How to Use A Charcoal Grill Vents

How to Use A Charcoal Grill Vents

There are different types of grills, and the charcoal grill is one of the most common. Gas grills are also common, but the reason most people use charcoal grills is because they are not as expensive and they are also easy to use. When using a grill, the key to cooking perfectly grilled food is well-balanced temperature. This is done by controlling the flame which is in turn done using the grill vents. These serve a significant role in your cooking. The main question is how to use a charcoal grill vents. 

Vents also known as dampers are essential and should be seen as more than a smoke exhaust. The idea about grill vents might seem simple, but there is confusion about what they are and how they work. Most people who love grilling find themselves overcooking their food just because they couldn’t control the temperature of the grill using the vents.

Charcoal grill vents and their purpose

Charcoal grill vents are used to control the flow of air coming in and going out of the grill. The vents are responsible for supplying oxygen in the grill which feeds the fire making it hotter. Without vents, a charcoal grill would not function properly unless it was an open grill which is highly risky.

One advantage of charcoal grill vents is they act as breathers for the fire and the grill as a whole. No sparks can come out of the vents as compared to an open fire grill. Therefore, the risk of injury is low.

There are two different vents on a charcoal grill:

  • Top grill vents
  • Bottom grill vents

Top grill vents

To understand how these work, take an example of a lid on the chimney. The vents are used to let out smoke and hot air out of the grill on top. The top grill vents are so important more than other people would think. If you close the top vents, you can end up killing your fire. As much as they are used to regulate the temperature, it is better sometimes to leave them all open. This way, all the excess smoke and hot air can escape freely through the vents. When this happens, you can now use the bottom vents to tame the fire instead of using both. Most grills are well sealed, and lack of an exhaust can smoke your food, and the fire will go out.

Bottom grill vents

These are the most important on a grill. They are made to serve one function which is the most important on your grill, and that is to supply the fire with oxygen. The vents basically fuel the fire as fire uses oxygen to burn faster and hotter.

The bottom vents are intake ports sucking in the fresh air with surplus amounts of oxygen and replacing the air inside the grill that is already burnt by combustion. The burnt air which is lighter and can’t go down is forced to exit through the top vents. These vents can be used primarily to control the temperature of the grill. The more air you let in, the hotter the fire burns; thus, the hotter the grill gets.

The less the air you let in through these vents, the cooler the temperature of the grill. The fire doesn’t have a lot of fuel to help it burn; therefore, it burns slower and cooler. If you close the bottom vents completely, the fire goes out no matter how many openings you have on top. Hot air is less dense and escapes through the top as compared to the cold air which can’t get in the grill from the top.

These grills are best used together to help control the fire and temperature of the grill. However, you can open the top vents completely and regulate the fire using the bottom vents which fuel your fire.

Top and Bottom Grill Vents

If you are using both, here is how they work in cooperation:

  • The bottom grill vents take in fresh air from the surroundings.
  • The air contains a lot of oxygen, so it provides the charcoal fire with fuel (oxygen) to maintain the combustion producing flames and keeping the fire burning.
  • The flames burn the oxygen and create smoke releasing it in the grill as you continue cooking.
  • The top grill vents or exhaust vents, in turn, pull the smoke and hot air in the grill up and out allowing fresh air to enter the grill and continue fueling the fire with oxygen.
  • If you cover the bottom grill vents, no air flows in the grill and without oxygen, the fire will die out.
  • If you cover the top grill vents, the hot air and smoke is forced out of the grill through small openings and might get to your food smoking which leaves a nasty smell on it. If there are no small openings on the grill and the top vent is covered, hot air, smoke and other gases build up in the grill. This causes an increase in the pressure of the grill and restricts free airflow from the environment through the bottom vents. Without a fresh supply of air, the fire dies. It is therefore impossible to cook with any of the vents entirely closed.

How to use the charcoal grill vents

With all the above information, lets now take a look at how to effectively use the charcoal grill vents.

The first thing to know and understand is what exactly you are cooking and how much temperature you require to finish cooking without your food getting burnt. If you are cooking food that requires medium temperatures, how you use the vents is different from how you use the vents when you are grilling food that requires high heat.

Grilling on high heat

It takes roughly 5-10 minutes for your charcoal to get hot after you fire up the grill. If you are grilling dense vegetables, steaks or burgers, you need high temperatures. To achieve this, the top and bottom grill vents should be open completely. This maximizes the fresh oxygen supply in the grill and reduces pressure build-up in the grill. Air flows freely through both of the vents fueling the fire to high temperatures.

Grilling on medium or low temperature

It might not be rocket science, but it can be confusing. Here, you need to regulate the temperature by opening the top grill vent entirely and the bottom grill vent partially. This way, a lot of hot air and smoke is released from the grill but not so much is let in. This means the fuel (oxygen) is low and therefore the fire burns slowly and cooler. To achieve low temperatures without the fire going off, you have to leave small openings on the bottom vents and at the same time, keep adjusting depending on the heat and the amount of charcoal inside the grill.


Using a charcoal grill is not rocket science. Regulating the temperature or heat on the grill is also not rocket science, but you need to know the purpose of the charcoal grill vents. Grilling is so much fun if your food cooks fast and doesn’t get smoked leaving a nasty taste. This can be avoided if you know how to use the charcoal grill vents effectively. Enjoy your grilling.

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