This Guide to Grill Temperature on a Gas Grill is for beginner and experienced grillers. The BBQ temperature is key to perfect grilling steaks, chicken, seafood, and any other grilled food.
To master your grill, you must learn to control, maintain, and check the temperature on your gas or propane grill. Most tips will also apply to charcoal grills and other grill types.
Judging from comments, it seems to be a significant problem for many readers. I will call this a beginner's guide, and I'm aiming for gas grills, but many tips will apply to charcoal grills.
If you are an experienced, accomplished griller, you figured out much of this, but you may pick up some valuable tips.
Why is this important?
Many people have a propane grill from the big box store and are trying to learn to grill more than hot dogs. They 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.
🌡️Grill Surface Temperature
You need to know the temperature at the grill surface where the food is cooking, not 12 inches away. And you need to know it reasonably accurately.
Adjust the grill temperature with the settings and number of your grill's burners. If you are using charcoal, adjustment is much more difficult, involving the amount and distribution of the coals and the amount of opening the bottom vent.
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—not accurate enough for me. If you want more information, Google it since I consider it inaccurate.
🌡️Measuring grill surface temperature
Grills vary greatly, so the 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 the post).
They will get grimy, and after 2-3 months of use, they usually need to be replaced so you can read them. 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 uses a remote probe for both the surface and meat temperatures—very slick but professional-level quality. For home, check out the Thermoworks Smoke™.
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, but I gave up using it.
Products I Recommend
Note: All links below are affiliate links,, meaning I 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 examples of what I use or recommend. There are many other great options.
Signals®️ BBQ Alarm Thermometer from Thermaworks®️
Smoke™ by Thermoworks™
Thermapen™ One from Thermoworks™
ThermaQ2™ Kit with Probes by Thermoworks™
CDN Instant Read Thermometer
CDN Grill Surface Thermometer
Thermopop™ by Thermoworks™
🔥What Surface Temperature To Use?
I give a range in most grill recipes, and many other sites will also. But this is not a kitchen oven, so you can't be 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 reverse searing or sear on high and then move to a lower indirect heat to finish. Or use medium heat.
ALWAYS REMEMBER TO NEVER COOK (OR GRILL) BY TIME ALONE. Cook to a final internal temperature using the suggested heat level. Measure the internal temperature with an instant-read thermometer.
High heat is over 500° but as hot as the grill goes. Some grills will be 700°, 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.
This is 450°-500° to me and where I usually cook poultry like chicken, pork, and veggies.
Low heat is 225° up to 300° usually used for indirect grilling for pork ribs, pulled pork from pork shoulder or butt, brisket, etc. Some experts will describe this type of cooking as BBQ and higher temperature direct grilling as grilling.
Do you Want to Do Low and Slow Smoking?
Grill Hood - Open or Closed?
The grill lid is 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 is 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 helpful and start looking at what is essential for your final results.
It takes some practice to improve your grilling skills, 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.
Editor's Note: This is a republishing of a handy and timely post originally published on August 21, 2017. Update with expanded details and a table of contents for easier navigation.