How To Get A Charcoal Grill Hotter

Many BBQ lovers who choose charcoal grills over propane ones do so for the taste. Food cooked on charcoal grills is known for its more subtle and satisfying flavors, a quality that isn’t achieved that easily.

One of the unfortunate downsides of charcoal grills is their lack of quick heat adjustment. Where gas grills can be turned up and down by a simple turn of a knob, charcoal grills require a more mechanical approach, such as the adjustment of dampers, choosing suitable fuel, and using more conductive materials.

Recommendations slightly vary from brand to brand, but there is a more or less unified set of actions to follow if you want to get your charcoal grill hotter. It all comes down to the set up: how you arrange the charcoal, what type of coal you use, how you choose to ignite it, and, most importantly, the way you control it.


How Do I Make My BBQ Grill Hotter?


As mentioned before, most charcoal grills can be driven to their maximum heat potential as long as you alter the way you ignite it or even adjust the grill itself.

Go For Purity

It comes as no surprise that the choice of charcoal matters. In this case, it’s the usage of lump charcoal over briquettes that matters. And sure thing sometimes you have to go for a faster option of briquettes, whether it’s because the weather or camping environment dictates it, but if you are set on getting your grill as hot as you can, then make an investment and store up on quality lump charcoal.

As opposed to briquettes, lump charcoal consists of pure carbon or near-pure carbon. Thanks to this composition, lump fuel burns at hotter temperatures and doesn’t produce unpleasant chemical smell the way briquettes do. When lump charcoal burns out, it also leaves behind less ash residue. This means it’s not only easier to clean it out but it also doesn’t restrict the airflow as much while you are cooking.

Those who like to enhance the flavor by adding hardwood to the grill should look into specific types of wood that promises the increase of temperature. One of the best types to use is dried wood, particularly the one that has been dried in a kiln.

Even though regular wood may appear dry, it still retains large amounts of moisture that can make starting a fire rather difficult. Using dried wood is a sure way to never struggle with the lighting process again since the process of kiln drying removes excess moisture that has been absorbed by the wood.

Make Use Of The Air Vents

Air vents or dampers can be found on all charcoal grills. They are designed to promote airflow inside the firebox which is vital for sustaining the fire. They also let you adjust inside temperatures according to your needs.

Most charcoal grills have two vents, one installed in the grill’s lid and the other at the bottom. By closing both vents, you can completely restrict the supply of oxygen and thus smother out the fire.

By keeping both vents completely open, you will allow more air inside and feed the existing fire, thus increasing the heat produces by the coals. The latter tactic is mostly employed when the grill is used for searing and quick charring. 

Another thing to remember when using the air vents is to keep them clean and unobstructed. Inspect both dampers regularly to see if they need unclogging and keep the firebox clean of ash.

This also means stacking your charcoal and wood carefully prior to cooking. Pack the fuel in such a way that it doesn’t shield the vents from the inside, otherwise your grill won’t be getting any air vital for keeping the fire alive. A good rule to adhere to is to keep a one-inch distance between the air vents and the coals.

Keep The Grill Covered

This one is rather obvious but still necessary: close the grill’s firebox to raise and maintain the heat.

One important side note though, the vents must be open while you do this or the fire will die out without fresh air.

When you are cooking, try to not lift the lid too often. You may want to top the grill with the lid as early as the charcoal lighting stage. This will help to achieve higher temperatures from the get-go.

Check on the food only when absolutely necessary since every time you open the lid, the grill loses the heat. Moreover, it’s best to open it only once the food needs to be turned over. Whenever you open the grill, though, keep it short and quick to maintain the grill’s temperature between 500-1,000°F. 

Adapt The Grates

Compared to stainless steel, cast iron is able to transfer heat at higher rates. Its superior thermal conductivity allows it to maintain the heat much better than steel, making cast-iron grates ideal for conducting hot temperatures. 

Charcoal grills with steel grates may be cheaper and more lightweight, but if hot temps are your ultimate goal it may be more effective to go for grills with cast-iron grates, provided you are currently to purchase one.

