Another grill season is upon us so let's have a discussion and learn about grill temperatures on a gas grill. What are the most basic measurements to help you master your grill?
Judging from comments, it seems to be a major problem for many readers. This is what I will call a beginners guide, and I'm aiming for gas grills, but many of the tips will apply to charcoal grills.
If you are an experienced, accomplished griller, you may want to just move on now. You figured a lot of this out yourself but you may pickup some useful tips.
Many people have a propane grill from the big box store and are trying to learn to grill more than hot dogs. They just want to cook a burger or chicken until done, safely without making hockey pucks.
Unfortunately, the manuals are not very helpful for this. They are made for grill operation and safety. You should read and understand it but grilling a meal correctly is not their purpose.
Here I'm just going to discuss what to measure and how. Let's get to it.
🌡️Hood Thermometers are Evil
First and most important is that great looking thermometer in your grill hood is useless other than in a binary way of "is the grill hot, yes or no?" The numbers are meaningless.
That thermometer is a cheap thermometer that has a tube probe. It will give an average reading along that probe. But it can't even measure that accurately.
So the hood thermometer measures (inaccurately) the air temperature near the top of the hood (remember heat rises). Not where the food is cooking. Never rely on it.
You need to know the temperature at the grill surface where the food is actually cooking, not 12-inches away. And you need to know it fairly accurately.
Some grill experts say you can tell the temperature by putting your hand 3 inches over the grill and counting until you have to remove your hand. High is 1-2 seconds 450°-600°, medium-high is 2-3 seconds 400°-450°. Blah blah blah. Not accurate enough for me. If you want more information, Google it since I consider it not accurate enough to recommend.
Grills vary greatly, so dial setting doesn't work well either. A grill surface thermometer is required. You can get one for about $10 from Amazon, Home Depot, Lowes or most hardware stores (link at the end of post).
They will get grimy, and after 2-3 months of use, they usually need to be replaced so you can read it. I have gone through about 20 of these, and only one didn't work well.
I now use a Thermoworks ThermoQ (link at the end of the post) which is a remote monitor of both the surface and meat temperatures—very slick.
IR thermometers are fine, but you will get the grill metal temp, not the air temperature, you need to hit the metal with the beam, and you may need to leave the hood up longer. I have one, I gave up using it.
🔥What Temperature To Use?
In most of my grill recipes, I give a range, and many other sites will also. But, this is not a kitchen oven so you can't be really exact. Just opening the top of a grill releases lots of heat. All this means is it is a little more an art than a science.
I like to think of three levels of heat I usually use. These are my arbitrary divisions, and I'm sure others may disagree.
And there are many times you should deviate from this, admittedly. An example would be my Grilled Whole Chicken where I used indirect heat in the 350° range.
Or if I'm grilling a 1 ½ inch thick steak, I won't be using high. I might use a reverse searing or I would sear on high then move to a lower indirect heat to finish.
ALWAYS REMEMBER TO NEVER COOK (OR GRILL) BY TIME ALONE. FOR MOST GRILLING, BOTH AN INSTANT READ AND A SURFACE THERMOMETER ARE ALMOST REQUIRED TO GET IT RIGHT.
This is as hot as it goes. I can get to 700° plus and lesser grills may only get 550°, but this is where I cook things like burgers and most steaks. It will make chicken a hockey puck.
A couple of examples:
This is 450°-500° to me and where I cook chicken, most pork, and veggies usually.
A few examples:
225° up to 300° this is the low and slow cooking for ribs, pulled pork, brisket, etc. It is usually done by indirect cooking.
A couple of examples:
Do you Want to Do Low and Slow Smoking?
Grill Hood - Open or Closed?
Usually closed unless stated otherwise. Things less than ½ inch thick can usually be grilled open. Between ½ to 1 inch thick, open is possible but harder to control. Over 1 inch, definitely closed. Low and slow, always closed.
So those generic grills you see in the parks can cook hot dogs, burgers, and if you are careful, a skinless chicken breast. But not thick stuff.
This is a beginning guide. It is not comprehensive or even close. But I want to get you away from thinking that a hood thermometer is useful and start looking at what is important for your final results.
If you want to improve your grilling skills, it takes some practice, but it requires knowledge of the surface temperature and an instant-read meat thermometer. Those two things will improve your grilling skills 1000% instantly.
Otherwise, it is like driving a car with your eyes closed and hoping to get where you want to go. Let's open our eyes.
Stuff I Recommend
Note: All links below are affiliate links meaning I do make a small profit from your purchases. Your price is not affected by this commission. We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, As an amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
These are example of what I actually use or have used. There are many other great options.
NEW! Thermapen One from Thermoworks
Gates BBQ Sauce
Smoking Wood Chips
Cast Iron Smoker Box
ThermaQ Blue Kit
CDN Instant Read Thermometer
CDN Grill Surface Thermometer
Thermopop by Thermoworks
Editor's Note: This is a republishing of a very useful and timely post. Originally published on August 21, 2017. Update with expanded details and a table of contents for easier navigation.