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new to weber kettle grilling and can't get temp above 300

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I've been a gas griller for years but when I replaced the weber gas grill I went with the charcoal weber kettle grill. The test is MUCH better, but I am constantly struggling with getting the temp up to something worthy of actually cooking the food instead of dehydrating it.

It seems like once I take the food off in exasperation, then the darn thing heats up like a blast furnace.

So question:

(1) how to start the fire?
Currently I have a chimney that i put one newspaper piece in the bottom and fill the top with brickets...that gets going like a crazy blast furnace and I dump that in the center of the cooking grate.

(2) how to regulate...heat up...the brickets once they've started to cool off from the blast furnace chimney starter? I've tried all vents open and bottom vent open with top vent mostly closed. Neither work until I've grown frustrated, take everything off and then go microwave it so we can eat before bed time.

HELP...please...and thanks!

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  1. How large of a chimney fire starter are you using? I hope you're just not using enough charcoal. That's the only think I can come up with. You definitely want to have the top and bottom vents open to keep the coals hot. I usually pour the charcoal to one side instead of the center. That way you have a two stage fire that allows for a hot side and a cool side, although that doesn't seem to be as much of a problem. Are your coals just burning down too fast? If the charcoal heats up once you remove the food, it might be that you aren't leaving the coals in the fire starter long enough. They should be all grey and red underneath, not black at all.

    1. For starters I think you have (1) down pretty good, that is definately the best way to start coals. I have a Weber Smokey Mountain and that's the same procedure I use. So the problem seems like it must be (2). First off, the vent in the top should always be all the way open when you are trying to heat the grill. You only want to close it to really cool off the coals and then only after all else has failed. The more air that passes through the hotter the coals will get, so the vents on the bottom should start out open all the way and you can partially close them if you want to cool off the grill to let the heat soak into the food.

      Keep in mind with a charcoal grill, it takes a lot longer to get the coals up to cooking heat than it did to get your gas grill up to temperature, about a half hour after you dump the chimney. Also take a look at what charcoal you are using. Most grillers swear by Kingsford, this seems to be the standard by which all others are measured. They burn evenly and uniformly. Lump coals burn much differently and although they add some flavor, they are not uniform in how they burn. Depending on how much you are grilling, a chimney full may be all you need, or you may need to add extra coals, if so don't smother the coals from the chimney. My last piece of advice is to check the thermometer if there is one in the grill top, to make sure the temperature is correct. Another option for thicker cuts of meat is to insert a thermocouple with a remote read, I just put it in the top vent and then into the meat.

      Get that early start and you should have everything ready by dinner time easily.

      1 Reply
      1. re: mikie

        Good advice above. My sister-in-law, who normally has good sense, had the same problem. Just in case it's the same solution for you, OPEN ALL THE VENTS, top and bottom, and choke 'em down later. Without enough draw, napalm isn't going to burn much, either. It takes a few tries--or a thermometer--to get comfy with your finish heat, that's all.

      2. If you have a 22 inch grill and you scatter one chimney of hot coals across the center of the grate, I think they will be too spread out to retain the heat. I agree with piling them along one side of the grill. A smaller, more compact pile will deliver more concentrated heat and you will also have a "safety zone" (to borrow from Steven Raichlen) to move food over to if you get any flare-ups. Also, all vents should be wide open to allow air in to feed the fire.

        1. Oh, one other thing if you're new to starting charcoal with a chimney: Don't wait to pour into the BBQ until all the briquets show ash. I usually pour as soon as there is a good visible flame coming out of the chimney top. If you pile in one place, the BBQ and grate will be preheated and all coals caught fire about the time you want full heat. If you wait to pour until all the "bricks" are ashen, you may be hurting yourself by using mostly spent coals by the time you're ready to cook.

          2 Replies
          1. re: kaleokahu

            Yeah, I thought of that as I wrote my post, however he was saying that his coals got real hot much later after he lost patience and took the food off the grill. That told me that he was not waiting long enough and that the coals were not ready yet when he attempted to grill over them.

            1. re: John E.

              Maybe so. What say you, nang? Been out there 'sperimentin'?

