Last Updated on October 12, 2021
Everyone wants to unlock the secrets to a great grilling experience. Most pitmasters agree that the perfect temperature for producing deliciously smoky and tender pieces of meat is 225°F. Achieving that melt-in-your-mouth, succulent texture isn’t easy, however. It involves good equipment, patience, and a couple of useful tricks.
While they are excellent backyard appliances, charcoal grills are notoriously difficult to control in terms of temperature. If you’re cooking for a long time, the temperature can easily exceed the magic number, and if you’re not paying attention, it can dip below.
If you’re new to cooking with charcoal, here’s all the information you need to keep your charcoal grill at 225°F.
1. Buy a Good Thermometer
If you want to keep your grill as close to 225°F as possible, it’s crucial to have an accurate gauge of the temperature. No matter how much you paid for your grill, the built-in thermometer is likely to be inaccurate. Most grills have a built-in dial thermometer located above the cooking surface. As heat rises, the temperature of the cooking surface is usually lower than the thermometer reading.
To keep the temperature at 225°F, it’s beneficial to create dual cooking zones at different temperatures. The built-in thermometer only gives one temperature reading, meaning you can’t assess the temperature accurately.
While the grill might give you a close indication of the temperature, barbecue excellence requires cooking at pinpoint temperatures.
To minimize the guesswork, buy a digital air probe. These are accurate and easy-to-use thermometers that won’t break the bank. Although they are generally used to measure food temperature, they can also read the grill’s temperature.
Most probes come with a clip, so you can easily attach them. The most important thing is to place it as close to the cooking area as possible.
2. Create a 2-Zone Grill
One of the greatest tips for how to keep a charcoal grill at 225°F is to create 2 separate cooking zones. If your grill’s temperature exceeds 225°F, it may take some time to reduce it, compromising your food.
Create a hot zone and cooler zone within the grill. The hot zone is intended for searing and intense cooking, while the cooler zone is for indirect, slow cooking. When the hot zone gets hotter than 225°F, move the food to the cooler zone to regulate its temperature.
Setting up a 2-zone grill is straightforward. Simply place all the coals on one side of the grill. You must keep the grill covered as much as possible to keep the temperature consistent.
3. Lay Out Charcoal Evenly
A mistake that many grillers make is that they don’t lay out the coals evenly. This often leads to uneven heat distribution or hot and cold spots along the grill. Once the coals are lit, wait until they appear ashy and gray before cooking. This should only take around 15 minutes.
Even when setting up a 2-zone cooking surface, ensure the hot side’s coals are evenly spread.
For smoking specific cuts of meat, such as brisket, making charcoal grilled ribs, pulled pork, or chicken, cooks may opt to use different techniques of arranging or lighting the charcoal, such as a “charcoal snake.” While this can work well in smoking meats, it makes it a lot more difficult to keep the grill at 225°F.
4. Oxygen is a Key Ingredient
Oxygen plays a vital role in grilling. Oxygen fuels the coals, causing them to burn hotter. For temperature regulation, oxygen is even more crucial. The more airflow in the grill, the hotter it will be. One of the secrets for how to keep a charcoal grill at 225°F is to control the airflow.
The best way to control the intake of oxygen in your grill is to use the dampers. Most charcoal grills have2 dampers: An intake damper and an exhaust damper. Before adding fuel, open both dampers. This ensures your grill gets hot quickly.
Check the grill temperature at regular intervals (approximately 5 minutes), using the intake damper to regulate the airflow and the temperature. If the temperature gets too hot, close the damper. If it drops too low, open it up again.
If you’re finding it difficult to keep the temperature at 225°F, ensure you use your dual-zone grilling system to keep your food at a desirable heat.
5. Adjust the Grates
Some grills don’t have dampers, meaning you’ll have to find other ways to control the temperature at which your food cooks. The easiest way to do this is to alter the distance between the coals and the food. Unfortunately, this won’t be as accurate as controlling the airflow, but it can be effective.
If your grill has adjustable cooking or coal grates, you can move the food closer or further from the heat. The closer the food is to the coals, the quicker it will cook and the hotter it will be.
When using adjustments to control the temperature of the grill, it’s vital to use 2 zones to cook effectively. Although the temperature of the grill might fluctuate, you can control the temperature that your food cooks at more precisely.
6. Use Aluminum Foil to Block Heat
If the temperature continues to rise above 225°F despite your best efforts, you can use aluminum foil to create a makeshift grill shield. This blocks some heat, keeping your food at the desired temperature.
Take a piece of foil, fold it over several times to increase its thickness, then place it under the food that’s cooking at too high a temperature. Although this doesn’t prevent it from heating up, it reduces radiant heat, slowing the cooking rate and keeping it at a consistent temperature.
7. Add Coals for Low-and-Slow Cooking
If you’re grilling for a long time, the temperature will naturally drop below 225°F. Once the coals begin to burn out, no amount of damper adjustment can keep the temperature high. At this point, you must reintroduce some fuel.
You can add pre-lit charcoal to maintain a consistent temperature. Alternatively, you can add unlit coal to the burning ones. This can create a lot of smoke, increasing the temperature more quickly. However, damper adjustments can keep the temperature stable.