What's The Best Coals to Grill Shelf Distance

by Andy H
(England )

Hi - I've just had a great BBQ & bar area built in the garden (yep, another lockdown project).

We've had a few great gatherings and the food has been decent but really nothing more adventurous than burgers, sausages & some basic fish recipes.

Have tried doing steak which was ok, but took longer than expected and didn't get that really lovely slightly crispy surface on the steak. Am assuming this is because the grill shelf was too far away from the coals but was concerned if the gap was too small I'd just cremate the steak.

Be very grateful for any advice on what the distance should be between the coals & grill shelf, whether this should change for different foods / techniques and whether there's an optimum time for the coals to be burning before cooking anything.

A few questions there I guess, but grateful for any hints & tips.


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Apr 28, 2022
Different factors affect the height of the cooking grate
by: Paul

Hi Andy,
The straight answer to your question is "it depends" and that's why it's good to have a height adjustment to your cooking grill grate.
I think that there are three factors that influence grill height:-

  1. Fat content of the food
  2. Speed at which you wish to cook
  3. Heat intensity of your coals

I could argue a fourth which is lack of patience ie. wanting to cook before the coals are ready and this is usually the cause of the "cremation" that you refer to.
For things like your standard sausages and burgers which have a relatively high fat content then I ensure that the coals are well settled (minimising flare ups) and cook gently from a good height over the coals.
You want sufficient heat for the fat to mobilise and drip a little on the coals so that we get some smokey BBQ flavour into the meat but not so much that your bangers split and dry out.
Fish can be cooked fast, there's little fat so it can be cooked closer to the coals. That said, check out some of my plank cooked fish recipes because this (for me) is the best way to cook fish on a barbecue.
Beef is a lean meat and generally you want to cook it hot and fast so you can afford to put it close to the coals. Technically you could even just throw it directly onto the coals (called a dirty steak) but I prefer to cook it just above and over a high heat.
I prefer a ribeye because it has some fat marbled through the flesh, it can cause a flare up but I don't worry too much because I rarely cook it for more than a couple of minutes on each side.
I hope that helps, if there's one thing that I would re-iterate above everything else, the best way to avoid a flare up and the subsequent cremation is to ensure that you've given plenty of time for your coals to settle and turn grey. Start high above the coals and then work your way down, unless it's steak.

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