How To Use Vents On A Charcoal Grill (My Experience)

how to use vents on a charcoal grill

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

“It was simple to figure out that there was a problem with the temperature. “

Unfortunately, the internet was not there yet and yes that’s how old I am 🙂 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

bottom vents on charcoal grill

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

top vent for charcoal grill

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 from the bottom vent to the charcoal.

A side note is that vents in a charcoal grill are also called chimneys, intake dampers, 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 where the bottom vent was.

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 burning charcoal like crazy. Most heat disappeared out of the top vent.

I closed the top vent to about halfway 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 finding out what to do.

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

In 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 really fast, but not as high as in the first run. It stopped a little above the 400-degree mark.

I closed the bottom vent to about 1-quarter open and waited for 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 airflow.
  • 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 mark the settings on my vents to make sure I used that as a starting point for all my grilling.

After this, it 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 used this experience also when I was trying to figure out how to smoke on a charcoal grill.

I have been making some changes since then and I have added a digital thermometer to my arsenal. I found that the temperature on the 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 small adjustments.

I highly recommend using a digital thermometer to check the real temperature at the 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 have used one now for a long time and am pretty happy with it.

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

For about 12 years I have had a barrel smoker with no 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 in this post on how to use charcoal grill vents feel free to leave them in the comments for our readers.

Eddie van Aken

Eddie van Aken has years of experience in running his full-service restaurant and with this came working with using and dealing with all types of kitchen equipment. With his experience, he can find all the pros and cons of grills and add them to the grill reviews he is doing. You can read more on the about page for Eddie van Aken

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