Grill vents How To Use Them Open or Closed for BBQ

Grill vents How To Use Them Open or Closed for BBQ

At Jake's Famous Foods learning how to use Charcoal grill vents and whether they should be Open or Closed for a Charcoal grill, Weber grill or smoker, along with properly circulating air in gas grill vents is key to the grilling process. Even the largest pieces of food can be cooked just the way you like, because you control the fire temperature by opening and closing the top and bottom vents.

If food cooks too fast, lower the heat by partially closing the top slider. To raise or increase the heat, open the vents to pass through air circulation. When preheating the grill, always keep the bottom vents open wide to help start the fire.

Many charcoal grills are equipped with a lever that can be pushed to sweep the bottom vents clear of ashes, which should be done occasionally throughout the cooking period. When you're finished cooking, close the vents completely to snuff out the fire (do not pour water into the grill or on the hot ash as sparks and smoke may vent upwards).

So, to cut to the chase on how to use a Charcoal grill and especially how to use your charcoal grill vents to support better grilling? Yes grill vents should be open and when we say "open" we mean "wide open".  Now, how do you adjust the vents to improve the cooking process and keep the charcoal grill hot? We’ll go over the steps and processes necessary to help you get that BBQ done below.

Although the above may seem simple there really is more to managing bbq vents open or closed than just turning them.  Let's walk through how we've learned to manage the process and how we cook perfect barbecue every time.  Did you know that the end result of your barbecue can be affected by the outside temperature and time of year?  Yes, take this example.  It's a glorious day with temperatures around 78 degrees, almost no breeze and the sun fully peaked. This temperature is optimum for grilling. Very little time will need to be spent on managing the air, however, just because the temps are optimum does not mean that one can simply avoid the process.

When the temperature is optimum one may have to manage the temperature more carefully because the external temperature adds to the internal temperature of the grill.  If the temperature were to be in the 30's, and yes people BBQ in the 30's one might expect their barbecue to cook for a longer period as the external temperature and moisture in the air can act to retard the cooking process.  So, a 2-1/2 hour chicken might take 3 hours or more if the temperatures are not properly managed.  

We've put together a few great methods we use to manage the air. I hope you read through this post and gather up all the nice bits that will help you become a better barbecuer.

Let’s first start with a target meal to establish the desired cooking temperature. We've decided that we'll be grilling smoked baby back ribs that are using our best bbq rubsIn fact we'll be using our Tri-Tip, Steak and Rib rub.

For further consideration here are some nice testimonial comments from a couple of customers who had our Tri-Tip, Steak and Rib Dry Rub for Ribs.

 Eddie R. wrote : "This is a great dry rub. I'm using on my venison and rabbit.  Nicely done".

P Michaels wrote: "Fantastic Tri-Tip barbecue rub. My friends now know where to get this great rub.  Thanks for the great recipes."

Moving on we’ll concentrate on an average temperature between 225 and 240 degrees. There’s 15 degrees of adjustment and heat management which should not be too difficult on a Weber.

Self Help Setup Process for Grill Vent Management

This process will require some basic tools. You'll need masking tape, a dark marker, a metal thermometer, BBQ grill with vents and about 10 minutes. Let’s first start with the bottom vents wide open. This setup will allow maximum draw of air across the charcoals. Second, let’s take some standard masking tape and circle the vent adjuster on the lid of the grill. Now with the vents fully opened, let’s take a marker and create a line out from the left most opening of each of the vents.

Transfer that line down to the tape. Now, let’s move the adjuster to the right until the vents are fully closed. Transfer a line down from the left most opening onto the tape. These two lines represent the vent when it is fully opened. Now comes the really important part knowing how to segment the line. Let’s divide the distance between the two lines into increments just like you would see on a scale or thermometer. Each notch would represent 10 degrees on the scale. My notches would be about 1/8 inch apart and I would have approximately 5 notches representing about 5 degrees each.

Even more important is to realize that if your vent adjuster has 4 holes then the degrees total is cumulative making a 1/8 inch adjustment equivalent to 20 degrees. Many ask, "is controlling the vents that critical and sensitive?" And the answer is, YES.

Since this is a learning process let's start with a dry test.  Get a bag of standard non-light charcoal and place that as you normally would in your grill.  Let's assume you're going to make ribs.  Only, you won't actually be making anything.  Because in this process we're going to be measuring heat not focusing on what we would cook in the actual process.  Now, with the vent gradients delineated start your charcoal and let it burn until it is ashed white.  This is the critical measurement time to determine how your grill performs. 

Grab a sheet of paper or some method of collecting data.  You will also need a metal cooking thermometer or some other method of measuring the temperatures in the grill. Now, with the charcoals at optimum and the vents both bottom and top wide open let's put the lid on the grill. We want to achieve maximum cooking temperature to measure how the adjustment of the air circulation will affect the overall internal temperatures.  Allow the grill to heat up for at least 10 minutes as we want an average unaffected temperature. While doing this remember the vents are still wide open similar to when you first started the charcoal burning.  

