Not sure what grill temp is medium-high, low, or even medium? Master your backyard cooking with our easy guide to grilling temperatures.
A lot of barbecue or grilling recipes out there can be vague when it comes to temperatures, leaving you guessing as to what is meant by a ‘medium’ or ‘low’ temperature.
Discover how to properly understand grill temperatures in this guide, and the temperatures you should use for different types of meats to ensure they are cooked to perfection.
Grilling Temperature Chart
|Level||Actual Temperature (°F)||Good For|
|Low||200 to 250||Slow cooking brisket and ribs, whole pork|
|Medium-Low||250 to 300||Ribs and pork shoulder|
|Medium||300 to 375||Burgers, poultry, some vegetables, some fish|
|Medium-High||375 to 450||Burgers, fish steaks, thick beef cuts, some vegetables with high moisture content|
|High||450 to 600||Kebabs, shellfish, searing steaks, pizzas (in a pizza oven attachment)|
|Incendiary||600 and higher||Searing meat|
It is worth mentioning that people do have slightly varying definitions of these temperatures. Always err on the side of safety and ensure that food is thoroughly cooked before serving. A meat thermometer is a great way to check that the internal temperature has reached a safe level.
Basic Grilling Temps
Let’s expand a little on the temperatures and what kind of cooking they’re suitable for.
Low Heat (200 to 250 degrees)
This heat is only suitable for slow cooking beef and pork. It can make for a delicious tender brisket or rack or ribs, but cooking times can be up to 10 or 12 hours.
Medium-Low Heat (250 to 300 degrees)
This is a heat that can be achieved by indirect grilling. This means placing the meat slightly away from the source of heat. If your charcoal is only on one half of the grill, the other half will have lower temperatures, meaning half of your grill may be medium or medium-high, and the other half medium-low. This temperature is great for pork butt and ribs, too.
Medium Heat (300 to 375)
The “sweet spot” is around 325 to 350 for direct grilling on a medium heat. It is great for chicken and turkey, whole fish, and some vegetables such as onions. Particularly dense vegetables like cauliflower also work at this temperature.
Medium-High Heat (375 to 450)
This is great for fish fillets, chicken pieces, and cooking large vegetables. This is the perfect temperature for cooking jacket potatoes, for instance.
High Heat (450 to 600)
High heat is ideal for a lot of different types of chops and for cooking steaks (meat and fish) as well as shellfish and kebabs. If you have a pizza oven attachment for your grill, this is also the right temperature to cook pizza (about 475 is ideal). High moisture vegetables like tomatoes also grill well at this temperature.
Incendiary (600 and above)
Above 600 degrees on your grill, the only thing it is really good for is searing steaks and chops.
How to Check Your Grill’s Temperature
This information isn’t very useful unless you get a rough idea of the temperature you’re working with. On a gas grill, you usually have an inbuilt temperature gauge to do the job for you, but with a charcoal grill you need a method of checking manually.
A point-and-shoot thermometer is the most scientific and reliable option. Infrared thermometers allow you to point a laser at your grill from a safe distance, and see a reliable reading of the temperature. They’re not always perfect, and quality depends on which model you buy. You also need to ensure you get one that can handle the high temperatures you might be working with.
You can also buy grill surface thermometers which sit on the grill itself. This can take up valuable space.
There is another, less precise method. (After all, grilling is an art, not a science).
With the grill lit, hold your hand at about five inches above the grill. The length of time you can keep it there before it becomes uncomfortable will tell you a rough temperature. Some people refer to this as the “Mississippi method” as you can count “one Mississippi, two Mississippi…” to ensure you are counting full seconds.
- Two seconds means the grill is probably at around 400°F or above
- Three seconds means you’re probably at around 375°F to 400°F
- Four seconds is at around 350-375°F
- Five seconds is around 250-350°F
This method is not 100% precise, but it is better than having no idea at all before adding your food to the grill.
How to Control Your Grill’s Temperature
While gas grills and pellet grills allow you to set a temperature, charcoal grills don’t, so they are more of a challenge to get right. You also need to account for the fact that you will need to keep adding fuel for longer cooks, so keeping a steady and stable temperature is an important skill.
Air Vents or Dampers
Air vents and dampers control the flow of air into the grill. More air means more oxygen which feeds the fire and increases the heat energy it is creating. Closing the vents or dampers prevents more oxygen from entering and can lower the temperature. If you want to make the fire burn hotter, open your grill’s vents to let more air in.
Repositioning the Coals
Moving the coals is a way to control how much heat the grill is giving off. If you want to cool the grill down, spread out the briquettes. If you want to heat it up, you can move the coals closer together to concentrate the energy of the fire.
Moving the Rack
If you have an adjustable rack you can use this to adjust the surface temperature of the grill. You’re not actually changing the temperature of the fire, but moving the rack up and away from the coals will give you a lower cooking temperature. Move the rack lower, towards the coals if you want a higher cooking temperature.