Should the Grill Lid Be Open or Closed?

Steak searing on a grill with the lid open.

“If you’re looking, you aren’t cooking” is one of the most popular BBQ sayings around, but it’s not always true. Whether you should leave the lid open or closed while grilling depends entirely on what you’re cooking and what kind of heat you’re trying to achieve.

  • Steak searing on a grill with the lid open.
  • When to Grill with the Lid Open

    When you’re searing or just need high levels of heat, it’s best to cook with the grill lid open. This also allows you to manage flare-ups and cook one side of your food at a time as you see fit. Steaks are among the most common food that’s grilled entirely with the lid open, and thinner pieces of chicken and fish are also best suited for searing.

  • Steak searing on a grill with the lid open.

  • Gas grill with the lid closed and people talking around it.
  • When to Grill with the Lid Closed

    A closed lid traps hot air and creates convection within the grill body, allowing you to cook at lower temperatures, take advantage of indirect grilling, and even use wood chips on your gas grill. In addition to circulating hot air all around your food, grills with the lid down also produce more moisture in the form of drippings that vaporize on flame tamers. You want to grill with the lid down when you’re using indirect heat on items like bone-in chicken breasts, or slow-cooking something huge like a brisket that needs long exposure to low heat so it can reach doneness without a completely charred exterior.

    There are some occasions when it’s acceptable to grill food with the lid open for a little while then move it to an indirect heat setup with the lid closed, and vice versa. You may want to quickly sear a piece of meat before letting convection heat work its magic, or try the reverse-searing technique that’s quickly gaining popularity. Burgers are the most notable food that usually gets both treatments.

    That being said, it’s important to choose your lid positioning and stick to it. It’s OK to take a quick peek every now and then at the pork butt you’re slow-cooking, but leaving the grill lid open for sustained periods of time in that scenario will throw off your cook. And when you’re searing steaks for the family, don’t even think about closing that lid.

  • Gas grill with the lid closed and people talking around it.