              But... "he was saying that his coals got real hot much later after he lost patience and took the food off the grill" might also mean... "he lost patience [with his poorly drawing fire] and took the [lid and] food off the grill [whereupon the fire drew like it's supposed to]." Or maybe nang was like the guy in the glasses commercial who mistook the dog food for the bricks.

              I'm sure this has the combustion scientists at Webber University all confused. A real mystery wrapped in a conundrum. ':

          2. I too think you are not using enough charcoal. I am a huge fan of the Weber chimney starter--it is bigger and faster than any other starter. Also, if you are using Kingsford charcoal check to see if it is "competion" briquets. This is something new this year which I bought at Costco and they burn much faster than regular Kingsford briquets. If I am cooking a whole chicken I have to add more coals & I never had to add with the regular (blue bag) Kingsford. I hate the competition ones.

            1. I use a "chefmate" chimney I picked up at target...it holds about a gallon milk jugs worth of brickets. I use the Kingsford. I don't let them sit after I've dumped them, generally because they are a raging inferno by the time I do dump them. In the past I had a problem with running out of coals, but most recently, I figured out that if I grill without the top on I get a nice hot fire, so I must not be letting them get hot enough?

              And btw, I'm a lady griller. :)

              11 Replies
              1. re: nang

                Is that your grill in the picture? If so, I thought that model had a built-in propane starter so why the chimney starter too?

                1. re: Philly Ray

                  Yes, that is my grill. I tried starting just with the propane but it took nearly a half hour to get the darn bricketts going and so now, I just use the chimney starter with a piece of newspaper in the bottom and fire up the propane and with a click and about five minutes and the chimney starter is going to town. Turn off the propane and watch those little things turn into an inferno...dump them out and then poooofffff...no heat...

                2. re: nang

                  Ok, here's another thought: Do you live in a humid part of the country? Are you either using totally fresh briquets or keeping them in a sealed container after opening? Briquets (even in a rolled-up bag) have a propensity to pull moisture out of the air, and even though they may light up OK, old briquets can be slow and low burners. If I even leave a partially empty rolled bag outdoors overnight, I can tell the difference.

                  Can you tell us whether the briquets in your chimney are grey all over before you pour?

                  Pardon the presumption that you were a man.

                  1. re: kaleokahu

                    no worries on presuming I was man, just wanted to point you in the right direction. And yes, I live in Kansas where the humidty this year has been upwards of 75% all summer. My bricquets are stored in the little trashcan like thing on the side of the grill. Works great, but I would suspect they draw in moisture.

                    1. re: kaleokahu

                      Oh, and I forgot...I tried waiting until they were all gray before I pour out the briquets but then they didn't last and I was trying to figure out how to add more without dumping the food off the grill...so now I wait until they are gray on the "corners" and a little bit on the sides and then dump them. Believe me, I'm charcoal challenged...but also very determined.

                      1. re: nang

                        I haven't read down to the bottom yet, but here's what works for us- use two sheets of newspaper, not one, fill the chimney full to the top, open the bottom vents, and- important! don't do what I did and try to start the paper on fire with a butane torch, it burns too much newspaper too fast. Use a match or lighter.

                        1. re: nang

                          Just a few notes Weber sells a grill top that has hinged ends you can lift to add more coals. The Weber chimney I belive is bigger (more charcoal) than the Chefmate. I also only use lump charcoal. The bricquets have so much filler as they burn you end up with a pile of sand that seems to put out the coals . lump ash is like powder.

                      2. re: nang

                        The Weber chimney is the largest on the market, this would give you some more hot coals to start with, so they should last a bit longer. That aside, I still think you don't have enough air flow based on your comments above. I have actually choked off the air and had the charcoal to the point I thought it was out, picked them up by hand, put them in a bucket where they got air and in about a half hour they were once again red hot. They need air, that's why when you take the lid off they burn hot. I'm not familiar with the vents on that particular model, but start out with vents full open, and then use them to control the temperature. If you are cooking a lot of food, you may want to lay out some brickets under the ones from the chimney starter, just give them some time to light, or try two chimneys full. I'm convinced you just don't have enough air circulation to keep the coals going, you're going to have to figure out the vents. Good luck.

