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When cooking on a charcoal grill, does it matter how far the grate is positioned above the charcoal? If so, how high should it be?

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2 Answers 2

Distance from charcoal isn't really the issue (some steak recipes, in fact, call for the meat to be cooked directly on the coals). It's the temperature at the grate you ought to consider. Granted, distance is one factor in grate temperature. The amount of lit coals you have is another.

As for proper temperature, it all depends on what you are cooking. I like cooking my steaks on high heat, about 500-600F. Burgers at around the 450 range. Poultry closer to 400. Look up the "Mississippi Test," often referenced by Steven Raichlen, as a good way to measure your fire temperature.

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Mississippi Test (I looked it up and there wasn't a good link) basically says, hold your hand 2-3 inches above the grate and start counting, 1 Mississipi, 2 Mississipi...until you can't hold your hand there any more. 2-3 = high heat, 5-6 = medium, 10-12 = low heat. –  Doug Johnson-Cookloose Jan 21 '11 at 1:52

At least this is what we usually do in Argentina. Charcoal grilling is very popular here, as you may see:

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Wait until the grate is well heated! If you can adjust your grate height, heat it near the charcoal, as it is quicker, and then raise it to your (intended) final position. Wait for the grate temperature to stabilize before proceeding.

If you can't hold your hand just above the grate for 3 secs, it's too hot. Remove some charcoal or raise the grate.

If you can hold it for more than 5 seconds, it's too cold. Add embers or lower the grate.

That works well for most cuts. Tend to approach 3 secs for thin and meager meat and 4/5 secs for fatty or a big rounded piece.

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