Tuesday, March 2, 2010

3. Cooking Temperature: Need to Modify Grill Height

This is the first in the following series of blogs on the ideal cooking temperature for grilling a steak over live coals:

1. Cooking Temperature: Ideal Temperature
2. Cooking Temperature: 1600 Degrees?
3. Cooking Temperature: Need to Modify Grill Height
4. Cooking Temperature: Measure Temperature
5. Cooking Temperature: Measure Grill Height
6. Cooking Temperature: Calculate Ideal Grill Height
7. Cooking Temperature: Modify Grill Height
8. Cooking Temperature: Inverse Square Law

The biggest mistake made by backyard steak masters is grilling steaks at too low a temperature.

The single most important thing that a backyard steak master should do to improve steak quality is to modify the grill to reduce the distance between the top of the grill (i.e. meat level) and the top of the coals. As discussed in a previous blog (see http://bit.ly/dixHpA), the correct temperature for cooking steak, when measured at the level where the steak sits on the grill (called the meat level or grill level) is 750°.

Most grills are designed to cook at a temperature of only 370°, using a normal amount of charcoal briquettes or lump charcoal. The way to increase the temperature to 750° is to reduce the distance between the grill level and the charcoal level.

The problem for most backyard steak masters is that most popular grills, such as the Weber Kettle, do not have adjustable grills, so the distance between the grill and the charcoal cannot be changed up or down. Grills usually have a fixed distance at 5” between the grill and the top of the charcoal. At a distance of 5", the temperature of a "normal" charcoal fire will be between about 370°.

REASON: Manufacturers design their grills for 5" between the top of the grill and the top of the layer of charcoal briquettes, so that the temperature will be about 370°. A temperature of 370° is ideal for cooking hamburgers all the way through. At a higher temperature, the hamburger would burn on the outside before cooking thoroughly on the inside. So it is safer for manufacturers to design their grills to cook at a lower temperature, where hamburgers will be safely cooked on the inside. But 370° is much too low to cook a steak perfectly, because it would not develop an exterior crust and would be overdone on the interior.

So that’s the problem. You want your hamburger grilled at 370° but your steak grilled at 750°.

The backyard chef has three major options to achieve these two temperature variants.

One option is to purchase a new grill -- one which can raise and lower the grill and/or charcoal grate. The problem with this solution is money: variable grills are very expensive, compared with non-variable grills.

A second option to reach a higher temperature on a grill is to use much more charcoal than normal. But that wastes charcoal and might even overheat the grill to create a fire risk. More importantly, however, the goal is to reach a grill temperature of exactly 750°, so adding more charcoal does not solve the problem of achieving the exact temperature.

A third option is for the backyard steak master to modify the grill to reduce the distance between the top of grill (the meat level) and the top of the coals. The next blog will explain how to modify the grill to increase the cooking temperature to the ideal steak cooking temperature of 750°.

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  1. nice post, very good tips about the right way of grilling and setting up temperature.
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  2. This is one of the best articles with complete information. I got the best information here .Thanks for Sharing

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  3. 18 inches works great for me on chicken halves plenty of heat & distance with minimal tp NO flareups...


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  5. Our grill is adjustable. While you made the others happy, I just wanted to know how far steaks should be from the coals, and after reading this article I still don't know. Thank you just the same. -melanie

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