Now take your measuring device and collect your first reading.  We'll do the reading at the vent with the lid on.  If you have a metal thermometer or a grill with a gauge built in then simply write down the temperature.  Now adjust the top vent only to the first mark you delineated on the masking tap.  Wait 5 minutes then take a reading.  Now, take the second reading by doing the same steps.  Allow the charcoal to continue cooking with the lid on for 5 minutes each time you adjust the vent downward closing off more air to the grill.  

Gather all the readings on a spreadsheet or make a simple graph and notice how the overall temperature was affected by the adjustments at the lid.  This will be your guide for future grilling.  Note, these temperatures are affected by what's happening around the grill.  If it's raining out and your grill is constantly being rained on then you can expect that the moisture both on the surface of the grill and in the air will affect the cooking process.

It is important to realize that the temperatures will lower as we burn through the cooking cycle of the charcoal. So, readings at the start of the process and at the end of the process will vary. We are seeking the optimum temperatures that is why we wait until the charcoal has ashed white.

But with all this knowledge how do you use it.  So for this second step we are going to walk through the process of grilling ribs in wood smoke.  Ready, set, Grill.

For smoked baby back ribs that are using our best bbq rubs we’ll concentrate on an average temperature between 225 and 240 degrees. As mentioned above there’s 15 degrees of adjustment and heat management which should not be too difficult on a Weber or kettle type grill. Let’s first start with the bottom vents wide open. This setup will allow maximum draw of air across the charcoals.

Now, with the air circulation gradients delineated and your charcoal burning it's time to start the BBQ process. We'll assume that you've followed our process for Rib Preparation and Cleaning. You've rested your marinated and seasoned ribs and are ready to get grilling. This process will take about 4 hours minimum so let's also ensure we have enough time to achieve great results.

The charcoals are ashed white and placed on one side of the grill to create indirect cooking. Ensure that you've added about 4 to 5 ounces of smoking wood on the charcoal. We like to use Red Oak chips so we'll place that on the grill. Place the ribs bone side down on the grill opposite the charcoal. Place the lid on the grill. Wait 5 minutes then take your first temperature reading. We want to cook the ribs at an average temperature of 225 degrees. Adjust your top vents down to manage the temperature to reach the optimum. A special note: keep in mind reaching the exact 225 degree temperature for very long is almost impossible due to charcoal sizes, weather conditions, where the grill is located and so on.  It's best to focus on a temperature that can be within 8 - 10 degrees of our target temperature.  

When the grill has reached the optimum temperature range check it in 5 minute increments. After about 45 minutes take your first temperature reading on the ribs. This will be your indicator as to how much longer you will need to grill the ribs. Also keep this in mind each time you remove the lid you will lose prime cooking temperature. So, it will take about 5-8 minutes to get the temperature back to the right cooking level. Add that lid off time to the overall time to cook the ribs. As a friend of mine always says "if you're looking you're not cooking". Limit the amount of time the lid is removed from the unit.

After about 2 hours check the temperature at the lid first. If the temperature is dipping open the vents up at least one notch. Check within 5 minutes to ensure the measurement adjustment is working. If you're in the cooking cycle and you realize you have more ribs left to cook than you have charcoal cooking time note it's ok to add a handful of charcoal. By adding charcoal you will restore the temperature of the grill. Keep in mind the restoration is not instantaneous as it will take at least 10 minutes to get a decent heat reading. Also, keep in mind you're at about 2-1/2 hours of cooking time at this point. Check the ribs for temperature. We are seeking an internal temperature of 170 degrees minimum. We like to cook our ribs closer to the 180 degrees but you can adjust as you see fit.

Now some have heard about the 3-2-1- process. We use that quite often and will describe it here.

The 3-2-1 process started about 15 or more years ago. It simply means grill openly for 3 hours, then grill in foil for 2 hours then rest for 1 hour. The grilling in foil adds your favorite mix of liquids because the process is designed to add steam and moisture back into the meat. We'll diverge just a bit from the standard process here by giving you an option. Option 1 in the 2 hour process you turn your ribs meat side down. Option 2 your leave your ribs meat side up.

The meat side down option will deliver a wetter more flavorful rib while the up version will deliver drier ribs with a more natural rib flavor. For the steaming liquid we like to us a mix of about 2 to 4 tablespoons each brown sugar, honey, pomegranate juice concentrate and orange juice poured and placed onto the foil then we place the ribs either Option 1 down or Option 2 Up before wrapping. We wrap the foil over the ribs being careful not to tear the foil. Then we place the ribs carefully back on the grill in the same area that they were originally cooked. We close the lid monitoring the temperature. Remember our start out temperature was the target of 225 degrees. After 2 hours of temperature management we remove the ribs and place the foiled unit in an enclosed area like a dry thermos cooler or oven with just a slight vent. The vent is necessary to allow heat to slowly release from the ribs. The air circulation also aids in reducing the condensation that will occur from moist, warm mean in a confined space.  

