Table of Contents_
Charcoal grills are the oldest and one of the most popular grill types, including when it’s time for BBQ repair. If you’re wondering how hot a charcoal grill gets, the short answer is “hotter than the rest.” The best grill for your needs may be charcoal, for its high cooking temperature, simplicity, and low cost, but you should know what kind of temperatures you’re looking at before you make a choice.
While you’re at it, you may want to look at how wood pellet grills work, since they offer some of the same functionality. If you’d really like to customize your grilling experience, you could also look into how to build an outdoor grill.
Charcoal grills are the oldest grill type widely available and, until the introduction of gas grills, were the most popular. Charcoal grills still represent a significant share of the grills sold in the U.S. every year.
Their simplicity, low cost, and ability to sear and grill food at an intense heat make them a good option for many, but just how hot do they get?
Charcoal grills’ 700-degree top temperatures make them the best choice for steaks, burgers, and other thick, dense foods, as well as for professional-level sears. Most restaurants, though, now use gas grills for their reliability and precision.
Despite what’s commonly assumed, charcoal is made neither of ash nor rock, but of wood. It is made by heating wood to extreme temperatures in the absence of oxygen, which removes all moisture and hydrocarbons and leaves a highly concentrated radiant heat source that’s then compressed into briquettes and sometimes treated with ignition fluid or flavoring agents.
The burning briquettes produce intense heat and flame with relatively little smoke while imbuing food with a rich, smoky flavor that’s practically unique to charcoal grills, though wood pellet grills are capable of similar results. This is one reason they remain as popular as they are.
Charcoal grills are capable of the most intense heat of any major grill type, making them a great choice for getting restaurant-quality sears and cooking tougher meats like steaks, which require high heat to cook evenly and thoroughly.
The highest temperature an average charcoal grill is capable of is around 700 degrees, but charcoal grill temperature cycles rarely last more than 10-12 minutes without being carefully monitored and managed.
This is why mastering charcoal grilling, especially at high heat, can be quite difficult compared to gas, infrared, electric, and wood pellet types, all of which offer various degrees of precision control and superior heat distribution, especially when using indirect heat.
Temperature cycles in charcoal grills are difficult to maintain without constant attention. A charcoal grill won’t stay at a consistent temperature for more than 12 minutes.
Which is hotter, gas, or charcoal?
Fresh charcoal briquettes and lump charcoal burn much hotter than gas, while a gas grill is easier to control. Charcoal grills can get up to 700 degrees without too much difficulty, while gas grills rarely get hotter than 550 degrees. That extra 150 degrees make charcoal a better choice for searing and cooking tough cuts of meat.
How do you get a charcoal grill as hot as possible?
The best way to get the most intense heat out of a charcoal grill is first to clean it regularly. Excess charcoal ash will prevent new briquettes from staying lit for more than a few minutes even with an electric charcoal starter, lighter fluid, or chimney starters, and ash can also trap moisture, which can corrode your grill.
Should you open or close the grill lid when starting up a charcoal grill?
While you obviously have to have the lid open to ignite the charcoal briquettes, as soon as most of the charcoal is burning, you should close the lid. Charcoal grills are hotter immediately after lighting, and closing the lid will help contain the heat and help the grill, cooking grate, or cooking surface reach desired temperature more quickly.
STAT: Gas grills surpassed charcoal grills in terms of sales in the U.S. in 1994 and now comprise 60% of yearly sales on grills. (source)