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Weeknight Cooking

When You Say “Grill over a Hot Fire,” What Do You Mean?

Grilling outdoors is harder to regulate. Here's one weird trick to help.

Published May 27, 2019.

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Ever notice how grilling aficionados talk about their grills like they’re in a relationship? They look forward to every moment they can spend with their grill, standing there for hours on end just monitoring its temperature, watching things cook, poking, nudging, waving a pair of tongs around like a magic wand. It’s as if the grill has a personality, one that captivates the cook.

Part of this, I think, is that every grill is different, and every grilling environment is different. Maybe more than any piece of cooking equipment, vagaries abound. This one has a fussy bottom grate. That one has a broken igniter. Another is positioned in a breezy causeway, which produces inconsistent airflow. None has a perfect temperature gauge.

This makes it tough for us to get to specific with our cooking temps when it comes to grilling, so you’ll often see us call for a grill that’s “hot” or “medium.” (OK, fine—sometimes you’ll see us get really detailed and dictate the exact number of briquettes you’ll need, but we only do that on very special occasions.)

When we say “hot,” we’d like the ambient temperature just above your grill to approach 500 degrees. For “medium,” we’re aiming for 300-400. And for “low,” somewhere in the 250-300 zone.

In real life, this means that if you can hold your hand about 5 inches above the preheated cooking grate and leave it there for only 2 seconds, that’s hot. Five to 6 seconds is medium. Eight seconds is low.

For this recipe, which calls for a “hot” fire, preheat your gas grill on high, with the lid down, for about 15 minutes. To achieve a “hot” fire on a charcoal grill, you’ll need about 7 quarts of charcoal, or one heaping chimney.

OK, fine—that’s 115 briquettes.


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