Charcoal grills are a classic form of outdoor cooking, but they occasionally experience heating problems. If your charcoal grill won’t light or stay warm, don’t head to the store to get a new one just yet.
If your charcoal grill isn’t getting hot enough, these are the likely causes:
- Not enough charcoal
- Clogged air vents
- Old, worn charcoal
- Broken thermometer
- The lid isn’t closed
- Broken vents
- Water in the charcoal
- Low-end charcoal
- High-altitude makes grilling harder
- Not enough firestarter
Throughout this article, we’ll explain every issue that could make your charcoal grill have low-heat issues. We’ll also provide detailed solutions for each issue, letting you get back to your favorite grilling method in no time.
Not Enough Charcoal in the Grill
Perhaps the most common reason some charcoal grills don’t get hot enough is that there’s not enough charcoal. You can use wood charcoal or briquettes, but they both need to have a substantial amount in the grill. It’s important to have enough charcoal layered in the grill for even, reliable heating.
One way to know if there’s enough charcoal is if you can see the bottom. You should never be able to see the metal underside of the grill beneath the charcoal. However, different meals require different amounts of charcoal.
How to Fix
Keep these things in mind when figuring how much charcoal you need to use:
- One layer of charcoal is perfectly fine for quick-cooking foods, including hot dogs, thin burgers, fruits, and vegetables.
- Two layers of charcoal will work for steak, thick burgers, and ribs.
- The only time you need more than two layers of charcoal is if you’re cooking lots of thick meats, such as ribs and steak side by side.
Some grills need more charcoal layers if the charcoal isn’t high-quality. Briquettes are quite reliable for layering in the majority of grills. They’re also quite inexpensive and easy for beginners to get used to.
Ashes and Debris Clogged the Airflow
Own the Grill explains that many of us forget to clean our charcoal grills. The fire inside of the grill requires oxygen to stay lit and maintain the ambient temperature. If the vents are clogged, or there’s too much debris around the edges, the heating will be subpar. Check each of the vents before grilling to prevent this from happening.
Debris inside of a charcoal grill comes from burning the charcoal, lighter fluid, and food drippings. It’s natural, but you’ll need to take a few minutes to clean the inside and outside of the grill to keep it in good grilling condition.
How to Fix
Follow this step-by-step guide to fix your grill’s clogged airflow:
- Remove the grill grates and charcoal from inside the grill.
- Wipe the sides of the grill with a wet sponge to get rid of as much ash and debris as possible.
- Use a grill brush on the entire interior of your charcoal grill.
- Scrub the grill’s vents to remove the gunk that’s built up over time.
- Replace all the charcoal and grates, open the vents, toss in some lighter fluid, and test the grill.
This simple solution helps your grill stay hot by bringing enough oxygen into the equation. It can also improve the flavor of your food and make it taste less ashy.
Old Charcoal Doesn’t Burn Well
You can use charcoal a couple of times if it’s not covered in ashes and debris. However, trying to get too many uses out of the same batch of wood charcoal or briquettes will result in a lukewarm grill. It’ll get slightly hotter than the exterior temperature, but it won’t stay hot enough to cook anything inside of it.
How to Fix
The only solution to dealing with old charcoal is to get new charcoal. Letting the bag stay open for too long or trying to reuse worn charcoal won’t keep the grill hot enough. It might seem like it’s saving time or money, but you’ll end up spending a lot longer at the grill than you should’ve.
To know if your charcoal is too old to use, check if it’s white, flakey, or brittle. If it’s falling apart or covered in ash, it’s time to remove it and swap it with a new layer of charcoal. Briquettes tend to get ashier, but they last as long as charcoal lumps.
The thermometer or thermostat on a charcoal grill is supposed to tell you how warm it is inside. If it’s showing false readings, you might think it’s hot enough to cook. It’s important to check your thermometer regularly; Otherwise, you might undercook the food and make it unsafe to eat. A low-end thermometer can still get the job done.
How to Fix
The best way to deal with a broken charcoal grill thermometer is to get a new one. Use a separate thermometer to know if it’s accurate. If you think it’s reading correctly, but the inside of the grill isn’t hot, you should try a new one.
The DOZYANT Two-Inch Grill Thermometer can be used in grills, ovens, smokers, and more. Mount it inside of the grill and check it whenever you open the lid. It’s an accurate, surefire tool to know if your charcoal grill is getting hot enough.
The Grill’s Lid Isn’t Closed
Grilling with an open lid is like cooking in a slow cooker without its cover; You won’t cook your food nearly as quickly. Your grill should be open when you’re checking the food or letting it cool down. You might also grill without a lid if you’re cooking quick foods, such as hot dogs and hamburgers.
Some charcoal grills take longer to heat up than others. The general rule remains the same: Layer your charcoal on the bottom, add some firestarter to the charcoal, and close the lid until it heats up. Charcoal often takes too long to heat when the lid is off.
How to Fix
Leave the grill closed if it’s cold, windy, or rainy outside. You should also close the lid when cooking thick cuts of meat or other foods that you don’t want to get covered with pollen or dust. The heat gets trapped inside of the charcoal grill, cooking your food more evenly and much quicker than if you left it off.
Some charcoal grills have O-ring seals going around the lid’s edge. Check this seal to ensure it’s intact and hugs the bottom portion of the grill. This seal provides a barrier from the cold air outside of the grill.
Closed or Damaged Vents
Bon Appetit claims your charcoal grill’s vents could be responsible for the heating issues. For example, when the vents are closed, there’s no place for oxygen to get inside. Without enough oxygen, the fire will burn out, and all you’ll be left with is a bunch of semi-hot charcoal.
