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Why Won’t My Charcoal Grill Get Hot?

Cooking over hot coals isn’t a new concept by any stretch of the imagination.  In fact, the first modern charcoal grill was designed in the 1950’s – and many delicious meals have been cooked on charcoal grills since.

While charcoal grilling is a simple concept, that doesn’t mean it’s always smooth sailing.  Sometimes the fuel may not be cooperating how you’d like it to, leaving you asking the question: why won’t my charcoal get hot?

In this article, we’ve compiled the top reasons to your question of why won’t my charcoal grill get hot.  We’ve also made a checklist of things to look out for the next time you fire up the grill to ensure that your food gets the proper amount of heat.

Why Won’t My Charcoal Grill Get Hot?  Top Reasons

Here are a couple of the most common reasons that you might not be able to get your coals up to temperature:

Your Grill Isn’t Clean

Improper clean up can become an issue for your grill and prevent you from achieving the sort of results you want on future cooks.  Specifically with charcoal grills, the issue comes when you don’t thoroughly clean ash out of your grill after use.  You should clean your grill’s grates and remove ash after every single time you cook – it takes less than 5 minutes and will greatly increase your cooker’s performance over time.

Ash in your cooking chamber will clog your ventilation system and make it almost impossible for your charcoal to stay lit.  A clean grill means proper flow of air, which in turn allows for you to create a strong fire to cook over.

Charcoal Quality

Purchasing a quality bag of charcoal can make all of the difference.  No matter whether you’re using lump charcoal or briquettes,  properly made charcoal can make all of the difference.  Cost slashing, corner cutting brands will tend to make a charcoal that’s hard to light, difficult to keep lit, and less consistent than stronger brands.

On a similar note, poorly made charcoal tends to ash quite a bit.  As you’ve now learned, lots of ash only makes your work more difficult and leads to more clean up.  Higher quality charcoal will produce far less ash and burn more consistently.

Are Your Dampers Open?

The answer to why won’t my charcoal grill get hot might be a simple one.  Most charcoal grills are designed with dampers on the bottom of the grill and on the top lid.  These dampers are there to help you control airflow through your cooker.

When you’re preheating a charcoal grill, it’s crucial to keep your dampers wide open.  This way, maximum oxygen can be fed to the coals while they ignite and heat up into a fire.  If your grill won’t get hot, make sure the dampers are open wide.

Other Reasons Your Charcoal Grill Might Not Be Getting Hot

Here are a few more less likely but still possible reasons that you could be having trouble getting your cooker up to temperature:

You Aren’t Lighting Your Coals the Right Way

Nowadays, there really isn’t a great excuse for not having a charcoal chimney starter.  These contraptions typically cost less than 20 bucks and make lighting your coals extremely easy.  All you do is load the coals up, use a little bit of paper at the bottom of the starter to ignite a flame, then sit back for about 15 minutes as your coals ignite and the fire works it’s way vertically through the cylinder.

If you aren’t using a charcoal chimney starter, you could simply be going about starting your fire the wrong way.  Nowadays it’s not advised to use lighter fluid or other chemicals to get your fire going.  You just don’t want that stuff near anything that is going to cook your food.

The other alternative is to use an electric charcoal starter, which are a little bit more dangerous to use but can definitely still get the job done.

Your Thermometer Doesn’t Work

One of the consistently inconsistent pieces of equipment across all types of grills and smokers is the built in lid thermometer.  For some reason, many manufacturer’s just don’t get it right, or they view the lid thermometer as a cost saving opportunity in the construction process.

Unfortunately, that means that many grills have lid thermometers that stink, for lack of a better term.  So it’s quite possible that your fire is burning plenty hot, but you’re just getting a bad reading from your thermometer.

The solution is to get a third party thermometer and compare that reading with the reading of your lid temperature gauge.  Personally, I just use one of my probes on my probe thermometer set up to measure the ambient temperature of the grill.

Damp, Old, or Reused Charcoal

You could have purchased quality charcoal but as charcoal ages, it loses its ability to ignite quickly and burn consistently.  The same goes for charcoal that might have gotten damp or if you’re trying to reuse charcoal from a previous cook.

Your best bet is to use fresh charcoal that has been opened within a couple of weeks.  You can also extend the life of your charcoal by storing it in an airtight container and placing it in a dark room in between cooks.

Altitude

If you happen to live in an area around 5,000 or more feet above sea level, you might naturally have trouble getting your fire started even if you’re doing everything right.  The atmosphere begins to lose oxygen at these heights, so it becomes an uphill battle to get your fire lit and burning strong.

Unfortunately there isn’t a silver bullet to building a charcoal fire in the altitude.  The best advice we can give is to make sure your dampers are all the way open and your grill is extra clean to ensure maximum air flow for the fire.

Final Thoughts

If you came into this article asking “why won’t my charcoal grill get hot?”, hopefully one of these solutions helps to get you well on your way to a hot grill!  Most of the time, proper grill care, cleaning, and using your ventilation system properly will get the job done.

If you need some tips on how to put out the charcoal safely after you’ve gotten it nice and hot, check out our guide on that topic right here.

Still having trouble getting your charcoal grill hot?  Let us know about it in the comments section below and we’ll do our best to help out!