How To Use Vents On A Charcoal Grill


When I started with using a grill it was like for most people a simple charcoal grill.
With not much, or should I say no experience, than grilling some hamburgers that were burned on the outside and almost raw on the inside I realized I did something wrong.

It was simple to figure out that there was a problem with the temperature. Unfortunately the internet was not there yet and I had to go to the library. This should also give you an idea about my age.

After reading some books I decided to do what they suggested and here are the main tips they gave.

  • Use the same amount of charcoal
  • Keep the top vent open
  • Use the bottom vent to regulate the temperature

Try this first without any meat to experiment and not ruin any meat.

What do the vents on a charcoal grill do

There are two vents on your grill, in most cases, and they both have a different job to do.

The Bottom vent


The bottom vent should be close to the charcoal if you use the preferred two zone grill set up on your grill.
Its job is to provide the charcoal with oxygen that keeps the fire going.

The top vent

The top vent has a two part job.
It has to let the gasses and heat out of the grill and by doing this it will pull oxygen in the bottom vent to the charcoal.

A side note is that vents in a charcoal grill are also called chimney, intake damper, flue, exhaust and many other things.

How I got started with finding out how to use the vents on my charcoal grill

I filled and started my charcoal with my chimney-starter. I waited till the charcoal was grey. After that I dumped it on the side of my grill were the bottom vent is.

I read the advice to keep the top vent open and regulate the temperature with the bottom vent and that is how I started.

My test showed that in my situation I was not able to reach my desired temperature of 350 degrees Fahrenheit. I was also burner charcoal like crazy. Most heat disappeared out of the top vent.

I closed the top vent to about half way and kept the bottom vent wide open. Within a few minutes the temperature began to rise and went to over 450 degrees. This showed that I was on my way to find out what to do.

After this I closed the bottom vent also half way and after a long time the temperature dropped slowly. Unfortunately I ran out of charcoal to find out if it would stay steady.

My second run I started again with a full charcoal chimney-starter, but changed both my vents to half closed.

After the charcoal was grey and I added it to the grill again my temperature went up real fast, but not as high as in the first run. It stopped a little above the 400 degrees mark.

I closed the bottom vent to about 1 quarter open and waited what would happen.
I hit about 325 degrees when I ran out of charcoal again.

What did I learn by using my vents like this

  • I learned that my grill needed less air flow.
  • By closing the top vent to one quarter open I was able to control the temperature with the bottom vent.

One thing I did was to mark the settings on my vents to make sure I used that as a starting point for all my grilling.

After this is was time to use my grill with meat on it. It took some minor adjustments to keep my temperature pretty steady and my meat turned out very well.

I have been making some changes since then and I have added a digital thermometer to my arsenal. I found that the temperature on grate level was about 25 degrees lower than the thermometer in the hood of the grill was reading. With a little more opening of my bottom vent this was adjusted in no time.

My advice on how to control the temperature in a charcoal grill

Do not guess, but try to set a starting point for your vents. From there it is easier to make adjustments.

I highly recommend to use a digital thermometer to check the real temperature at grill grate level.
If you can afford one with two probes and can also check the temperature of your meat you are a winner. I use one now for a long time and am pretty happy with it.

I have use many charcoal grills since then but the principle I am using to get it tuned is still the same.

For about 12 year I have a barrel smoker with not side firebox. I just keep my charcoal on the side of the bottom vent, by using this Weber char basket and my meat on the other side.

If you feel I left out any tips or ideas feel free to leave it in the comments for our readers.

Eddie Vandam

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