How to Make Charcoal Grill Hotter? A Guide to Getting It Hot in Here

March 16, 2023
Written by Kristy J. Norton

The best way to make your charcoal grill hotter is to open all the dampers – this will increase the airflow and the oxygen will feed the fire. Of course, you can also try the other tricks that I have mentioned in this post!

My family is all about passing down their grilling legacy. So, since I was about six years old, I would watch the adults setting up and tending to their charcoal grill, trying to remember everything they did. Between their advice and tips from my pitmaster friends, I have become a pro at handling charcoal grills.

In this post, I am going to show you how to make charcoal grill hotter and try some additional tips and tricks to make sure your grill works!

how to make charcoal grill hotter

How to Increase the Temperature of Your Charcoal Grill?

I do want to mention that there are a few different reasons why your charcoal grill may not be getting hot enough. Not to worry, though, as I will cover all of these below.

However, one of the biggest reasons that your charcoal grill isn’t getting hot enough probably has to do with the lack of temperature control. Unlike the pellet grill, electric grill, or gas grill, there is no setting to change to increase or decrease the temperature.

Instead, you have to manage the dampers or vents that are on the charcoal grill. See, if you want to get a charcoal grill hot enough, you need to make sure that enough of oxygen is coming through the dampers.

It is the oxygen that feeds the flames and makes the charcoal grills hotter. Therefore, by opening the dampers wider or even all the way open, you can increase the temperature of your charcoal grill.

Why is My Charcoal Grill Not Getting Hotter?

OK, so let’s say that you opened up the dampers but your charcoal grill still isn’t getting hotter. Well, here are a few scenarios for why this might be happening and what you can do about it:

You Are Using the Wrong Kind of Coal

Are you using lump charcoal? If so, this may be creating problems for you. There is no denying that lump charcoal is great – it lights quickly and burns hotter. What’s more, it also doesn’t produce as much ash.

The downside, though, is that the burn is inconsistent with lump charcoal. Due to this, you may notice fluctuations in the temperature.

If you want to avoid these, I suggest using charcoal briquettes instead. They may not burn as hot but they are great for maintaining a consistent temperature.

You Are Using Old Coal

Believe it or not, all kinds of coal can get old. If you have had an open bag for a while, then it is likely that the coal will not light as well. Needless to say, you are going to find it difficult to get the temperature as high up as you need it to be.

This is why I always suggest buying smaller bags of coal, especially if you don’t grill that often. This way, you can open up a fresh bag for every cook.

The other thing to be mindful of is that you need to be careful with how you store your coal. If you leave it open to the elements or in a damp area, then the coals or briquettes will likely get wet. And, even after they dry out, they will not burn as hot as they used to.

Smoldering Coals in Fire Pit

You Are Using Too Little Charcoal

It is important that you match the amount of charcoal to the kinds of food that you are grilling. For instance, if you are cooking hot dogs or burgers, then you aren’t going to require as much heat. This means fewer coals.

On the other hand, if you are cooking larger cuts of meat like pork butt, chicken, etc. then you are going to need more coal to raise the heat.

You Are Using Lighter Fluid

There is a good chance that someone in your family taught you that the best way to get most charcoal grills going was to use lighter fluid. Unfortunately, they were wrong.

See, the problem is that this liquid is going to get your fire going really hot. However, this heat is going to peter out after a while as only some of the coals have been doused in the fluid. And, if you douse too many of the coals in the fluid, then that awful chemical odor is going to seep into your hair, clothes, and your food!

Luckily, there is an alternative – use a chimney starter. This will help to keep the coals consistently hot. Below, I have provided the guidelines for how to use this tool:

Step 1

Measure how much coal you will need to add and pour into the starter. Typically, you aren’t going to need to fill the starter more than 3/4ths of the way.

Step 2

Slip a piece of newspaper at the bottom of the starter and light it. Then, set the starter in the grill and wait for the fire to spread.

When some of the coals start to ash over, you know it is time to place the hot coals on the grill.

Step 3

Remove the cooking grate and pour in the coals. Then, replace the grate.

Repeat this procedure when you notice that the fire is going to go out.

You Are Using the Wrong Heating Style

When trying to get your charcoal grill hotter, it is a good idea to question whether you are using the proper heating style.

There are two main methods to getting a charcoal grill hot – direct heating method and indirect heating method.

If you want to smoke food or cook it low and slow, then you use the indirect method. Here, you only pile the coals on the end of the grill. Then, you place your food on the opposite side of the cast iron grate or charcoal grate.

This way the food is only exposed to indirect heat and will cook rather slowly. As you can imagine, the temperature is going to stay pretty low in this scenario. So, if you want to sear meat or choose a higher cooking temperature, this method isn’t going to work.

Instead, you are going to need to spread the coal so that the entire grill is covered. This will produce direct heat across the grill grates.

Sausages on the Charcoal Grill

Your Grill Isn’t Clean Enough

The last thing that you want to do a the end of a long cook is to clean up your grill. As a result, the ash may remain in the grill until your next cook. And, even then you may neglect to sweep up all the ash.

Here is the problem – the ash can block the airflow into the grill preventing the cooking temperature from getting as hot as it needs to be.

So, make sure to clean out the grill before you begin your cook to prevent this.

Consider the Ambient Temperature

Is it a particularly cold day? Is it raining or is there a lot of wind blowing? If so, your charcoal grill will have to work a lot harder to get up to the necessary temperature and may not be able to manage this.

If possible, move the grill to a more sheltered area. However, you should never move it to an indoor section or where there is an extended roof above you and the grill.

This can cause smoke to accumulate around you and can make for a very dangerous situation.

You can also try using more charcoal and opening the dampers nice and wide to get the temperature even hotter.

Wrapping It Up

There you go – you now know all the reasons why your grill may not be getting hotter. Armed with this information, you can figure out what to do to increase the temperature regardless of the situation. Good luck!

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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