                        1. re: mikie

                          I did a little checking and if the grill you have is the one in the picture, then here's the vent system: You should have a top vent with three holes, this rotates to open or close the holes, this should be open fully when grilling. Then you have a bottom vent just above the ash pit, the lever should move from left to right from closed to open, counter clockwise. There should be icons illistrating this. I would start out with this fully open, then give the coals some time to really get going. That's probably the biggest frustration of switching from glass to coals, you have to wait longer for the grill to be "ready for cooking". My son has the same grill but without the nice cart/table arrangement.

                          1. re: mikie

                            so far, I have had both sets of dampers WIDE OPEN...but obviously not getting enough airflow...*sigh*. I cleaned out the ash collector (ga_ROSS) and that didn't help either. I'm seriously considering going topless for a bit.

                            1. re: nang

                              Topless is great for burgers, but it isn't the best way to grill much beyond hot dogs. For any serious grilling including steaks or pork chops or chicken, you need to be able to hold the heat in so you're doing mroe than a camp fire. Ideally you want to sear the outside and then heat the inside to the desired level of doneness. You can't do that with the top off the grill.

                      3. Yeah---why are you using a chimney if you have the propane starter? Also, did you check if your Kingsford briquets are the "competition" ones or the regular ones?

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: sparkareno

                          They are the regular ones, not competition. I'm going to give it another go this weekend. And I'm going to dump the coals on the side, not the middle...and I'm going to add some coals on which to dump the other coals...sure seems like I'm using a ton of coals. :0 I think it is the airflow...and in the gas grilling it was important to keep the lid closed so the food would cook. I'm beginning to think I should try cooking for a while with NO lid to get the hang of it???

                          1. re: nang

                            "I'm beginning to think I should try cooking for a while with NO lid to get the hang of it???"

                            I say NO with a qualification. If there's fire coming out of the top your chimney before you pour (before they all turn grey) and all the vents are wide open, you should be fine cooking with the lid on for most everything except a wok. You're typically going to need some "oven effect" even if it's steaks you're grilling.

                            The qualification is, you can leave the lid off and cook directly over the coals while (and until) you sear your meat, THEN move the meat away and pop the lid back on to finish. With a nice hot fire to one side, what experience will teach you is when--and how far from the coals--to move the meat when you put the cover on.

                            Keep up the good work and report back now, y'hear? You go, nang! Next step is Dutch Oven cooking in a campfire.

                            1. re: kaleokahu

                              i light my grills with heavy duty gloves, safety googles and a bernzomatic torch and mapp gas. i hit two places close to the center for about 20-25 seconds each and about five spots for a hot and fast cook. different types of charcoal will be quicker or slower. some will spark. i use cowboy and royal oak hardwood lump for hot and fast and wicked good weekend warrior for my slow and low.

                              1. re: kaleokahu

                                I agree- you may be intimidated by the grill (I was once). Thrash it. Make it y our own. Have grill-savvy people over and have them explain to you. You will be the master.

                          2. I know it sounds expensive to have to use a lot of coals but you can reuse them. When you take your food off, immediately close all the vents and spread out the coals if you can. Put the lid on (sometimes I spray a little water on the coals too) and the fire will burn out & you can just add those burned down briquets to your next fire.

                            13 Replies
                            1. re: sparkareno

                              DAMN. I guess you're never too old to learn something...

                              I have a really well-made, heavy steel (well casing) Texas Pit that is -nigh airtight when the vents, lid and stack cover are closed off. Are you saying I can spread the coals, choke it off completely, and then RE-USE some fuel? If this is true, THANK YOU, because it will spare me hauling, firing,and wasting a lot of good Hawai'ian kiawe wood.

                              My Webber's vents are so cheap and loosey-goosey, I have no confidence of choking the fire out.

                              1. re: kaleokahu

                                yep--I do it on my Weber every time. Obviously the coals have burned down some but it sure stretches the life out of them. When I have cooked a whole chicken there is not much left but if I am only cooking a steak or something that doesn't take long I hate to waste all that money. Spread them as much as you can, spray a little with water bottle & choke off all air.