Charcoal grill vents are some of the most essential and overlooked parts of the grill. Make sure they’re not rusted shut after a heavy rain. Corrosion can wreak havoc on the grill’s vents, preventing them from hinging open or closed.
How to Fix
Try these recommendations to fix closed or damaged charcoal grill vents:
- Open the vent if it’s good to go. This step will let in more oxygen to fuel the flame.
- If the vent doesn’t open, use a stiff grill brush inside of the vent to loosen the debris. Too many drippings or ashes can hold the vent shut.
- Spray a rust inhibitor on the vents’ hinges. Make sure you clean the chemicals off of the grill when you’re done.
- If necessary, contact the grill’s manufacturer about getting new vents. The vent flaps can wear down, so they need to be replaced to let you control the interior ventilation.
Wet, Worn Charcoal
Charcoal is supposed to get hot and burn, but it won’t get anywhere if it’s soaked. Leaving the bag of briquettes or wood charcoal open during a rainstorm can cause severe grilling issues. Humidity can also lead to low-heat problems since the charcoal will be slightly damp when you want to grill.
Worn charcoal typically refers to charcoal that’s been tossed around or stored improperly. It crumbles apart or dries out, making it practically useless for grilling. Contrary to proper grilling etiquette, you shouldn’t toss a bag of charcoal around on the cement next to the grill. Set it down to keep it in the same shape and durability.
How to Fix
Wet charcoal is a huge issue. Unfortunately, the only solution is to get a new batch of charcoal to replace it. However, you could try these preventative measures to keep the charcoal dry:
- Seal your charcoal bags when you’re done using them. Most bags have a seal around the outer edge to preserve their contents.
- Store your charcoal in a room temperature environment. Moisture and fluctuating temperatures can take a toll on your charcoal.
- Cover your grill when you’re not using it. Leftover charcoal won’t do much if it’s soaked in rainwater.
Low-Quality Charcoal Won’t Stay Lit
Weber explains the style and quality of your charcoal make a huge difference. Low-end charcoal sometimes takes a lot longer to get hot, leading you to believe it’s not going to reach the proper temperature. It also requires more charcoal layers. Ensure you’re using the charcoal recommended for the grill you purchased.
How to Fix
Thankfully, high-end charcoal briquettes aren’t too pricey. The Kingsford Original 16.7-Pound Charcoal Briquettes have a long burn time and are perfect for layering. They’re crafted with wood and other natural ingredients and shaped with grooves to improve their heat output.
Regardless of which type of charcoal you choose, you should follow the previously mentioned storage and usage guidelines. Even the best charcoal in the world can get soaked into uselessness. Keep your charcoal sealed and out of the rain for the best results.
High-Altitude Grilling Doesn’t Give Enough Oxygen
Grilling in the mountains or at a higher altitude will undoubtedly be more difficult. If you use a charcoal grill over 5,000 feet, you’ll likely encounter issues with the vents. Higher altitudes have lower oxygen levels. Without enough oxygen, your charcoal grill won’t get hot enough. The good news is that there are a few ways to work around this common concern.
How to Fix
Open the grill’s vents all the way to allow for maximum ventilation and oxygenation. The air is thin at higher altitudes, so you need to bring as much oxygen into the grill as possible. You can leave the grill’s lid slightly ajar to bring more air into it if necessary.
The downside of cooking at higher altitudes is that the charcoal might take significantly longer to heat up. Stick with it and add an extra layer if it’s not getting as hot as you need it to. Consider adding additional lighter fluid or newspaper to light the fire when it’s going too slow.
Lack of Firestarter Ruins Charcoal Grills
This beginner’s mistake is quite understandable. You recently tossed a layer of charcoal in the grill, put a match in it, and covered it. Why isn’t the grill getting hot enough?
You need to use a firestarter with a charcoal grill. The charcoal gets hot once it has something to ignite. There are all sorts of things you can use as firestarters, all of which we’ll list for you below.
How to Fix
This problem has an easy solution: Add a little more lighter fluid than you’re used to. Some people use paper, others use electric fire starters.
If you don’t want to store and pour lighter fluid, consider getting the HomeRight Electric Firestarter. Hold down the handle and watch as the blower heats the charcoal until it’s burning properly. It’s a chemical-free solution to light your charcoal grill throughout the year. You can also use it for wood stoves, campfires, and more.
Alongside not having enough charcoal in the grill, a lack of a firestarter is very common. Test how much you need, then increase it in slight increments until you can keep the fire roaring consistently.
Additional Grilling Resources
If you ever have grill problems in the future, our other grill troubleshooting articles may be able to help you.
- Camp Chef Pellet Grill Not Heating Up? Why and How to Fix
- Pit Boss Grill Not Heating Up? Here’s Why (and How to Fix)
- Green Mountain Grill Not Heating Up? Here’s Why (And How to Fix)
- Weber Grill Not Getting Hot? 8 Causes (+ How to Fix)
- Weber Grill Not Lighting? 5 Causes (+ How to Fix)
- Gas Grill Not Getting Hot? Here’s Why (+ How to Fix)
- Char Broil Grill Not Heating Up? Here’s Why (+ How to Fix)
- Charcoal Grill Not Getting Hot Enough? 10 Causes (+ Fixes)
- Traeger Grill Not Igniting? 5 Causes (+ How to Fix)
- Traeger Grill Not Heating Up? 7 Causes (+ How to Fix)
- Propane Grill Not Getting Hot? 6 Causes (+ How to Fix)
- Why Does My Gas Grill Smoke So Much? Top 8 Causes (+ Fixes)
- Why Is My Grill Humming, Whistling, Popping, or Clicking?