Grill Lids: Open or Closed? - Backyard Boss
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Grill Lids: Open or Closed?

While it is true that the earliest grills were used for steaks and burgers, connoisseurs over the years have experimented with more and more food types. Today, people are just as likely to grill fruits and vegetables or even a thick roast as they are a few hot dogs. Yes, backyard grilling today is a sophisticated art form.

It doesn’t matter if you use gas grills or charcoal grills, grilling with the lid open or shut has spawned at least as many arguments as the chicken and the egg. Experimentation, science, and flavor lead to our conclusions.

Opened-Lid Cooking

A man rubbing meat on a barbecue
Image Credits: Z Grills Australia – via Unsplash

It is still true that any meat or vegetable that cooks fast should be grilled over an open flame with the lid open. This slows cooking time, giving you when-to-flip cooking flexibility and letting you manage flares. In the case of hamburgers, hot dogs, thin steaks, chops, shrimp, or fish, you can keep the insides juicy and the outsides seared. Most grill aficionados agree that a steak crusty on the outside and rare in the middle is the gold standard of grilling, and you can’t get that combination by cooking the steak with the lid closed.

How To Grill With The Lid Open

Grill with the lid open is probably more common. The biggest advantage of this type of grilling is that you can constantly keep checking on your food without worrying about losing the temperature. As long as your meat isn’t too thick and doesn’t require a high temperature to cook, you should use this method. So if you don’t want to burn the food that doesn’t have to be cooked for a long time in rough conditions, keep your lid open.

Since you can keep an eye on your food, grilling with an open lid is relatively easy. To be sure it is ready to be flipped, just gently put them up using a fork or any other cutlery and check how it looks from the bottom. Since you don’t have to be afraid of the temperature decreasing, you can flip the food more often.

Remember also that some grills are hotter than others. For example, gas grills are not as hot as charcoal ones. It means that depending on the temperature your grill can provide, some grills will allow you to keep the lid open, while with others, it will have to be closed. That’s why you should have a thermometer to check how hot your grill can get. After that, you will be able to determine either the lid can be open or closed.

Closed-Lid Cooking

Image Credits: Photo by Z Grills Australia – on Unsplash

However, if you are planning to cook thick cuts of meat, such as roasts, big steaks, or bone-in duck or chicken, or if you want your food to have a smoky flavor, you should grill with the lid down. Here’s why:

  • A closed lid, just like a closed oven door, increases the temperature inside the grilling unit. The increased heat in the air works in conjunction with the heat source generated by the coals. This combination ensures that a thick cut of meat will cook evenly, remain moist, and not get burned.
  • A closed lid prevents too much oxygen from reaching the coals. The more oxygen, the hotter the coals, and the better chance for flame-ups that burn the food rather than just searing it. Adjusting the air vents and keeping the lid down allows you to fine-tune the internal temperature of the grill.
  • A closed lid retains flavored smoke. Wood chips added to the coals for the purpose of imparting a smoky flavor won’t work with an open lid. The flavored smoke has to permeate the meat in order to give it flavor; if you grill with the lid open, your smoke flavor will dissipate into the air.

How to Grill With The Lid Closed

Flare-ups are going to happen no matter how much you fiddle with the airflow vents. To alleviate the flare-ups, put all the coals (or the turned-on burners) on one side of the hot grill; sear the meat, then transfer the meat to the other side of the grill and continue the cooking process with a closed lid. The grease drippings won’t fall onto hot coals or flames, which cause flare-ups, but the meat will continue to cook and stay moist. You can then put foil-wrapped vegetables, such as potatoes, on the fireside. There will be no drippings and the vegetables will cook evenly.

Cooks have been admonished for years about not basting the meat with a sauce until the very end of the cooking cycle; that was because the sauce would splatter and cause flare-ups. By searing on one side of the grill and removing the piece of meat to the side without coals, you can continually baste the meat; imparting great flavor without the risk of burning the exterior of the food.

When cooking with a closed lid, it’s best to use a grill thermometer, just as you use an oven thermometer indoors. After all, you wouldn’t shove a beef roast into the oven and cook it without knowing the temperature.

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The best way to figure out whether or not you need to cook your food on the grill with the lid down is to think about how you would cook that food indoors. If you would cook it on the stovetop, leave the grill lid up. If you would cook it in the oven, or sear it first and finish it in the oven, then cook with the lid down.

As always, you should feel free to experiment. But remember, pick one: open or closed. Going back and forth during the same grill session will really mess with your meat (or veggies)!