Grilling season is in full swing, and lots of people are heading outdoors to cook burgers, hot dogs, or fancier fare like salmon on their gas grills. Grilling is a great way to cook meats and veggies without adding a ton of seasoning or fat.
Especially for novice grillers, though, it can be challenging to know when your grill has gotten too hot. That’s especially true for charcoal grills, but it applies to gas grills as well. If your gas grill gets too hot, you can risk burning your food instead of cooking it to perfection.
To tell if your gas grill is too hot, you can check for smoke, carefully apply the “hand test,” see if food is sticking to the grill plates, or use a thermometer.
Here are four ways to tell if your gas grill is getting too hot.
Look for Smoke
Over time, little bits of food can get stuck onto the plates of your grill. They’ll also fall into the area below your grill’s burners.
This is normal–it’s why many people use a barbecue cleaning brush on the grill plates before they start grilling, and why you should clean out the drip pan for your grill every time you finish a grilling session.
Some of those drips and stuck-on bits will inevitably burn off when you fire up your grill. But if your grill gets too hot, you may start to notice an excessive amount of smoke wafting off the grill plates.
You might even notice smoke coming from the drip pan under the burners. When my grill really overheats, I notice that it gets hot enough to affect the drippings at the bottom of the grill, which are pretty far away from the actual burners.
If you notice a lot of smoke coming from your grill–especially if you’re properly cleaned the grill plates before starting, your grill might be too hot.
Use the Hand Test
This one always feels a bit risky and subjective, but it can be an effective way to test the temperature of your grill if you do it right.
I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it, except that Weber itself–one of the most trusted grilling companies and the maker of my own gas grill–says it can be a good way to test temperature.
To use the hand test, do the following:
- Hover your hand about 5 inches above the surface of your grill
- Keep your palm flat and open, with the palm facing down towards the grill surface
- See how long your can hold your hand there before it starts to feel hot and you want to pull it away
There are a couple important safety tips to keep in mind here. Never leave your hand in place long enough that it hurts. If you’re wearing long sleeves or flammable jewelry, skip this test. And make sure nothing can bump you such that your hand hits the grill surface.
As long as you do it safely, the hand test can work really well. Here’s a breakdown of the temperature of your grill, depending on how long you can keep your hand in place comfortably.
- 2-4 seconds = High heat, around 500 degrees
- 5-7 seconds = Medium heat, around 400 degrees
- 8-10 seconds = Low heat, around 300 degrees
Not scientific, I know. But you’d be surprised how well this one works. Of course, each person has their own sensitivity level, but over time you should get a sense of how each temperature level feels to you.
See if Food is Sticking
If you’ve cleaned your grill plates well and they’re properly seasoned, food should stick to them when you flip it over. If you find that food is sticking often, your grill might be too hot.
I especially like to use this one for delicate items like salmon. If your salmon filets are sticking to your grill plates and leaving little bits of flaky fish behind, your grill is probably too hot.
I find that this works better on low-fat items than on high-fat ones. If you’re making burgers with 80-20 ground beef, the fat from the beef will lubricate the grill plates well enough that they’re unlikely to stick.
Again, though, if you’re making salmon or another low-fat item like chicken breasts and they’re sticking to the grill, you might be using too high a heat level.
Use a Thermometer
This one might seem obvious, but if one is available to you, using a thermometer is the best way to tell if your grill is too hot.
Many gas grills have a thermometer built into the lid of the grill. My Weber Genesis II grill has one built-in, and I like to use it to keep my grill at the perfect temperature.
For things like burgers and corn, I try to aim for 450 to 500 degrees. If I’m cooking something more delicate–or cooking for a long time–I shoot for closer to 300 degrees.
My favorite way to adjust the temperature is to periodically open the grill’s lid to let some heat out. It’s the perfect time to check on what you’re cooking, too. I also tweak the burners to get the perfect heat setting.
If your grill doesn’t have a built-in thermometer (or it’s not that accurate), you can always get an external grill thermometer. Rubbermaid makes an absurdly simple analog thermometer that clips onto the interior of your grill and gives accurate temperatures.
Dozyant also makes a popular model with super clear sections on the thermometer indicating temperature ranges for grilling and smoking.
Achieving the right temperature is crucial for grilling effectively without burning your food. Try out these methods the next time you’re grilling, and dial in your temperature perfectly.
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