Perfection on the grill

Pineapple Satays with Coconut Caramel, Grilled Tri-Tip with Cuban Mojo Sauce, and more. Plus: our live-fire secrets


Gas is no big deal, because the heat stays steady. Charcoal or hardwood is a different game. Here are a few hints for staying on top of yours.

Keep the firegrate ash-free
A big pileup blocks the airflow, choking the fire so it can't burn.

Get to know your coals and how they burn
Start by following the directions on the package (seriously). Kingsford's new grooved coals, for instance, burn hotter and longer than the smooth kind, so a single layer of coals puts out a lot of heat. Hardwood charcoal pops and sizzles and burns unevenly, but gives great flavor.

Create an emergency cool spot
If your grill is big enough, leave an area of the firegrate free of coals. You'll typically use this cool spot at least once whenever you grill.

Measure the heat constantly
Use your grill's thermometer or, if it doesn't have one, your hand. Low heat (250° to 350°) means you can keep your hand 5 in. above the cooking grate for 8 to 10 seconds before you have to yank it away. For medium heat (350° to 450°), you can keep your hand steady for 5 to 7 seconds; for high (450° to 550°), 2 to 4 seconds; for very high (550° to 650°), 1 to 2 seconds.

Move your food around
Once you've identified which spot on the grill has the desired heat, get your food over there (often the emergency spot will have just the temperature you need, if only for a little while.) You may have to move food several times before it has finished cooking. The exception: food that cooks in a flash over a super-hot fire.

Manipulate the fire
Need it hotter? Push coals together or throw on a few more. Cooler? Separate the coals or cover the grill with the lid. Close lid vents to cool it off even more. (Don't close vents under the firegrate, though, or the fire will go out.)

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