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Lid On? Lid Off? Here’s When and Why to Adjust Your Grill

Man grilling on a balcony.
Anselm Kempf/Shutterstock

Whether you’re a laid-back grill master that cooks with a beer in hand or you’re hyper-focused on each second of sear time, knowing how to get the most out of your grill time is important. Here’s how the lid impacts the outcome.

When it comes to grilling your food just right, it’s essential to understand a few factors that play into the cooking process. Here’s a quick lesson on when to use the lid on your grill.

Lid Open

Grilling with the lid up does a few things for what you are cooking. The primary function is that it cooks the exterior of the steak or chicken without quickly cooking through to the center.

So, if you love a warm red center with gorgeous flame-kissed sear marks on the outside, avoid closing the top.

Grilling with the lid open also works best for thin cuts of meat, to avoid cooking up an overdone hockey puck. For the optimal juiciness and tender meat (that is sliced thin), be sure to keep that lid open.

While we’re on the topic of juicy flavor, also keep in mind never to push down on the meat, as you don’t want to lose those valuable juices.

Lid Closed

Closing the grill creates a convection effect where heat is transferred at all angles to the meat on the grill via increased heat transfer in the air around the object on the grill. It’s not just the heat coming up off the gas or charcoal towards the bottom of the meat, it’s swirling all around it with an effect more akin to an oven and less like cooking on a skillet.

As a result, you’ve cooked the interior of the protein faster (and more efficiently) than if the lid was up. This works well for thick cuts of meat that you must cook to well-done like chicken breast.


Take your grilling skills to the next level by using both the open lid and closed lid techniques in a combination approach. Turn your grill to high heat, and sear a slab of pork or bone-in chicken on an open flame until you’ve reached grill lines on each side. Turn your grill to medium heat, move the meat to the front (or side) and close the lid until cooked through.

Emilee Unterkoefler Emilee Unterkoefler
Emilee Unterkoefler is a freelance food writer, hiking enthusiast, and mama with over ten years of experience working in the food industry. Read Full Bio »

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