If everyone got to choose what medium heat is – the mid-point between barely warm and red hot – everyone would have a different point of medium heat, depending on the BTU output of their grill.
That way would lead to chaos, confusion, and underdone or overdone food, often at the same time.
That’s why we have a set of standard measures for low, medium, and high temperatures on a grill. Even so, you’ll still get variation within these bands, but if you aim for the middle of each band, you can expect to get a reliable result time after time.
So, low heat has a temperature range of between 200-300 degrees F.
Medium heat has a temperature range of between 300-400 degrees F.
And for high heat, you’re looking at a temperature range of between 400-500 degrees F.
On the principle that aiming for the middle of each band gives you the peak – or indeed the perfect – temperature to hit, you’re looking at an ideal cooking temperature of 350 degrees F for the perfect medium heat on a grill.
It’s important to note that these temperatures are significantly higher on a grill than they would be in a domestic oven, or on a domestic cooktop. That’s because the nature of grill cookery is that it uses higher temperatures, and a variety of fuel sources that would be unconventional in a kitchen setting.
How do I increase heat in my BBQ?
This depends on what kind of heat source you have. With a gas or propane BBQ, you’re likely to have a good deal of temperature control at your fingertips in any case, so the obvious answer is ‘Adjust your dial.’
If you have a charcoal BBQ, the answer is all in the airflow – open the vents, let the oxygen flow, and get superheated in a handful of heartbeats.
If you have a gas or propane BBQ and you want to soup the performance up even further…you’re going to need a toolkit and a dedication to the reckless endangerment of your eyebrows.
Get a drill with some tiny, tiny drill bits, and gradually, one size at a time, drill out the burner orifice, so you eventually have a wider burner orifice. Wider orifices mean more space for the flames. More space for the flames means more heat getting to your food at any given time.
Alternatively, to adjust the equation at the source, locate your venturi screw. That’s the screw that regulates the fuel flow to your barbecue. As with charcoal, if you loosen the venturi screw, you allow for more airflow and a hotter fuel -burn. A hotter fuel burn equates to…well, hotter cooking temperatures.
There is no level on which it could be overstated that this is a potentially dangerous maneuver. Try it first – very gently – with your grill on low or very low. The last thing you want is a fuel explosion while trying to turbo-charge your gas grill.
How do you increase the temperature on a charcoal grill?
In the short term, to ‘turn up’ the heat in a charcoal grill, there are air vents, usually at the bottom. It is one of the first secrets of fire making – and also fire prevention – that a fire rages hotter the more oxygen it gets.
So if you open the air vents on your charcoal grill fully, you get a larger intake of oxygen feeding through to the fire. That will increase the temperature of your charcoal grill almost immediately, allowing you to grill hotter, sear or seal meats more effectively, and quickly range up through the cooking temperatures so you can cook items that demand high heat.
You could also choose to zone your fire – rake the coals out to different thicknesses. Wherever you want to increase the temperature, for quick searing, say, double the thickness of your layer of coals.
There is also always the option of not actively increasing the temperature of the grill, but simply moving the food you want to cook hotter to the most intensely heated area of the grill.
Naturally, the same is true in reverse – by narrowing the opening on your charcoal grill’s vents, you can restrict the flow of air to the fire and cool it down.
By having a single layer of coals, you provide a ‘cooler’ heat zone for more delicate cooking.
And to stop your ingredients from burning on a too-hot grill, simply remove them from the epicenter of the heat.
What temperature should a BBQ be?
The answer to this of course depends on what you intend to cook on it.
Each type of protein, each group of vegetables, and other staples has its ideal grilling temperature and time. The temperature a BBQ should be will depend on what you’re serving that day.
However, if you’re looking for the main temperature zones, ingredients that need low heat should be cooked at between 200-300 Degrees F.
Ingredients that need medium heat should be cooked at between 300-400 Degrees F.
And ingredients that need high heat should be cooked at between 400-500 Degrees F.
How does that break down for some BBQ staples?
Burgers – Medium-High – 375 degrees F.
Hot dogs – High – 425 Degrees F, though for a relatively short cook time.
Steaks are a more complicated prospect because people choose to eat them at various levels of doneness, and the cooking temp and time will depend on the thickness of the cut. As a rough guide, for a 1-inch steak, you’re within the low temperature range, aiming to have a BBQ hot enough to develop internal temperatures in the meat that safely cook it, without destroying its juiciness and flavor.
For rare steak, aim for an internal temperature of 125 degrees F. For medium, aim for 140 degrees F. And for Well done, aim to bring your meat up to an internal temperature of 170 degrees F.
Bone-in steaks will need higher temperatures for searing and fat-rendering.
Meanwhile, fish and vegetables will most likely be cooked within the low, or low-medium heat range.