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How Hot Is the Grill Fire?

Fine Cooking Issue 59

Say you’re following a grilling recipe that instructs you to build a very hot charcoal fire. “Okay, fine,” you say, “but how do I know when the fire is very hot?” Believe it or not, you use your hand.

To test the heat level of your fire, hold your open palm an inch or two above the grill grate. The length of time you can stand the heat tells you how hot the grill is. (For best results, the grilling grate should be about 4 inches above the coals.) This test works for gas grills as well.

 Time hand can be held over grill  Grill heat  Temperature
 Less than 1 second  Very hot  Over 600°F
 1 to 2 seconds  Hot  400° to 500°F
 3 to 4 seconds   Medium   350° to 375°F
 5 to 7 seconds  Medium low  325° to 350°F


You can also tell something about the heat of a charcoal fire by looking at it. Bright-red flaming coals are extremely hot—too hot for most grilling. Red coals covered with light ash are still fairly hot but suitable for hight heat grilling. Coals thickly covered with yellowish ash are medium hot.

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