How Long To Grill?

How to Grill Sausage and Onions

Grill, grilling, grilled, insert any food after each word and you have Google’s most popular grill themed searches! How long to grill steak, how to grill corn, grilling pineapple, or with various other foods attached, are some of the most popular how to and grilling questions in the Google food category. I think I know why! Grilling can be a mystery to a lot of people. Not growing up in a grilling family, not camping next to a fire, or not cooking outside in general, basically means grilling is like a foreign language. People don’t even know the right questions to ask about grilling. Becoming self sufficient on the grill simply requires a little knowledge, some proven timeless skills, the use of your senses, and some experience.

I have been grilling for about as long as I could see the grill grates. That doesn’t make me an expert. I do feel confident that I can answer these questions though. I believe you will come away from reading this article better off than when you started, even if you grill a lot. If you are asking the question, “how to grill” or “how long to grill,” no matter the food item you insert at the end, chances are this will be good for you.

I am sure that a seasoned professional, someone who tends a grill for a living, or anyone who has had an apprenticeship with a true grill master would embellish, correct, and critique things I am about to say. I am sure that some person could teach me many things about grilling. However, this isn’t for that person. This is for the person who arrived here because they searched for “how to grill peas” or “How long to grill turnips!”

This is some simple grilling instruction. We are not making grill masters today. If you want to embellish, correct, and critique, please comment!

So, allow me to impart some of my grill knowledge. Welcome!

How to grill steak
Beautiful NY strip steaks on a charcoal grill.

How Long To Grill

Many grilling questions surround how long you should grill a certain piece of food. For instance, I went looking at top ranked grilling questions and they consisted of: how long to grill chicken, how long to grill chicken breast, how long to grill burgers, how long to grill hamburgers, how long to grill pork chops, how long to grill salmon, how long to grill asparagus, how long to grill corn on the cob, how long to grill corn, how long for grilled corn, how long does it take to grill corn, (Holy cow, do that many people really want to grill that much corn?!?)

Whew! Folks are really struggling with the grill timing on a whole host of great grilled food! Hopefully that wasn’t just one over ambitious novice! Good luck with all that!

If you are new to grilling or new to grilling anything other than hot dogs, let’s not get too overly ambitious the first time out of the gate. Practicing and experimenting surely are part of the fun, but I would hate to see you fall hard before you get a few wins under your belt! Also, please remember, some foods are just meant to be cooked, in a pot, with some water, not on the grill. Just because the grill is lit doesn’t mean everything you are about to eat needs to be cooked on the grate.

How long to cook Chicken, how long to cook broccoli, how long to cook pineapple, how long to cook asparagus, and how long to cook burgers
Chicken, broccoli, pineapple, asparagus, and burgers all on the grill!

See, it’s doable! You can get a lot of stuff on the grill at the same time!

How long to grill corn

I feel like most of you are just here to answer this question! The data doesn’t lie folks. So, if you bought corn earlier today, the grill is lit, your significant other is getting impatient, and you just need to make something happen, do this:

  • Microwave 4 ears of unshucked corn for about 3-4 minutes (less time for less corn, batches of corn if you have more than 4)
  • Let it cool for a bit, shuck it (It should be realtively soft, but shoudn’t feel completely done. Err on the side of too soft versus too hard.)
  • Give it some more time in the mic if it is too hard (Take a bite!)
  • Put some salt and a little butter or olive oil on the corn
  • Put the shucked corn on the grill
  • (If it is a gas grill, it should be low to medium)
  • (If you have a charcoal grill only put the corn over direct heat for a short time, it can burn quickly like this.)
  • If it is smoking, it’s too hot!
  • Roll the corn so each side gets heat, about every 20-30 seconds
  • Do this for a few minutes, until the outside of the kernels start to get brown and toasty
  • If the outside of the corn isn’t getting brown, turn up the heat
  • Voilà – Grilled corn!
  • If you really want to impress your corn eating guests, put a light layer of mayonnaise on the outside of the corn, sprinkle on some Parmesan cheese, and/or some old bay seasoning.
  • If the outside of the corn is black, read this article and try cooking corn on the grill again soon.

