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Grill Lid up or Down When Grilling

We’ve all seen movies or commercials where the person manning the grill at a barbecue is standing over an open pit flipping food, with the lid open or not even in sight. But in reality, should you have your grill lid up when grilling, or keep it down?

The answer is a little complicated: it all depends on what you’re cooking, how you want it cooked, and the type of grill you’re using.

We’ve talked about two-zone grilling a lot on this site, and those same principles come into play here. Successful grilling is all about knowing how to control your heat, and when to use direct or indirect heat — and a big part of that is whether you have the lid of your grill open or shut.

In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about using your grill’s lid to your advantage. From when to keep it open, when to close it, and specific instructions depending on your grill’s fuel type. There are benefits to lid-on and lid-off cooking, and you’ll come away from this guide with a better understanding of both!

What Does the Lid of Your Grill Actually Do?

The grill’s lid does so much more than shield your food from the elements! The lid traps heat and distributes it around the food so that each side cooks evenly. Without that trapped heat, your meat will only cook on the side that is directly touching the grilling surface. This can lead to uneven cooking in some cases.

It comes down to knowing when to leave the lid on, or grill without it.

That indirect, trapped heat cooking style isn’t great for every type of meat. There will be times when lid-off cooking is best and other times when you’ll want to keep that lid firmly shut. Let’s learn about the factors that will determine whether you should leave the lid on or grill without it!

The Cut and Thickness of Meat Will Play a Role

The biggest indicator of whether to use your grill’s lid or not will be the cut of meat you’re cooking and how thick it is.

Thinner Cuts

If your cut is thinner than one inch (like a burger or pork chop), or if you’re grilling something small (like shrimp), leave the lid off to avoid it becoming overdone in the center. These cuts cook quickly, and keeping the lid shut could lead to them drying out.

Lid Open Recommendations By Food

Hot Dogs
Lid Open
Yes
Lid Closed
No
Burgers
Lid Open
Yes
Lid Closed
No
Kebabs
Lid Open
Yes
Lid Closed
No
Prawn, Shrimp
Lid Open
Yes
Lid Closed
No
Steak Less Than 1/2’ Thick
Lid Open
Yes
Lid Closed
No
Searing Meats & Veggies
Lid Open
Yes
Lid Closed
No
Flank Steak
Lid Open
Yes
Lid Closed
No
Most Cuts of Fish
Lid Open
Yes
Lid Closed
No
Thin-Cut Pork Chops
Lid Open
Yes
Lid Closed
No
Thin-Cut Lamb Chops
Lid Open
Yes
Lid Closed
No

Thicker Cuts

For a one-inch thick or thicker cut, keep the lid on so that it heats through properly. That indirect, circulating heat is critical to ensuring your meat is thoroughly cooked from every side.

Lid Closed Recommendations By Food

Preheating the Grill
Lid Open
No
Lid Closed
Yes
Roasts & Lamb
Lid Open
No
Lid Closed
Yes
Whole Chickens and Turkeys
Lid Open
No
Lid Closed
Yes
Steaks over 3/4' Thick
Lid Open
No
Lid Closed
Yes
Filet Mignon
Lid Open
No
Lid Closed
Yes
Indirect Cooking
Lid Open
No
Lid Closed
Yes
Pizza on a Baking Stone
Lid Open
No
Lid Closed
Yes
Baking on the Grill
Lid Open
No
Lid Closed
Yes
Thick-Cut Bird Breasts/Thighs
Lid Open
No
Lid Closed
Yes
Thick-Cut Pork Chops
Lid Open
No
Lid Closed
Yes

The Type of Grill Will Also Be a Determining Factor

Next, take a look at the type of grill you’ll be using and its fuel source. Believe it or not, cooking with charcoal, gas or even electricity can also impact whether you should keep the lid open or shut while cooking!

Let’s start with how using a charcoal grill affects lid-on or lid-off cooking.

How the Lid on Your Charcoal Grill Affects Flavor & Texture

One of the most fun parts of cooking with a charcoal grill is choosing the type of hardwood charcoal to use and experimenting with the different flavors they can impart to your food. But if you want to ensure all of that smoky goodness gets absorbed, you’ll want to keep the lid shut — open it up, and you’ll watch your smoke (and flavor!) float away.

Keeping the lid shut also helps trap the heat and ensure your food cooks evenly and retains its juiciness throughout — but more on that in a bit.

When to Leave the Grill Lid Open

Gas Grills – Grilling With the Lid Up | Charcoal Grills – Grilling With the Lid Up

Grilling with your lid up creates an effect as if you were cooking over an open fire — lots of heat from the bottom, but none cooking the other sides of your food.

For small, quick-cooking food like burgers, shrimp, fish, and even vegetables leaving the lid open will help them cook without drying out or burning. Just a quick burst of heat on each side, and they’re ready to go.

Gas Grills – Grilling With the Lid Up

When cooking with a gas grill, keeping the lid up is a one-way ticket to losing heat and your desired temperature. So more often than not, you’ll want to keep the lid shut when using a gas grill.

