Charcoal grills are notorious for controlling heat. Out of all grill types, charcoal grills are the most difficult in this area.
Every owner of a gas or an infrared grill will tell you how easy it is to control heat: you just turn the temperature knob at the right angle.
Figuring out how many charcoal briquettes to use for 250 degrees Fahrenheit (or 121 degrees Celsius) is vital.
Use too many briquettes, and the temperature will be higher. Too few, and it won’t get hot enough.
The amount depends mostly on how you’re planning to spread the briquettes around the grill: it varies from 20 to 100 pieces.
Here, I’ll be discussing these methods:
Take a look below at what you need to consider.
Before I Dive In: Temperature Test
How Do I Measure the Temperature of My Grill?
Temperature is precisely measured with the thermometer. Some grills have them built into the lid.
You can also use your hand to determine how hot your grill is if you don’t have a thermometer.
You can approximate the temperature by holding the palm of your hand at a distance of 5-6 inches above your grill grate and withdraw it after some time.
At a low heat temperature of 250 degrees, you can only hold your hand over the grill comfortably for around 5 seconds.
I admit, it’s not 100% accurate but it’s still better than just winging it.
Are Grill Thermometers Accurate?
Most dome thermometers are the cheapest ones the manufacturers can get their hands on (you can get them as well for around $10 on Amazon or eBay) and are mostly inaccurate because the temperature is averaged over the length of the stem.
Some are more accurate, while others are less. This is especially true for cheaper charcoal grills.
Another issue dome thermometers present is how they measure the temperature.
The thermometer checks the temperature of its stem.
Why is this an issue?
The problem here is that the stem is located at the other end of the heat source, i.e. burning charcoal.
It’s way hotter below the grates than above them.
That’s why some grillers (myself included) recommend using thermometer probes and measuring the temperature an inch or two above the grates.
How Many Charcoal Briquettes to Use for 250 Degrees?
To reach 250 degrees, you don’t actually need many briquettes as this is a very low temperature.
There are many other factors that impact the temperature of a grill and not just the amount of briquettes, like the ambient temperature, the wind, how you place the charcoal, etc.
The last one (charcoal layout) is very important.
How you fill and spread your briquettes will have an impact on the amount of heat your grill makes.
Here are some primary ways to spread your briquettes:
This is the most common configuration that involves spreading briquettes on either of the sides of your grill or both.
It’s perfect for low-temperature cooking and smoking.
It results in low heat temperature, and it requires a whole chimney to start with around 100 briquettes.
It is a very slow method of cooking that uses indirect heat and smoke to cook food.
Chipped wood and hardwood chunks are soaked in water to produce the smoky aroma you know and love.
You can smoke only at lower temperatures, i.e. while barbecuing.
Smoking is possible while grilling too, but the smoking results are negligible.
Barbecuing and grilling are not the same, though. Take a look at this grilling guide to find out more.
What Is the Snake Method of Grilling?
Wood (either chips or pellets) and unlit briquettes are spread circularly around the edge of the grill.
At one end of the snake, you add a few lit briquettes to begin the process, which burns slowly for hours.
This results in low heat and requires 100 unlit charcoal briquettes, 6-8 briquettes to start the snake, and additional briquettes for later.
The Minion Method
This method is the go-to choice for smokers and barbecue lovers.
With this charcoal placement method, you’ll reach and easily maintain the magic 250°F without the need to add fuel.
The concept is simple: place hot lit briquettes on top of cold ones and use the vents at the bottom to regulate airflow.
You can cook low and slow for an extended period of time, up to 18 hours.
According to the creator of this method, Jim Minion, you need to light up 20-60 briquettes, depending on the weather.
Depending on how long you want to cook at 250 degrees, you can add the same number of unlit briquettes as lit to the grill or much, much more.
There are many variations of this method, and here’s the most common one:
Other Factors That Affect How Many Briquettes You Should Use
Regardless of how you achieve the temperature of 250 degrees, the number of briquettes to use will have to be adjusted for particular situations.
Consider these next factors:
It causes the briquettes to burn faster and hotter since wind adds oxygen to the fire and blows away heat.
Therefore, you may need a wind block or create a shield for your grill when cooking in windy conditions to reduce the negative impact of the wind.
Altitude and Humidity
At higher altitudes, the air is thinner hence the need for more briquettes.
Very high humidity causes issues when you fire up the charcoal.
Both factors will result in using even more briquettes to reach and maintain the wanted temperature.
You may use a chimney starter to light your charcoal briquette quickly.
Ambient Temperature and Sunlight
Cold air and higher humidity rob heat, while too much direct sunlight makes a black cast iron grill heat up quickly.
Direct sunlight and warm temperatures create conditions that require fewer briquettes for your cooking.
You may need to cook under a shade to protect yourself from direct sunlight.
The material your grill is made of makes a subtle difference in reaching and maintaining the right temperature.
Aluminum grills heat up quickly, unlike cast iron grills which heat up slowly but retain heat longer. Stainless steel is something in the middle.
Now You Know How Many Charcoal Briquettes to Use for 250 Degrees
There are a lot of factors that influence the number of charcoal briquettes to burn.
But once you get to know them, the calculation becomes second nature.
How often do you grill at this temperature?