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What temperature should a grill be? How to safely bbq your food

What is the grill temperature for steak? What is the ideal grill temperature for chicken? Your questions answered here...

Grill with mixed foods on it
(Image credit: Evan Wise/Unsplash)

Just as cooking temperatures are adjusted to suit different food types when cooking in the oven, the same applies on the barbeque. Using the right cooking method and optimal temperatures according to ingredients not only helps retain moistness and flavour but it is also essential for food safety.

So what is the right grill temperature for steak, chicken, sausages in more? We investigate here so that you can shop for and cook on the best grills with confidence. 

What temperature should a grill be?

Do bear in mind that we can only offer approximate guidelines, based on expert advice, as each individual situation is different. Additional factors to consider when cooking include the size of your ingredients – a thick burger patty will take longer than a skinny one for example – as well as outside temperatures. If possible, remove food from the fridge and allow to reach room temperature before barbequing.

For the best accuracy, invest in a thermometer. A temperature probe that provides an instant reading when inserted into the core is best for meat, fish and poultry. 

Protect your fingers from the flames by buying a wireless probe. To keep track of the heat your grill is producing, which is helpful when cooking vegetables and foods that are hard to probe, like kebabs, an infrared thermometer gun is a great, safe option.

Grill temperature for chicken

The grill temperature for chicken is high – between 425°F and 450°F – which should allow the chicken breast to reach an internal temperature of 165°F; use your cooking thermometer to check this as it's vital chicken is cooked through. Grilling chicken breasts for around 10 minutes, turning after five minutes should ensure they are cooked properly, but check before eating.

Grill temperature for steak

The grill temperature for steak is hot – 450°F to 500°F. Ideally, allow your steaks to reach room temperature before you grill it – this will ensure it cooks faster and retains its juices. Grill with the lid closed for two or three minutes, depending how well cooked you like your steak – and how thick it is. 

Grill temperature for sausage

The grill temperature for sausage is controversial – but essentially, low – at around 140ºF to 160ºF.

However, it's all about balance. You must ensure the sausage is cooked through to be safe, assuming it is made with pork, but be browned on the outside. If you cook it too slowly the skin will wrinkle by the time it hits a plate; too fast, and the skin will very quickly burn, shrink and crack, allowing the juices to escape – but, potentially – for the middle to remain uncooked. 

Poaching sausages first – in anything from water to beer – in an oven or a tin foil pan on your grill, then browning them briefly on a medium temperature grill can ensure more even result.

Best grill temperature for burgers

The best grill temperature for burgers is a medium high heat at around 350ºF to 400ºF. Ideally, the grill should be hot so that you can cook the burgers quickly so that they don't become tough. 

Grill temperature for salmon

The grill temperature for salmon is 450°F to 500°F. Cooking salmon on a grill skin side down is the best approach – between six to eight minutes should be enough time. 

What should I cook on high heats?

Cranked right up, most grills can hit temperatures as high as 450-500°F (230-260°C) and this level of searing heat should be reserved for searing! We’re talking foods that need color more than cooking – rare steaks are an obvious example but also ingredients you prefer al dente, such as well-marinated vegetables and fruit. Turn quickly and frequently, using long tongs. 

Toasting burger baps will take seconds at this temperature, too. It’s also a good heat to use when burning off a griddle before cooking as it will kill any residual bacteria lurking. With the addition of a pizza stone, you can flame grill delicious pizzas in around 10 minutes at this temperature.

What should I cook on medium-high heats?

Go for 375-450°F (190-230°C) to achieve food that’s a little more cooked in the middle but nicely browned on the outside, without scorching. Think medium-rare steaks and burgers, tenderstem broccoli and small shellfish like langoustines. 

High-moisture ingredients like tofu, halloumi and pineapple also benefit from quick cooking over medium-high heat to prevent drying out. Use a grill basket to prevent breakages and food falling down the gaps.

What should I cook on medium heats?

The most flexible temperature for grilling a wide range of ingredients is a good medium heat of around 350-375°F (175-190°C). Ideal for bone-in chicken, perfectly browned sausages and most seafood. 

Thicker meats, like duck breast and pork loins, will retain moistness in the middle but still brown nicely. For vegetables, aubergine, corn (in foil) and peppers will roast perfectly on a medium heat.

What should I cook on medium-low heats?

For foods that need longer, gentler cooking, like baked potatoes, chicken breasts and seabass, aim for a temperature around 325°F (160°C). This is also a good heat for soft fruit and vegetables like mushrooms, courgettes, peaches and strawberries. If your grill has a lid, this is the ideal temperature for roasting whole joints of meat, like lamb and beef, as well as whole poultry. 

Roasting is best done over an indirect heat to prevent burning – i.e. the charcoal or gas burner is not positioned directly below the food. 

What should I cook on very low heats?

Anything lower than 325°F (160°C) is moving into slow cooker and smoker-style barbequing, which requires a lot more time and patience – as well as a grill with a lid and vents for controlling the airflow. 

Pulled pork and other meats that benefit from slow cooking, like brisket, can be barbequed on an indirect heat, at temperatures as low as 225-275°F (105-135°C) for as long as it takes for the meat to easily pull apart – allow around one hour per pound as a rough guide. 

A smoker is different to a grill but you can ‘smoke’ food at these temperatures in a regular lidded grill by using soaked woodchips – hickory, mesquite and apple wood are the most widely available – in a smoker box or foil tray.

How can I tell if grilled food is cooked properly?

A temperature probe, as mentioned above, is the safest way to ensure food is cooked through to the middle without letting it get overdone. You need to be particularly vigilant with high-risk ingredients, like poultry, soft cheese and shellfish. 

The core should be 170-175°F (75-80°C) before you serve, and you can use a regular temperature probe from your kitchen if the food has been removed from the grill. 

Always cook on a clean grill, using clean utensils and fully defrost ingredients before you grill. Avoid cross-contamination with raw meats and, don’t over-crowd your grill when cooking as it can bring down the heat and prevent ingredients from being thoroughly cooked on all sides.