Simple just use the Hand Test!
Depending on what you’re going to cook, you want your coals to be at different heat levels. The most accurate way to gauge heat is with a grill thermometer, but with a bit of practice, you can learn to gauge it with your hand alone.
How? Hold your hand a few inches above the grill grate until it feels so hot that it’s going to burn. Depending on how long you held it there, your grill is…
- High (one to three seconds; 450 to 650°F/230 to 340°C). In this range, foods will sear in a matter of seconds, making it ideal for getting a crust on a steak, a pork chop, or thin vegetables like asparagus.
- Medium-high (four to five seconds; 375 to 450°F/190 to 230°C). As with high heat, you’ll develop crust here, but it’ll take a little longer to do, allowing your food to cook through a bit while it’s crusting over. I like cooking burgers, thicker sliced veggies, or fish at these temperatures.
- Medium (six to seven seconds; 325 to 375°F/160 to 190°C). This is what to aim for on the direct side of the grill when using a two-zone indirect setup for indirect grilling. Roasts like chicken, turkey, or prime rib will cook gently through, while still getting hot enough to develop some color and crisp skin on the exterior.
- Medium-low (eight to 10 seconds; 250 to 325°F/120 to 160°C). Your coals are getting really low now, and it’s time to think about topping them up with some fresh ones.
- Low (11 seconds or longer; 225 to 250°F/105 to 120°C). At this stage, you’re really slow-cooking (a.k.a. barbecuing). This is where you want to be for things like brisket or ribs.