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How to Control a Grill’s Temperature Using Vents

Every grill master knows that the secret to a perfect steak is temperature control. Cuts and seasonings are important, but to truly bring out that tender, juicy flavor everyone loves, your steak needs to be properly cooked. This can be challenging if you’re new to grilling or you’re getting used to a new grill since no two grill models are exactly the same.

How to Control a Grill's Temperature Using Vents

Especially if you have a new grill, you may need to experiment with heat controls before you’re able to nail that award-winning sirloin. Don’t worry — we’re here to help you learn the secrets of airflow and grill vents so you can regulate the temperature of your grill like a seasoned pro.

How Vents Work in a Charcoal Grill

The most important way to control temperature on a charcoal grill is by manipulating the ventilation system.

Charcoal grills typically use two separate vents to control grilling temperature. One of the vents is on the underside of the grill and is used to take in oxygen to keep the charcoal fire burning. This vent is commonly known as the intake damper. The other vent is located at the top of the grill and is known as the exhaust damper or smoker vent. It’s used to release the gases from inside the grill.

Both vents work together as a filtration system for the grill and, more importantly for this topic, a temperature regulation system. Learning to make the best use of these vents is key to controlling temperature — and, in turn, searing those perfect steaks or smoking that heavenly brisket!

Controlling a Charcoal Grill’s Temperature

The primary factor in controlling your grill’s temperature is how you use the vents, and the two main components of vent-driven temperature control are the intake vent (bottom vent) and the exhaust vent (top vent).

First, it’s important to note that the barbecue’s top vent should never be closed for too long since that can lead to a buildup of harmful gases inside the grill. If your grill is working properly, keeping the exhaust damper open the entire time should not cause any temperature issues. To the contrary, it will aid in the flow of oxygen through the grill by pulling the air through the bottom damper.

Since the intake vent allows oxygen to reach the combustibles from below, it’s the grill’s main source of “fuel.” The more you open the intake damper, the more oxygen enters the grill, which is what gets your lit coals hotter and makes the temperature rise. Learning to control the rate at which the oxygen enters your grill is perhaps the most important part of controlling a grill’s temperature through vents.

Once you achieve the ideal temperature for cooking your meat, try closing this vent slightly to keep the temperature from rising too much and burning the food. Remember that closing this vent too much or too quickly can drop the temperature and even kill the flames. It’s important to close the vent only in small increments and slowly re-open it if you sense the temperature dying down.

The grill’s lid is another key factor in temperature control. If you keep the lid open, you’ll have a hard time keeping the necessary heat in to maintain your cooking temperature. Most grilling experts advise that you keep the lid closed as much as possible to ensure that your meat can cook evenly.

Other Temperature Control Tips

Regulating temperature in a smoker can also come down to the type and amount of combustibles inside (wood chips, coal, etc.), the outside temperature and whether the smoker has cracks or leaks. It’s always a good idea to regularly clean your grill and inspect it for damage before you use it.

Another secret for charcoal enthusiasts is to switch from standard briquettes to high quality lump charcoal. Lump charcoal is a minimally processed form of charcoal that burns hotter, cleaner and doesn’t leave your food with any unpleasant chemical tastes. It’s by far the best type of fuel to burn in a kamado grill, and once you get the hang of lighting it using natural firestarters, it’s quite easy to work with. 

Finally, it’s also worth experimenting with two-zone fires. Using a multi-zone cooking tool like the Grilla Kong Diffuser, you can cook at multiple temperatures at once! For example, you might use direct heat to sear a steak directly on the grill, while simultaneously cooking your veggies at a lower temperature using indirect heat in a different cooking zone. The possibilities are pretty much limitless, and it can make cooking large meals much more convenient. 

For more grilling tips, BBQ ideas and products, browse Grilla Grills today!

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