Grill Won’t Go Above 300 (Or 350, or 400): What Gives?

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Using Gas Grill Station

It can be frustrating when a grill doesn’t stay hot enough to cook your chosen ingredients. Even more frustrating is the helplessness that comes from not knowing how to solve the issue. What’s happening when your grill won’t go above 300? 

Grill Won’t Go Above 300 

Often, when a gas grill isn’t getting hot, it’s because the unit went into bypass mode. For pellet grills, the problem usually has to do with the electrical components that feed the pellets into the firebox. When it comes to charcoal, insufficient heat could be due to damp coals or poor ventilation, among other possibilities. 

What These Temperatures Mean 

Temperatures below 300 degrees Fahrenheit are generally reserved for smoking and braising. At 225 to 275, meats that are naturally tough and fatty—such as brisket and pork shoulder—will turn tender and moist if you let them cook long enough. 

Once the temperature climbs to 300, the cooking process speeds up a bit. However, 300 degrees is still fairly low. You can use this temp to cook a rack of ribs or a whole turkey, but you’ll want it to be hotter if grilling is your goal. 

350 degrees is suitable for grilling cuts that cook through quickly, like boneless chicken breasts. It will also work for precooked sausages like hot dogs. 

For grilling steaks, burgers, chicken thighs, or fish, aim for a grill temp of 375 to 450. To put a good sear on grilled steaks, crank up the heat to the 450-600 degree range. 

Cooking On Gas Grill Station

Why Your Grill Isn’t Getting Hot 

There are a number of possibilities, and they can vary depending on what type of grill you have. In this section, we’ll talk about why the grill won’t go above 350 (or whatever temperature it’s stuck at). 

Gas Grills

In most cases, when a gas grill isn’t heating up properly, it’s because the unit is in bypass mode. 

In the 1990s, a federal mandate involving gas grills was instated. Every unit made since then has to include a safety device that’s installed to detect gas leaks. 

When the grill isn’t lit according to a specific set of criteria, the device assumes that there’s a gas leak and automatically reduces the gas flow. This circumstance is known as “bypass,” and it cuts the flow of gas to roughly 10 percent of its regular volume. 

Since there’s hardly any gas flowing to the burners, it’s no wonder the grill isn’t getting hot. In fact, when it’s in bypass mode, you may not be able to light the unit at all. 

To determine whether the grill is in bypass mode, you’ll have to perform a gas leak test. This involves mixing a solution of dish detergent and water and applying it to the hose, valve, and regulator. If bubbles appear, you have a leak and need to get it fixed before you can use the grill. 

Once you’ve determined that there is no leak, you can get out of bypass mode by switching all your burners off and turning on the gas. Wait a few seconds to allow the pressure to build up, then attempt to light the burners again. 

There are a couple of other reasons why your gas grill might not be getting hot. Most of them are easy to verify and/or rule out: 

  • The burners are accidentally turned to “Low” instead of “High.” 
  • There’s no gas in the propane tank. 
  • The hose isn’t properly secured to the tank. 
  • The thermometer has failed. 

Pellet Grills

Since pellet grills rely on electricity as well as fuel, it’s not unusual for them to malfunction. High-quality units should work better than cheaper models, but even these can give you trouble from time to time. 

Pellet Barbecue Grill

If my pellet grill won’t go above 400 when I’m trying to perform a high-heat cooking application, the first thing I do is perform a quick sense check. Here’s what I look for: 

  • Is the unit plugged in? 
  • Is the electrical outlet working? 
  • Are there plenty of wood pellets in the hopper? 
  • Is the fire pot clean and free of debris? 

It only takes a few seconds to check these things, and one of them often provides the answer that I’m looking for. 

Sometimes, the issue is caused by damp wood pellets. Wet wood usually doesn’t ignite, and even if it does, it won’t burn well. Make sure the pellets are dry and in prime condition, and change out the hopper if necessary. 

Another option would be to lower the P setting. This feature controls how quickly the pellets are fed into the firebox. If the P setting is too high, the fuel will be fed through the auger slowly, which results in a lower grill temperature. 

Check the induction fans and the auger as well. When these aren’t functioning right, the unit won’t be able to create a nice hot fire. 

It’s also worth noting that you should keep pellet grills out of the wind. Ambient temperatures can have a huge effect on the grill’s ability to heat efficiently. Consider investing in a grill blanket if this is a chronic issue. 

Charcoal Grills

Under ideal circumstances, charcoal provides a clean, hot fire that imparts a lovely wood-kissed flavor to grilled foods. When it doesn’t work, it’s extremely frustrating. Fortunately, most of the causes have easy fixes. 

For starters, it could be that there isn’t enough charcoal in the grill to start a decent fire. Beginners often underestimate the amount of fuel they’ll need to sustain a fire hot enough to cook food. If this is the case, all you have to do is add more coals and wait for them to ignite. 

The quality of the charcoal is also important. Charcoal doesn’t have a shelf life per se, but if it’s gotten wet at any point, it won’t burn effectively. In fact, you might not be able to get it to ignite in the first place. 

Even dry charcoal can produce inferior flames if it’s a cheap product. When it comes to charcoal, I prefer to buy the high-end products whenever I can get my hands on it. The generic stuff isn’t worth the hassle. 

While we’re on the subject, know that hardwood lump charcoal burns hotter and faster than briquettes. You can still use briquettes for grilling and searing, but you might have to add more of them in order to maintain a high cooking temperature. 

Improper ventilation could be causing the problem, too. Check the air vents to be sure they’re not clogged, and clear away any ash or debris if necessary. It’s also possible that the vents are damaged in some way. In this case, you’ll need to replace them as soon as you can. 

To maintain a high cooking temp, keep the lid on the grill as much as possible. This doesn’t always work out when you’re just grilling a batch of burgers or bratwurst, but if you want the grill to stay hot, leaving the lid on will go a long way. 

One caveat: Those of you who live in high-altitude areas could have a hard time keeping the grill hot. High altitude equals low oxygen, and fires need oxygen in order to burn. Open the vents as far as they’ll go, and leave the lid slightly ajar to promote airflow. 

Charcoal Grill Outdoor

Finally, think about how you got the fire started in the first place. Did it burn well at the beginning and then die out, or was it burning poorly from the start? If it’s the latter, try adding more newspaper or kindling to the coals before you light them again. 

The Bottom Line 

When the grill won’t go above 300, it could be because the fire isn’t getting enough oxygen. Depending on the type of grill you’re using, it could also be due to faulty engineering or a basic safety issue. Once you’ve determined the cause, you can get back to business. 

Best of luck, and happy grilling!

Darren Wayland Avatar


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