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Grilling Question

I have been grilling for countless years on a Weber 22 1/2" kettle and it seems that no matter what I am grilling, be it steaks, hamburgers, chicken, the coals get so hot that the outside quickly gets charred while the inside is not cooked through. I find it almost impossible to get decent grill marks because the outside seems to char so quickly. Putting the lid in does not seem to help because things like burgers, steak or chicken breasts cook so quickly, it's hard to keep the lid on for any length of time. I try to keep a cooler spot on the grill but that's not always possible if you are cooking a lot of food. Can anyone tell me the hell I am doing wrong?

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  1. FYI - PBS Create is running Steve Raichlen 's barbeque shows round the clock until 6a.m. Sunday. If you want more grilling ideas you may want to tune in. They repeat in 6hr blocks at 6pm and midnight. I don't grill but it sounds like you need to use less charcoal/wood.

    1. you're not doing anything wrong bakerboy, it's just like anything else, getting it just right is hard.
      I love my Weber and have used it for everything.
      a few secrets about using it that I'm sure you know but I'll say anyway.
      with chicken, any kind of chicken, bone in or boneless, if you want it grill marked but still have that great bbq flavor, spread out the coals and use fewer. gather a few more close together in the middle so you can move the chicken there to get the marks, but leave any sugary sauce off until you're almost done grilling because that sugar will burn every time. indirect cooking/grilling method works well too.
      meats, burgers, steaks, thick ham slices or the like, indirect is wonderful. wonder if you have the 'fences' that go on the side of the rack on the bottom so you put the coals to the far left and the far right behind the fence. cook your meat in the middle of the rack with the coals heating food up from the sides, a more even control of the cooking time.

      zap your steak or burgers or whatever first, quickly on top of the hot coals to get the marks, then move the coals to the indirect method behind the fences and finish cooking time there with grill marks now in place and no longer trying to achieve those pesky things without overcooking or burning.

      1. Thank you both for the answers. I actually have several of Steve Raichlen's books. My 1st cooking class was with Steve about 30 years ago in Cambridge, MA, when he was the food editor and reviewer for Boston Magazine. I just pulled out his book, "How to Grill" (which was a gift to me and I have never opened). Steve recommends a 3 zone fire: one section of the grill has a double layer of coals for a hotter fire and searing; the center of the grill has one layer of coals for a medium hot fire and then one end of the grill has no coals for the least hot or "safe zone" as he calls it. To sear, you would obviously start in the hottest zone and then move the meat to the center or the medium zone and then basically move the meat back and forth between zones as needed. He also gives good information on when to place the food on the cooking grid and also how to use your hand placed 4" over the cooking grid to determine how hot your fire is. Both Greygarious and iL Divo are correct, I have been using way too many coals and the fire is just getting too hot. I think I just need to use less coals and try the 3 zone fire that Steve talks about. Thank you both. For as long as I have been cooking and grilling you think I would have figured that out by now!

        1. I try to keep a cooler spot on the grill but that's not always possible if you are cooking a lot of food.

          That's your problem right there.

          Don't overcrowd your grill.

          Keep different heat zones -- hot and warm.

          When putting food on the cooking zone (e.g. hot zone) place the food -- whatever it might be -- so that there is at least 1 inch of space between each item. You want to grill, not steam your meats. This is especially true for things like steaks.

          Now, if you are cooking things that are very thin (like pre-formed hamburger patties) and you find they overcook on the inside without allowing for grill marks to show on the exterior, then try freezing them for about 1/2 hour before putting them on the grill.

          1. Sounds like you already know what the problem is. Not enough space to get what you need from the temperature gradient. Either cook in batches or you need a larger grill when doing larger quantities.

            1. One method i use on occasion is cooking on two different levels.
              In addition to the original cooking grate that came with the Weber, I have another grate that has a smaller diameter. The smaller grate (which is slightly bigger than the charcoal grate) sits much closer to the coals and is used for a quick searing. The food (usually steaks with this method) is then transferred to the bigger grate that sits further away from the coals.
              If allowed to get hot enough before putting your food on, the lower grate will produce grill marks for certain.

              1. I would try closing the bottom vent a little. It sounds like your fire is getting too much fuel (ie air).

                1. Start with a clean grill....
                  Build a two zone fire....Charcoal only on one side.. less than 1/2. None on the other side.
                  Bottom vents wide open....Top Vents Wide open and over the meat.
                  Grill your meat for a short few minutes 2 or 3? (Hard to know how hot your fire is) Rotate the meat 45* for another couple of minutes....Now "flip"/turn the meat....Grill....rotate 45* for a couple of more minutes ~~ Place the meat on the cool/non charcoal side of grill....
                  Shut down bottom vents to about 25%...more or less...
                  Leave top vents wide open ...and over the food on the non charcoal side.....
                  Use a thermometer to check for doneness

                  1. If it's grill marks you want, make sure your grate is amply preheated. At least 5-10 minutes should do the trick. Actual charring should only happen over high direct heat.

                    You mention a number of different foods that require very different grilling techniques. For burgers, the quickest-cooking of the foods you mention, have you tried 90 seconds per side over direct heat with a really hot grate and then just finishing with the burgers on the other side with the lid on for maybe 5-8 minutes? (When I do this, I don't have any coals at all on the cool side of the grill. The lid contains the heat to create an oven effect. But don't keep lifting that lid!)

                    Good luck!

                    13 Replies
                    1. re: Bada Bing

                      For steak do not put it on cold, leave it out until room temp. No way it can cook properly when it is cold because the outside will char and the inside will never catch up.

                      1. re: otps

                        No way it can cook properly when it is cold because the outside will char and the inside will never catch up.