If you already own a grill but it has stainless steel grates, you can still increase its output by simply ordering cast-iron grates that fit the grill. Make sure to measure your grill and order the grates that will be suitable in size.

Another good tip for increasing the cooking heat is to adjust the grill grates. You can adjust the position of the grate so it is set closer to the coals. This way the food will be cooked at higher temperatures.

If your grill has an adjustable grate, then it’s worth trying this out. You can start by lowering it only a little, and if it proves to not be enough, keep going until the grate is about one inch above the coals.


How Do I Make My Weber Charcoal Grill Hotter?


Most Weber grills come with two air vents, one at the top and another at the bottom. This system of dampers allows you to increase the supply of oxygen inside the firebox which, in turn, will make the fire stronger. Feeding off oxygen, the burning charcoal will produce higher temperatures and make the grill hotter.

In normal weather conditions, Weber recommends only adjusting the top air vent when you need to increase the temperature and keep the bottom vent open. Here is a helpful temperature guide for the top air vent:

AIR VENT POSITIONTEMPERATURE (°F)
Fully open450-550
Half-open350-450
¼ open250-350
⅛ open225-275

As you can see, to achieve hotter temperatures on your charcoal grill, the easiest way to do it would be keeping the top air vent fully open. Naturally, to completely smother the fire you would need to close both vents.

Other suggestions from Weber include regular maintenance, such as the routine cleaning of ash, grates, and air vents. The first one is particularly important since ash is known to hamper the long-term burning process. Usually, it’s to do with all the space ash occupies inside the grill, thus restricting the capacity of the firebox to hold oxygen vital for sustaining the fire.

As for the cleaning, pay close attention to the air vents on the bottom of your grill. If you can’t seem to reach high temperatures inside your grill, the problem may be in the restriction of the airflow due to clogging. By keeping the grill clean and choosing the right fuel, you can get your Weber hot enough for searing steaks, hot dogs, and burgers.


How Do You Cool A Charcoal Grill?


In some camping situations, it is quite often that you may have to pack the grill up soon after cooking, or at least as soon as you’re able. And though it’s not exactly possible to fold everything up while it’s still hot, there is a useful method to cooling a charcoal grill more efficiently than just letting it sit there and chill naturally.

  1. When the grill is free from food, remove the top grate to let it cool off. You don’t want to get hurt, so it’s best to use barbecue tongs to do it.
  2. Find a place to temporarily store the grate to let it cool, but make sure there is nothing easily flammable next to it.
  3. Now you need to help the coals cool off faster. If left alone, charcoal can remain hot for long periods of time. Use the tongs or any other fire-resistant long reach tool to shuffle the coals around inside the grill. Try to break apart large chunks into smaller ones—this can help reduce overall temperature.
  4. Close both air vents and then the firebox lid. By shutting off oxygen, you cut charcoal from its power source, so to speak. Without fresh air, the ambers won’t be able to sustain the heat. Keep the lid shut for about 10 minutes.
  5. Open the grill and sprinkle the coals with water. Don’t pour water directly into the grill—such a stark difference in temperature brought upon by large amounts of water can deform the grill’s surface. Instead, use a pulverizer to spray the water over the coals.
  6. Keep spraying the coals with water and shuffling them around until they cool off. Then simply remove them from the grill.

In Conclusion


Modern charcoal grills may not allow the same flexibility of heat control as gas grills do, but they are still pretty powerful in terms of their output. More intricate management, in particular getting a grill to hotter temperatures, is entirely possible with charcoal-powered models, as long as you know what makes them tick. There is no need to buy any expensive equipment or replace your grill—a little bit of patience coupled with ingenuity will go a long way.

About the author

Chris Cosentino

Chris Cosentino

My name is Chris, I am the American chef noted for offal dishes, focuses on Italian-inspired, vegetable-focused dishes rather than the innard-centric food. You can follow me on Twitter

Leave a Comment