                                1. re: sparkareno

                                  Sparkareno: You're kidding, right? SPRAY THEM WITH WATER and re-use them? I can't even get charcoal left outside in dry weather to burn properly because of the humidity they soak up. Where do you live, Death Valley?

                                  But next time I use the Texas Pit, I'll give it a try. Nothing lost in any case. I'll be AMAZED if there's anything left above the grate.

                                  1. re: kaleokahu

                                    LOL. no, I live in Cal where we don't have much humidity. Besides a light spray of water on HOT burning coals is not going to keep them damp. It takes a little while for the fire to burn out---I think this just speeds it up.
                                    Where do you live? A rain forest? :)

                                    1. re: sparkareno

                                      Pretty much sometimes. Somewhat like in S. Palin's case, I can SEE a rainforest from my house--I live in NW Washington.

                                      Oh, I know about knocking the coals back a bit with a spritz while cooking, just didn't know the water would help save it when you choke if off entirely. The water must cook off 99.whatever% to be able to get the stuff re-lit, dontcha think?

                                      1. re: kaleokahu

                                        Just make sure their out before you put them back in the bag and in the garage next to the lawn mower ;) Poof, there ya go!

                                        1. re: kaleokahu

                                          Yep..works for me. Plus I assume you are not going to be starting another fire for at least 24 hours so they have a chance to dry out. Maybe with your rain schedule you won't be grilling for weeks at a time!

                                          1. re: sparkareno

                                            Nah, I grill regularly--in my Goretex, waxed canvas undies and rebreather. So I'm gonna go do some 'sperimentin soon.

                                            Round here, charcoal doesn't dry out past a certain point--it just crumbles. You CAN mix it in about 1:5 with the fresh/dry to burn, but it slows down the fire a bit.

                                            1. re: kaleokahu

                                              water on coals in most climates renders them useless for future apps unless you want mushy ash in the bottom that hardens like plaster. most Weber's vents seal up so well that the fire is out in 15 minutes. water destroys the whole point of charcoal (dehydrated wood by-product)

                                              but it makes for a good pigment base mixing handmade paints...

                                  2. re: kaleokahu

                                    when i close the vents on my big green eggs, for whatever reason, the coals go right out and are easily re-lit for a second use after a bit of stirring to knock the ash off. after the second time, i usually stir them a bit more and add a bit more lump.

                                    1. re: deepsouth

                                      They must be soaked with Corexit. ;)

                                  3. re: sparkareno

                                    My husband left the charcoal in place and just added more on top for the next grilling session. Problem we found is that the old coals have a rotten smell to them because the fat from the burgers soaked into the old ones. It was rank. We now toss the old charcoal and start new.

                                  4. This might sound strange but I Increase the heat of my kettle grill by putting a couple of soup cans, on one top of the other and opened both ends, over the top vent. This gives a chimney effect and greatly increases the temperature.

                                    Any lightweight pipe about a foot long or so and wide enough to cover the vent will work. The chimney creates a suction which makes the charcoal burn hotter with the lid closed.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: jrmbth

                                      "Any lightweight pipe" - but not PVC!

                                      as somebody else posited (I know this is an old thread) it may be a hesitance to use charcoal.

                                    2. Been cooking on a Weber kettle for many decades. Unless it's something that needs more than 1/2 hour cook time, like chicken, I only put the lid on if the flames get too out of hand. I'm grilling, not baking or roasting.
                                      Build a multi zone cook zone so you can adjust, part with two layers of charcoal, part with one and one with none for indirect cooking.
                                      I find for two steaks or burgers, I don't even need to fill the Weber chimney 100%.
                                      Always leave the bottom vents open, partially close the top ones if it's too hot and you're cooking with lid on.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: saeyedoc

                                        I find myself with too many briquets often when grilling on our Weber. Just when the steaks or burgers are done is when the fire is at it's best. I will frequently have some marinated chicken thighs on hand to cook for a future meal after done with the grilling.