Barbecue cooking temperatures

How hot is your grill…

Have you ever listened to your grill? When you’ve heated it correctly and lower that first steak onto the grates, the searing and sizzling sound is as satisfying as hearing bacon pop. But the mere sound of sizzle doesn’t guarantee perfectly cooked food.

Your coals live on oxygen, burning hotter the more they’re exposed to air (at least until they crumble to ash). So if you want to crank the heat, leave the lid off and set the bottom vents wide open to keep that high heat going strong.

You need to know when your grill is the perfect temperature for your food. Seasoned pros will guesstimate with a hand test: By holding a hand over the heat and counting how long you can stand the heat.  Being careful not to touch the grill with your hand, just hold a couple of inches above the grill.

If you want something a little more precise (and easier on the hands), you can attach a thermometer probe an inch from the surface of the grill grate and close to the food on the grill. Use a gator clip to keep the probe steady. Just don’t pay attention to the dome thermometer—there’s often a 50-degree temperature difference between the grill’s thermometer and the grate itself.

High Heat For quick-cooking foods (kebabs or skirt steaks that’d benefit from fast cooking and frequent turning), you want a grill’s surface for direct grilling to be 450-650°F (230-350°C). This high heat adds some color to the outside of a steak and is more than enough to cook foods in a flash. If you’re holding your hand above the grill to check temperature, you’ll feel the heat within 1-2 seconds.

Medium-High Heat For achieving a medium-rare burger with a nice browned crust or a vegetable kebab with a tender interior, go for 375-450°F (190-230°C). That way, you’re able to cook a food’s interiors without getting the outside scorched. On the hand test, it’s 4-5 seconds.

Medium Heat In the case of meats that take longer to cook through (think bone-in chicken) get your grill around 350°F (175°C). This moderate temperature will help the interior cook to tenderness without burning the exterior. It’s about 6-7 seconds with the hand test.

Medium-Low Heat For foods that need gentler cooking, like slow-cooking brats and sausages without making them explode, “bake” whole potatoes, or slow-cooked pork tenderloin, you need 325°F (160°C). On the hand test, it’s 7-10 seconds. Any lower, and you’re venturing into low and slow smoking barbecue territory

Is the food cooked properly?

The safest way to be sure you are serving food that is cooked through, without being overcooked. By inserting the tip of the temperature probe into the centre of the thickest part of any food you can be sure your high risk items such as poultry and minced products are cooked to 75c core temperature, and that you also get beef and lamb steaks cooked just how you like. You can get a cheap mechanical temperature probe for a view pounds but expect to pay upwards of £20, for an electronic one with the higher end products having faster processors and more features. These are readily available at most retailers in their cookery departments.

Lighting charcoal with a chimney starter


This is for both lumpwood and briquette charcoal the method is the same for both.

  • No lighter fluid is necessary for the initial lighting of the chimney starter. In fact, it is strongly recommended that no lighter fluid be used, as the chimney design of the starter will quickly amplify the heat of the flame, and could lead to some serious fire damage.
  • When using shredded newspaper or some other sort of kindling to light your chimney starter: if, after 15 – 20 minutes, the top coals have not yet started to turn grey, it may be advisable to check and make sure that the fire beneath the starter has not died out. If necessary, light a second fire, and repeat until the top coals are sufficiently grey. This has happened to me a few times when using the low and slow method as there wasn’t enough heat generated to reach up the chimney.
  • Make sure to use tongs when handling the coals, when raking them across your grill, plus a long match when lighting the starter cubes or kindling underneath your chimney starter.
  • When the top coals have started to turn grey, you may also notice small flames around the top of your chimney starter–this is normal, and another indication that your coals are ready to be used!
  • Once you’ve used a charcoal chimney starter to get your smoker or grill started, you’ll never go back to any other method.

Once you’ve poured the coals out of the chimney starter and arranged them to your liking be sure to deposit the starter somewhere safe and out of the way. It should cool fairly quickly once removed from the source of heat, but can still pose a threat to any guests or unaware friends or family who might bump into it if it’s not properly stowed away.

The starter can also be used a handy measure for how much charcoal to use, 1 lit full starter is normally enough for 2 people.

Again chimney starters are readily available from where you bought your charcoal from usually in their Outdoor/Gardening departments and can be in a size suitable for your barbecue.

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