When Is A Charcoal Grill Ready?

Last Update: March 11, 2020

There’s something so satisfying about grilling. Cooking a meal over the coals takes us back to our primitive roots, and also serves as a reminder that food doesn’t have to be complicated to taste amazing. There’s nothing better than a juicy steak or plate of fresh veggies with a nice char on a clear summer night.

But the idea that barbecuing is “simple” trips up backyard chefs. Most people miss a key step in the process: pre-heating the grill. Skip it, and not only will food cook inconsistently, but you also run the risk of it sticking to the grate. And forget about those caramelized sear marks—a cold steak over lukewarm heat doesn’t have a chance.

If you’re using a charcoal grill without a thermometer, when you think it’s just about ready to get cooking, test the temperature with something you always have on hand—literally.

Hold your hand, palm down, about four inches above the grid. Start counting seconds (one one-thousand, two one-thousand, and so on), and see how long you can tolerate it. The length of time you can keep your hand there will reveal the heat level, according to Good Housekeeping:

  • 2 seconds: high (best for quick searing)
  • 3 to 4 seconds: medium-high (best for most grilling)
  • 5 to 6 seconds: medium (best for large roasts)
  • 7 to 8 seconds: medium-low (best for keeping things warm)
  • Indefinitely: low

You’ll look like a bona fide grill master—even if this is your first time picking up a pair of tongs.

Photo credit: Alicia Cho

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Annalise Mantz

Annalise is a foodie, Brussels sprouts lover, grammar nerd, and political pet aficionado.

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