The exceptions are if you’re just warming something up or are cooking a small or thin piece of food like those we already mentioned — just keep an eye on it to avoid your food overcooking from the bottom.

Charcoal Grills – Grilling With the Lid Up

When you have the lid open on your charcoal grill, it can help increase the flow of oxygen to your fire and boost the temperature, if you’re going after searing temps.

But too much oxygen can cause food to quickly go from a delicious sear to an unappetizing burnt, so keep an eye on your flame. Turn your food regularly, and make sure to have a safe zone to move your food to if things get too hot.

For the majority of your cooking, you’ll want to keep the lid down to avoid those spikes in temperature and help keep all of your food cooking evenly. Instead of lifting the lid to let in oxygen, use your grill’s vents to control heat and reserve popping the lid for monitoring the food or giving it a flip.

How to Grill Without a Lid

Speed is the name of the game here, whether you’re searing thicker steaks or cooking thin or thinly sliced meats. Direct heat works best to quickly cook your meat and get those signature grill marks, without risking the centers drying out.

You could opt for two heat zones if you’re using a charcoal grill without the lid – one zone with a double layer of coals can be used for fast searing, while a single layer or no coals on the other side of your grill can be used for cooking food through. In the end, it all boils down to what you’re cooking, and how hands-on you prefer to be.

When to Close the Grill Lid

Gas Grills – Grilling With the Lid Down | Charcoal Grills – Grilling With the Lid Down

Just like grilling with the lid open, there are certain scenarios where you’ll want to keep the lid down.

For larger, slow-cooking food like roasts, whole chickens, and turkeys, steaks over ¾’ in thickness, or just pre-heating your grill, leaving the lid closed will help maintain a steady cooking temperature. The trick is to cook your meat throughout to your desired temperature without burning the outside.

Gas Grills – Grilling With the Lid Down

Keeping the lid down on your gas grill will help keep the temperature consistent, trap smoke, and create convection heat around your food to cook it evenly. That convection heat is also ideal if you’re using two-zone cooking on slow-cooking foods like poultry, whole fish, large roasts, and corn.

With the lid down you’ll also increase the level of moisture dripping down onto the flame tamers and coming back up into your food as delicious smoke.

Charcoal Grills – Grilling With the Lid Down

On a charcoal grill, keeping the lid down as much as possible will help prevent flare-ups, cook food more evenly, and infuse the delicious flavor from your charcoal or woodchips. By using the vents instead of the lid to control airflow you can grill with both indirect and direct heat, giving you the flexibility to grill, roast, and bake.

How to Grill With a Lid On

Setting your grill up to cook with the lid on will take a little effort to establish temperature zones for indirect cooking. That means pushing your coals to one side or creating areas with more layers of coals if you’re using a charcoal grill. The side without the coals is for indirect heat cooking while the coal side gives you direct, searing heat cooking.

On a gas grill, let it preheat for at least 15 minutes with half of the burners on medium, and the other half off. Putting your food on the side with the burners on will give searing heat. Cooking on the side with the burners off will give you low and slow indirect heat.

Lid on or off When Using an Electric Grill?

If you’re using an electric grill, the rules of grilling with the lid on or off will be pretty similar to a gas grill since it’s not dependent on oxygen for its heat. Searing or cooking something thin, keep the lid open. For thicker cuts or something that needs to cook slowly over a longer period of time, keep the lid down.

Lid on or off When Using an Infrared Grill?

Again, the best advice here isn’t that straightforward: if you’re grilling on an infrared grill, whether you use the lid or not just depends on what you’re cooking. However, if you keep the lid open both the heat and the flavor your food gets won’t be as intense. With the lid shut, you’ll trap in more of the heat and that delicious smoky flavor.

Is There Ever a Time When You Would Grill With the Lid off & On?

Yes, there are times when you’ll want to grill with the lid off and then on! For example, you can sear your steaks over high heat with the lid open, then move it off the heat and shut the lid to finish the cooking process.

This technique is a lot like searing meat in a cast iron pan on your stove and then moving it into the oven to roast until it’s done. You’ll get the best of both the lid-on and lid-off methods!

Alternatively, you can go with the reverse sear method where you start off cooking on indirect heat and then finish out with a hot ad fast sear.

Final Thoughts on Our Grill Lid up or Down When Grilling Guide

Lid-on and lid-off grilling both offer benefits depending on your type of grill and what kind of food you’re cooking. It may take a little experimentation to master, but knowing when to open the lid and when to keep it shut will help elevate your grilling and the results you get.

After all, a few peeks under the lid might be the difference between juicy, perfectly cooked meat and food that’s burnt on one side and unevenly cooked on the other!

Your lid is another handy tool to help you become a better outdoor cook and improve the overall grilling experience. We hope this guide has helped you understand how to use it to your advantage in creating truly delicious barbecue!

Cheers,

Pat G.

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