Following the 1 hour resting window we open the foil, remove the ribs and serve.

Let’s say you want to cook the very popular Dino sized beef ribs. Beef ribs of that size are going to take time and just the right amount of heat management. But no matter you’ve got your grill measurements marked, you have a good thermometer and you’ve properly seasoned your ribs with Jake's Famous Foods natural bbq rubs. Beef ribs require a higher cook temperature in the 275 degree range and will need to remain in that position for about 3 hours until their internal temperature reaches about 200 degrees. You’ll need an adequate amount of charcoal to cook for that long a period approximately 1/3 to a half a standard 15 pound bag of regular charcoal. To truly manage the vents and temperatures of any grill use only standard non treated charcoal.

Standard charcoal will allow you to evenly manage the heat cycle. That’s a lot to say, when actually what we mean is, if you use treated charcoal it burns faster and makes the heat harder to manage. Now, keep an eye on the vents and properly rest the meat once it has achieved the desired temperature. I think you'll find that the results are well worth the setup process

The process of BBQ Smoking and managing vents will require some skill. When using wood just keep in mind that the use will elevate the temperature up for a limited period as the wood is burned. Wood depending on the chunk size can increase the temperature somewhere around 10 to 15 degrees. The larger the wood chunk the longer the burn cycle and the greater the increase in temperature. I prefer using about 4 to 5 ounces of wood only. The small an amount of wood is enough to adequately smoke the meat without overpowering the taste. If you can get segments that are about 2 ounces each then spread them out across the charcoals. We've also used the dry wood and wet wood process.  The wet or soaked wood will provide more smoke and will not be as apt to raise the temperature of the grill.  

BBQ vents will traditionally work the same across all Weber grills. For those that do not have Weber grills the concepts are the same. The keys are just keeping an eye on the location of the vents, whether they are on the sides, or underneath only. If the vents are on the sides you’ll still want to focus on indirect cooking that allows the air to draw across the charcoal toward the meat. I would really perform a dry run with a charcoal chimney full of charcoal briquettes in the grill without meat. Just let the charcoal get to its perfect state with the coals completely ashed over.

Then start adjusting the controller side grill vents open or closed using the marking method that I described above. The process should be to layout the degree increments, then adjust the grill, wait about 5 minutes then adjust the vents again. Record the measurements before and after each time you adjust the grill. Once all the measurements are recorded including how long the charcoal lasts in the grill then it’s time to work on actual barbecue.

Exceptions and adjustments in the Charcoal Grill Vent heat management process. Sometimes try as we may we find that we just can’t get a handle on the management of temperatures around the grill. We believe we have the answer to the issue. It is entirely possible that somehow your lid or grill has either been damaged or warped and is not closing properly. An easy way to determine this is to add a piece of smoking wood to the charcoal then completely close the bottom vents. You’ll notice right away once the oxygen is removed the wood source will begin to smoke.

Note the locations of the smoke as it comes from around the grill. If the smoke only pours through the top vents then perfect your grill is fine. If the smoke pours from two or three spots besides the grill vent then you may need to tap the grill lid to make sealing adjustments. Now using remote thermometers with wires will cause a gap at the mating sections of the grill. This gap will cause you to open the vents an additional 5 degrees but this should be nominal overall. Try to spread the wires apart to balance out the gap. Remember, once you’ve figured out where your air losses are then you can design ways to compensate for the loss.

To help satisfy the BBQ urge we’ve built a boat load of BBQ Seasonings products that are in our BBQ Spice store and on the market right now and available when you shop natural BBQ sauce online and when your order bbq sauce online. Below we’ve listed our key six dry rubs and our standing of natural barbecue sauces. These all represent our basic stable of natural bbq rubs and sauces for sale.

Our finest BBQ rubs and sauces are available online on our website Jake's Famous Foods. See and shop natural bbq rubs and sauces online today. And speaking of condiments try our natural condiments below:

Now that you've received excellent instruction on How to use Charcoal Grill Vents Open or Closed,

You'll need some practice materials to get you going. And Right Now if you go to our SPECIALS PAGE you'll get 10% OFF pricing on our award winning dry rubs, sauces and seasonings. You'll Get that immediate 10% OFF when you use Jake's product savings at checkout.

Now that you've had a chance to learn How BBQ Charcoal Grill Vents Work take a look at our video on How we make BBQ Ribs below:

How To Make BBQ Ribs Using Your Grill Vents

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Pure Santa Maria 11 Oz   Tri Tip Steak Rib Rub 11 Oz

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