                        Sometimes that's the only way to get a nice crust and leave the inside nice and rare -- the way some people like it.

                        1. re: ipsedixit

                          Some even pop them in the freezer for a short while before grilling to keep the inside rare while developing a nice crust.

                          1. re: ipsedixit

                            That's my take on it. In addition, mine are so loosely formed that they need to stay in the fridge to remain firmed up. And, yes, we like them rare.

                            1. re: ipsedixit

                              Read what the OP said about charred outside and center undercooked, then you may understand my post.

                              1. re: otps

                                Yes ispe. Please "connect the dots" for me. I like med. rare or rarer. For me there's nothing that's "charred outside and center undercooked." I don't believe OP has said how s/he likes their burger.

                                1. re: c oliver

                                  "I am grilling, be it steaks, hamburgers, chicken, the coals get so hot that the outside quickly gets charred while the inside is not cooked through."
                                  That is what the OP posted and I responded to that. What does your loosely formed refrigerated burger have to with it.
                                  For me there's nothing that's "charred outside and center undercooked."
                                  Once again, what does that have to do with the OP.

                                  1. re: otps

                                    I guess I was replying to the fact that you think it can't cook properly fresh from the fridge. Did I get that wrong?

                                    1. re: c oliver

                                      No you didn't, my point is if the outside cooks too fast, and you are using a hot surface a room temp steak works well.
                                      My favorite way for steak is my old cast iron pan on the gas stove top with some salt and pepper on each side, slap it down for a couple of minutes on each side, a piece of buttered toast and that is it.

                                      1. re: otps

                                        And I say that my meat cooks so fast on the outside that the inside is beautifully rare. That's my preferenc.

                                        1. re: c oliver

                                          Sounds like you and the OP grill the same way...just the OP doesn't prefer it that way and wants help.

                                    2. re: otps

                                      Yes, this has gotten off topic and has nothing to do with the OP.

                                      I think it is about not having a fire on one side of the grill, then timing after the move to the "cool side". To some people, it seems wrong to move food to a spot on a grill that is not under fire. But this is what makes the difference.

                                      Sounds like the OP is trying to cook too much, too fast. If a well done (yet juicy) center is what is desired, then the best bet is an instant read thermometer. It takes the guess work out of it, until you are confident enough to not need it.

                                  2. re: otps

                                    Read what the OP said about charred outside and center undercooked, then you may understand my post.

                                    I did. And I am just saying that you are incorrect.

                            2. I have grilled for more than 50 years, and have never understood the romance with grill marks.
                              A steak with a uniform nice brown crust and medium rare in center, to me, is perfect. I use only a Weber and real charcoal. Get hot fire and sear steak over it on each side, then move to a cooler part of the grill and put the cover on. With burgers, I build a slower (cooler) fire and sear a little then put cover on. Chicken needs a much slower fire and is more difficult.

                              1. One big problem is that Kingsford reworked their charcoal in 2006 and again this year to make it yet hotter. This is fine, I suppose, for those who like meats rare to medium rare.

                                Use less charcaol over to one side. Put the lid on to heat the grate. Let the meat come to room temp. Go lid off to get grill marks on each side. Move to the cooler side and cook off to desired doneness on burgers or steak. For chicken, then offset to one side only and cook chicken on the cool side. Use the vents to damp down the heat a lot.

                                I am an outdoor cooking writer and have grilled and made barbecue for 35 plus yrs. Kingsford was spot on, but they have ramped up the heat so much now that I'm playing with store brands. It's seldom that I need extreme heat, and the Kingsford charcoal now is in the extreme range.

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: CyndiA

                                  Interesting. What about using less? I mean, spreading it out more?

                                  1. re: sedimental

                                    You could do that, but the charcoal burns out super fast as well. And, it still burns real hot even when spread thin. So, you have real high heat and then it's gone - poof. This is the new 2010/2011 Kingsford charcoal.

                                    I'm finding that the store brands work better on charcoal grills than Kingsford, and I've used Kingsford for years and years. They appear to be responding to the natural lump charcoal shift. Natural lump does burn hot and slow but not as hot as the new Kingsford (and the new Kingsford is gone much faster).

                                    1. re: CyndiA

                                      I make my own charcoal (in my wood fire oven and my fire pit) but I also add a little store bought. Good to know about Kingsford.

                                      1. re: sedimental

                                        I write about grilling and outdoor cooking and write for the general public. I have about 30 grills now and do all types. Charcoal was my first love.

                                2. Oh my gosh. So many Weber experiences here. Like doing massive charcoal loads, putting on the lid to cool the coals down a little, coming back to load meat, lifting the lid, getting my eyebrows singed off.

                                  The half-side charcoal load works well for initial browning, then transfer your piece to the empty side and adjust your input and output ports to slow cook. Depending on the settings, the indirect heat will create an oven temp that will additionally brown your pieces of steak, pork, chicken.

                                  After 37 years using Webers, I'm thinking of getting a Primo Kamado unit. What I probably should do is have a custom-constructed firebrick BBQ with thecrank and chain-control grill height adjustment That's a darned good design.

                                  Weber is nice though. The other day, remodeling. construction crew was in (here in hinterland Kansas) and I was grilling split-in-half lobsters--they had never seen that before. The bugs were totally tasty.

                                  I've done hickory-smoked turkey and ribs and and prime rib cooked indirect on a 22.5 Weber. Tasty. It isn't perfect, but it is pretty versatile. I got a "replacement" a few years ago, only 18 was available. Not as good as 22.5.

                                  I've cooked steaks on (somebody else's) big Ranch model, for 16 people. It was good. I didn't burn my eyrebrows off because I already learned that lesson.