It’s my belief that this question of “How long” and of “time” highlights how much of a mystery grilling can be for many people. It shines a light on some misunderstandings surrounding cooking over fire. There are some old forgotten skills needed to grill well.

Simply looking for someone to hand out a time… “Cook Asparagus on the grill for 14 minutes and 22 seconds!” is not going to solve the problem. Nobody will be good on the grill if there isn’t an interest in rekindling that lost set of skills. There is a lot more to cooking over a fire than simply knowing “how long.” It’s important to consider the variables, understand the conditions, and experiment. Everyone else should just stick to casseroles and crock pots.

Ultimately, the time food will be on a grill comes down to thinking about the desired outcomes, estimating a grilling time, and rolling with the changes.

The Fun of Grilling

How long to cook Bear Republic Racer Five IPA?
First, any good grill story typically includes a beer! Wine is also great. As is bourbon. Ok, I like booze and grilling!

Yes, grilling should be fun! Crack a cold one or pour a glass of wine before you get started. Grilling is usually communal too. So, get a few cold ones for your friends and family, they will be sure to poke their nose around the grill soon enough.

How Long To Grill Anything

Ok, back to it! If you want to be as comfortable on the grill as you are with the stove, oven, or even the microwave, there are some similar concepts you need to consider. Primarily, not only, time, but more importantly on the grill, temperature! Just as you time the preparation of foods in the oven, on the stove, or in the microwave, you also are selecting a temperature. The peanut gallery says: “Nuh Uh! Microwaves don’t have a temperature setting.” Pipe down peanut gallery… You know how those instructions on your Hungry-Man Dinner talk about the different wattage’s of microwaves? Yeah, same thing! Actually, the analogy of the wattage of a microwave is probably way more useful when grilling. Wattage is far more similar to a grill than the temperature of an oven or the dial of your stove burner. After all, some measurements of fire intensity are also expressed in wattage! Consistency is one of the biggest differences between these various cooking methods. Wattage, and the temperature of a grill are inconsistent when applied to heating food. The oven and the burner are typically not. You put a frozen burrito in the microwave and get a lava hot outside and an ice cold center. Both the microwave and the grill are seemingly shrouded in mystery! Their similarity may be why people start out by asking “How long?” 3 minutes in the microwave!

How Long To Cook Steaks On A Small Grill
A little Weber Smokey Joe! How long to cook those steaks?

Look at that cute little grill! Interestingly enough, most small charcoal grills are the hottest grills I have ever cooked on! The only thing hotter…

How To Cook Chicken Over A Fire
Do you know how hot a campfire coal bed is? Yeah, It’s hot!

Cooking on an open fire is often eyebrow singeing heat!

Grill Temperature

The amount of time you are grilling anything is dependent upon the grill temperature. Grilling, especially on charcoal or over a campfire, notoriously has temperature irregularities. This is why there is no easy answer to the “How Long” question. When you are trying to decide how long you are going to grill a given food, time is derivative of temperature. You may have heard the phrase: “Low and slow.” There are lots of foods that are best cooked on the grill at low temperatures, slowly. Other foods are better cooked at high temperatures quickly.

Let me just address the question: “How long do I cook steak on the grill?”

I will say a bit more about this later, but in thinking about the question, I immediately want to ask: What kind of steak? How thick is it? How are you going to eat the steak? What kind of grill do you have? What’s the weather like? (Seriously!) See, all of that matters and changes the answer.

So, for some details on grill temperature, let me break it down.

Grills, Foods, and Temperatures

Typically, a gas grill is going to offer you the easiest access to consistent heat. A gas grill is a great starting point for anyone who aspires to grill master. A gas grill is basically like moving your stove and oven outside! However, on gas, you are giving up a number of wonderful benefits of grilling over fire. Smoke is a wonderful flavor enhancer. Gas grills are big and bulky, so you need to take the fun to the grill, not the grill to the fun!

Charcoal grills are also very popular. What you give up in ease of use, you often gain in flavor and portability.

I have one of each! There are all sorts of other types of grills, grilling methods, and options as you evolve your outdoor cooking repertoire. This article isn’t about those things. We are really just talking about how to deal with inconsistent temperatures and how long food needs to be on the grill.

So, depending upon the food you are cooking, you want the heat to either be very hot, low, or a mix of the two.

