Tuesday, May 4, 2010

How Do Grill Vents Really Work?

Although there are millions of kettle type grills in the world very few people actually know what the air vents are for or how to use them.  Here's a short primer on just what they do and how to use them. 

With a charcoal grill, air circulation keeps the coals burning. 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. Fire needs oxygen to burn and thus cook your food.  Opening the vents will allow more oxygen availability to be drawn into the kettle for cooking.  Managing the amount of flame and heat is relatively easy.  If the food is cooking too fast, lower the heat by closing the vents a bit. To raise the heat, open the vents to let in more air. While preheating the grill, keep the bottom vents open 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. Enough can't be said about keeping the bottom of the grill clean.  The amount of air flow and thus the amount of even cooking is determine by an even amount of air into the grill.  If the bottom grill vents are blocked by debris this may cause poorly burned charcoal and worse yet unevenly cooked food.  

When you're finished cooking, close the vents completely to snuff out the fire (do not pour water into the grill).

With a gas grill, leave the lid closed at all times in order to maintain temperature. Gas grills work best with the lid closed during cooking, so that the heat circulates around the food. 

Keep in mind that a windy day will make a charcoal grill a bit hotter (because it will oxygenate the coals), while a gas grill will run slightly cooler. Choosing a location that's sheltered from strong winds can help maintain grill temperature. 

Ensure that there is reasonable clearance between the back of the grill and any volatile surfaces like houses, plastic tables, plants and animals.  

It's also a good idea to test the vents in different positions when grilling.  Keep in mind the settings may need to be changed depending on the type of meat to be cooked and the time it takes to cook it. 

Happy Grilling!