcoal with lighter fluid. While this might work, it takes a long time and can ruin the flavor of the charcoal, which can ruin the way that your food tastes. It is a much better idea to get a high-quality chimney starter, like this one from Weber. This style of starter makes starting charcoal a piece of cake. All you need to do is load it up with briquettes and light it from the bottom. The vented sides allow plenty of oxygen to enter in, which gets the fire burning quickly. From there, you can simply pour the charcoal into the grill and get to work.

Equip yourself with a precise thermometer

While it might seem like an obvious thing for manufacturers to include, many charcoal grills don’t come with a thermometer, or if they do, they aren’t very precise. In case your grill is not equipped with an in-built thermometer, get one separately. This one from HOMFUL is ideal for watching your internal meat temperature without a need to open the lid every now and again, letting the precious heat out. This will also allow you to keep track of the exact temperature inside the grill, which will tell you whether you need to make any adjustments while you are cooking.

Keep the dampers open

Dampers are vents that can allow or restrict how much air is getting into your grill. Basically, the more air that is coming through your grill, the hotter the temperature is going to get. When you are first starting your grill, you should have all of the dampers open nice and wide. That way, the grill will get up to temperature quickly. Once you have reached the temperature, you desire, however, you should close the dampers up to keep the fire burning with just the right intensity.

2-zone grilling

One of the best things about using a charcoal grill is its versatility. You can easily use it for direct grilling for burgers and steaks or indirect grilling for BBQ. This indirect grilling can also be used to keep the grill at an even temperature as well. This is also sometimes known as 2-zone grilling. In this style of cooking, you place your lighted charcoal on one side of the grill. Once you get to the temperature that you desire, you simply place your food on the opposite side of the grill. That way, you get a nice, even heat that is very easy to control.

Add fuel if needed

Depending on what you are cooking, you might spend a few hours manning your grill to achieve that delicious dish. For instance, if you are smoking a pork loin, you will probably need to add a bit of fuel to the grill to keep the fire burning. Letting the charcoal burn down or go out would restart the entire process, which is, obviously, not ideal.

You will want to use your chimney lighter again to get the new fuel going, however, since this will cut down on the amount of smoke in your grill. It will also allow you to make your charcoal grill hotter if need be.

Adjust the vents

As we mentioned above, once you have the right temperature going on your grill, you should adjust your dampers so that you can keep it at the right temperature. You should not, however, fiddle with the top damper. This vent works as the exhaust for your grill, which limits its control on air intake anyways. It is much better to adjust the intake damper to control the temperature since this is where all of that extra oxygen is coming in to feed the fires.

How to Keep Charcoal Grill Hot: Expert Advice You Should Try Out

Make a grill shield

A grill shield is, as the name would suggest, a way to direct the heat within the grill so that it is only affecting the area that you desire. This can be achieved with purchased items as well as homemade setups with aluminum foil or pans. These shields allow you to keep your fire burning at just the right temperature to cook the meat to your exact specifications. Of course, if you don’t have them set up correctly, they could also cause hot or cold spots too, so you need to be careful with them.

Some less than obvious reasons your grill is not hot

Now that we have covered the most important things that you can do to make sure that your grill is getting nice and hot, it is time to look at some of the less common factors that could be keeping your grill too cold. While these are not as obvious as the tips above, they are still something that you should carefully consider before you begin grilling so that you can be sure to achieve the right temperature every time.

Taking too long to start the grill

Nothing is going to keep your heat low faster than starting your grill slowly. If you take a long time to get the briquettes burning, then you will give some of them a chance to completely burn out while the others are just getting started. This will, in turn, limit how well you can control your fire’s temperature. This can be avoided by using a chimney starter and plenty of fuel at the beginning of your grilling session. If you don’t have a chimney starter, then you might want to try out an electric starter instead.


As any good grill master knows, the key to ignition and temperature is oxygen. Fires, just like us, need oxygen to keep going. This is why it shouldn’t come as too big of a surprise that higher altitudes can negatively affect your grilling temperature. After all, at about 5,000 feet above sea level, the percentage of oxygen in the air starts to drop, which can make keeping the right temperature very difficult. Unfortunately, there is not a lot you can do to fix this, other than keeping the grill spotless and leaving your intake damper open as wide as you can.

Frozen meat

If you are trying to cook meat that is frozen solid, you are going to have a tough time keeping a steady temperature. Room temperature food works much better. If, however, you have no other choice than to grill frozen food, you will need to add a good deal of time to your grill total to give the food time to thaw.

Final thoughts

Grilling on a charcoal grill can be incredibly rewarding. Not only can you cook delicious food, but it is an interesting process as well. While the controls might not be as precise as a gas grill, this cooking experience is a lot more customizable. This is especially true if you know how to keep a charcoal grill hot.

You need to make sure that you use excellent charcoal and a proper chimney lighter to get it going. From there, you should always keep your dampers nice and wide to allow for plenty of airflows since fires need oxygen to keep going strong. Getting a good thermometer is another must, as is setting up 2-zone heating. As long as you follow all of these tips and tricks, your grilling skills will be the envy of the neighborhood!

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