High Heat

High heat is used for various reasons, like bringing certain foods to safe temperatures, searing the outside of foods, and getting grill flavor without over cooking

On a gas grill, this means the knob is all the way up. Some high BTU gas grills will easily get to 500 degrees and beyond with the lid closed and all burners on! Some smaller gas grills may struggle to keep the grill at 350 on a windy day. You need to know and test your equipment.

On a charcoal grill, high heat means direct heat from the burning charcoal. Actual temperature will depend upon a number of factors, like: size of the grill, distance of the grate from the coals, shape of the grill, amount of charcoal used, and placement of the briquettes.

Foods Typically Cooked Over High Grill Heat

  • Steaks
  • Burgers
  • Leafy Greens
  • Most Fruits
How To Grill Bok Choy
The grill is not only for meat! Add this grilled bok choy to your next beef stir fry! How long to grill bok choy? Not long, fast and hot!

Med-Low Heat

Low to medium heat is used so you don’t turn your food into mush, burn it, or turn it into a hockey puck.

On a gas grill, this means the knob is near the lowest setting. Wave your hand over it or use a thermometer to measure the grate temperature so you can get familiar with your equipment.

With charcoal, Med-Low Heat basically means indirect heat. Coals on one side of the grill, food not above it. All the concerns above about charcoal are exactly the same here.

Foods Typically Cooked Over Med-Low Grill Heat

  • Most Vegetables
  • Fish
  • Slow Smoked or Cured Meats

Combination of High and Low Heat

If you aren’t sure what this is used to accomplish or how to achieve this, I feel like you haven’t been paying attention… Is it casseroles and crock-pots for you? I hope not!

Foods Typically Cooked Over A Combination of High and Low Grill Heat

  • Chicken
  • Pork Chops
  • Hot Dogs
  • Sausage

(Hint regarding a combination of heat: Move your food around the grill!)

How to Grill Chicken And Broccolii
How to grill marinated chicken thighs and broccoli. Two separate burners on the gas grill allow two different grilling techniques. High heat then lower heat for the chicken, constant medium heat for the broccoli.

If you want consistent outcomes, you need to strive for consistent heat. In many cases consistency just won’t happen. That’s probably why grilling can be scary for new comers but that’s also where grilling gets fun. You need to be aware of the inconsistencies and plan and maneuver accordingly.

In the absence of consistent heat

How hot and how long are only two of multiple concerns. You need to consider a number of other variables. You need to be willing to consider the various aspects of your grill setup, like the heat at each location on the grate and the consistency of the heat over time. The distance of the grate from the heat source is another important aspect to consider. Take a look at the pictures of my little charcoal grill and the fire grate. Both have drastically different distances from the heat to the grate. The time and technique for cooking chicken on each of those is different. If I am cooking steak on either of those two setups, the time and technique is very different than if I was cooking chicken! Think about the food you are grilling. How much heat it can stand before things will go south (burn)? What is the minimum heat it needs to be cooked (time and temperature) so you won’t kill your dinner guests? What is the maximum amount of time the food can withstand on the grill before it is inedible (turns to mush)?

So, To Answer The Initial Question

The truth is, timing on the grill is never the same. In order to grill successfully, I believe you need to use your senses far more than a clock and a thermometer. Instead of asking: “How long do I grill corn on the cob?” You should be asking things like: “What color is corn on the cob when it is done grilling?” “How black will corn be when you are finished grilling it?” “How soft should corn be when it is grilled?” and even “What does corn smell like when it has been grilled long enough?” This is where you need to live if you want to be a successful griller! You need to be using your senses to cook. Answering these new questions is now pretty easy. Take a whiff! Touch the food! Take a bite! If you aren’t smelling, touching, and tasting your food as you grill, you will have a very hard time getting it right. It may take a few tries before you know what smells right, what looks right, and what tastes right, but that’s the fun part! Go grill something!

How To Grill A Ribeye Steak Medium Rare
I’m sorry, but if there aren’t any shades of red left in your steak, you need to stop grilling steak.

Slice a steak on your cutting board and offer it up to your guests family style. It won’t last long!

And check this grill out! Are you just getting started? You need the right tools! LOL!

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