How to check the temperature of the grill?

We already learned how to light a charcoal grill. But what about to measure its temperature after that? If you don’t have a thermometer, how can you check the temperature of the grill to start grilling the meat?

There are grills that come with a built-in thermometer and that serve as a guide to know the temperature. But if you don’t have this thermometer, there are other ways to measure the grill surface temperature.

Here I will explain you the most common technique to do it: The Hand Test.

How to check the temperature of the grill without a thermometer?

The simplest way, and the one that grill lovers have been doing for years, is “The Hand Test”: place the palm of your hand about 4 inches from the grill to feel the heat that emanates. Then count from 1 to 10 and stop when you can no longer bear the heat.

Depending on how much you hold, the result is the following:

Length of time –
hand in grill surface
Level of heat
intensity
Aproximate grill
temperature
10-11 secondsLow heat110 – 120 °C
9-8 secondsMedium low heat120 – 150 °C
7-6 secondsMedium heat160 – 190 °C
5-4 secondsHigh heat250 – 350 °C

If you can’t hold the heat for less than 3 seconds, or you hold it for more than 12 seconds, it means that you don’t have the right temperature to grill; especially if you can’t hold it for more than 2 seconds (it’s too hot!).

How to check the fire temperature on a grill

Heat transfer and Heat level at grilling

The secret to a successful barbecue is to control the temperature of the grill, so the heat is even and constant.

You have to remember that each cut of beef has its specific way of cooking and this includes the distribution of the embers in a charcoal grill and the level of heat intensity.

Heat transfer

Direct heat

Grill distribution and heat intensity of a grill

This is when heat radiates directly into meats for quick cooking or sealing.

The charcoal is placed just below the cut to generate the same intensity of heat, in such a way that food is cooked directly over the high heat.

The approximate direct heat is around 230 ° C – 340 ° C.


Indirect heat

The heat does not radiate directly into meats. This is accomplished by placing the embers (charcoal) at the ends of the grill while the cut is placed in the center.

The idea is to cook for a long period and very slow without turning it over. The approximate indirect heat is around 160 °C – 180 °C.


Heat Level

High heat

Ideal for grilling small portions of food such as sliced vegetables, or very thin cuts of beef such as entrails or steaks. The result is a meat that is juicy on the inside and very crispy on the outside.

See also: The best grilled vegetables

Medium heat

Perfect for medium cuts.

Low heat

For grilling thick cuts of meat or whole animals. The result is a very soft and juicy meat, without burning on the outside.

Read here to know more about the science behind heat transfer and grilling.

Tips when measuring the temperature of the grill

  • If you just light the charcoal, the grill won’t even be ready in about 30-40 minutes. So at this point don’t start checking the temperature yet.
  • Start to measure the temperature of the grill when you see it whitish or gray on top, and a little deep red inside.
  • To avoid having very high embers, the ideal space between it and the grill grates should be between 15 to 20 cm apart.
  • You can also use an external thermometer for its measurement. Here is one that you can find at a cheap price on Amazon .

Mitad brasileño - mitad ecuatoriano. Amante de los asados, del surf y la fotografía. Cocinero empírico. Constantemente estoy aprendiendo y compartiendo mis conocimientos en este blog.

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