How to keep a charcoal grill hot: 7 essential tips for success

Learning how to keep a charcoal grill hot for longer means more cooking time and less costly fuel waste

Man slow cooks a joint of meat on a charcoal bbq
(Image credit: Weber)

If you're firing up the grill this weekend, knowing how to keep a charcoal grill hot is key to ensuring you're maximizing the fuel you're using. When you're burning coals, you can get through a lot, particularly if you're cooking for a large party, which can prove costly. So achieving good heat efficiency means that you can keep cooking for longer without wasting fuel needlessly.

Maintaining good air flow and adding more coals at the right time, are crucial to prolonging your grilling time. And keeping a charcoal grill hotter for longer can be helped by using the best BBQ possible and good quality coals, and ensuring you have the appropriate kit to hand. 

Keep the BBQ going by learning how to keep a charcoal grill hot

Once you've got your coals going make sure the charcoal is evenly distributed across your outdoor grill and once lit make sure this spreads across all areas. 

'I personally like an uneven heat bed as this will work in your favor when barbecuing different foods that require different heats/timings,' says Martin Sobey, National Sales Manager UK for Napoleon Grills. 'Remember there are no rules when it comes to barbecuing methods. That’s the fun of it!'

Here's what else you need to consider for how to keep a charcoal grill hot:

1. Have a temperature gauge to hand

Knowing whether your charcoal grill is hot enough will help you take steps to maintain high temperatures. 'A good temperature gauge on the barbecue is always helpful as you can monitor if the heat rises or falls too quickly, says Martin Sobey. 

'If you want to get technical then you can invest in some probes that constantly monitor the temperature of the barbecue or the food, these are especially useful for “low and slow” recipes.'

Lighting coals is one extra job when you're looking at gas vs charcoal grills, but BBQ expert Dan Whittaker, AKA The Smokin’ Elk suggests investing a small amount in a chimney starter for a quick and effective way of how to light a BBQ, as this way you can avoid instant light charcoal or chemical fire lighters.

steak on the Grill with a meat thermometer

Monitor the temperature of your BBQ to ensure you maintain the optimum heat levels

(Image credit: Jiri Hubatka / Alamy Stock Photo)

2. Keep a lid on to keep heat in

One of the key rules for how to cook on a charcoal grill effectively is you must use your lid. According to Dan Cooper, Head Grill Master at Weber, keeping your barbecue’s lid on will: 'Help to cook your food through more effectively, regulate the airflow to eliminate the risk of flair ups that could blacken food, and infuse all the wonderful barbecue flavors into whatever you’re cooking.' 

You should always use your lid when grilling as it creates more of an oven for even cooking. 'Unless your sole purpose is for searing over hot coals,' says BBQ master and marketing manager at Masterbuilt, Ben Forte. 'In which case leaving the lid off exposes the coals to more oxygen and creates more heat.'

Bear in mind that you will burn through your coal quicker without a lid on your charcoal grill.

A charcoal brill with the lid down and dampers opened

Napoleon's coconut shell charcoal briquettes will give high heat and are smokeless

(Image credit: Napoleon)

3. Invest in good-quality charcoal

The charcoal you decide to use is key to how long your outdoor grill station will stay hot. 'Always buy good-quality charcoal that is long lasting, it will cost more but it’s certainly worth it,' says Martin Sobey.

But in order to not waste fuel needlessly, ensure you pick the right coal for the job. 'I like to select different fuels for different jobs,' says Dan Cooper. 'If I’m cooking a quick steak, I go for lump charcoal for its high heat. Whereas, if I want to roast a chicken, I will select briquettes that will burn for longer.'

bag of charcoal sitting on the grass next to a grill

(Image credit: Napoleon)

4. Add more coal if temperatures drop

When thinking about how to keep a charcoal grill hot, whether you add extra coals really depends on how long you intend to cook for and at what temperature. But in simple terms, when the charcoal starts to burn through, and the temperature starts to drop, then add a little more. 

'Try not to fill the whole chamber with new charcoal as it will initially reduce the heat significantly,' advises Martin Sobey. 'Little and often is best, but make sure you protect yourself from potential burns with something like heat-resistant gloves.' 

Ross Bearman, Great Taste Judge and Founder of BBQ Gifting company, Ross and Ross Gifts suggests: 'With charcoal, I tend to wait until it has reached its red hot temperature and then once you notice it dropping in intensity, you can either add more pieces of charcoal as you go or get another load going using a chimney starter and add to the main fire.'

Chimney coal lighter with hot coals on a grill

Adding extra coals can help keep a charcoal grill hot

(Image credit: Napoleon)

5. Consider the insulating properties of your grill

It's also recommended purchasing a well made BBQ or using good heat insulating materials if you're making a built in BBQ. 'Look for those with sturdy metal or ceramic to help hold the heat,' advises Ross Bearman. 

'Make sure you preheat everything first and allow time to heat up the grates before cooking. Ensure the fuel reaches its optimum temperature and remember to keep topping it up when necessary.'

A steak cooking on a flaming grill

Kamado Joe Grill is known for its insulating properties

(Image credit: Kamado Joe)

6. Maintain good airflow to keep coals burning

'Essentially, no airflow = no fire,' says Ross Bearman. 'It is essential to keep good airflow on your BBQ to draw air through the fire to keep it lit and hot. If the fire is starved of air, it will simply die out or run at too low a temperature to make a great BBQ.'

If you're smoking your meat, Ross thinks it is important to open and close the vents to maintain a consistent temperature. 'In general, we tend to have the top vents fully open to draw air through the BBQ/smoker and just adjust the bottom vents to draw in what is required to keep the fire at a consistent temperature.'

Most barbecues will have air flow adjusters which will allow you to speed up or slow down the flow. 'However, it’s not all about constant high temperatures,' says Martin Sobey. 'Some recipes like BBQ chicken or BBQ turkey are best cooked for longer at lower temperatures or “low and slow” as it’s known.'

a charcoal grill and smoker with layers of grills for cooking

(Image credit: Cuckooland)

7. Remove ash to keep the oxygen flowing

As mentioned before, allowing a good air flow around your grill is essential for how to keep a charcoal grill hot. So when it comes to how to clean a BBQ, Dan Cooper advises: 'It’s important to always keep your barbecue free and clear of spent ash and charcoal as this helps to increase the flow of oxygen about the fuel, allowing it to stay hot.' 

You may even find part burned pieces of charcoal which can be used again!

coal ash in a grill

Sweeping away ash debris will help air flow

(Image credit: Hympi / Alamy Stock Photo)
Teresa Conway
Deputy Editor

Teresa has worked as an Editor on a number of gardening magazines for three years now. So she is lucky enough to see and write about gardening across all sizes, budgets and abilities. She recently moved into her first home and the garden is a real project! Currently she is relishing planning her own design and planting schemes. What she is most passionate about when it comes to gardening are the positive effects it has on our mental health to grow and care for plants, as well as being great for the environment too and help provide food and shelter for wildlife.