Want a simple answer to the question, When should you use the lid on your grill? It’s not an open-and-shut case. When cooking on an outdoor grill, the decision to keep the lid open or to close it depends on what you’re grilling, how you’re cooking it, and what kind of grill you use.
Whether you’ve got a gas or charcoal grill, with the grill uncovered, you can get a crustier char on the exterior of meat without overcooking the center. A closed grill will cook meat all the way through to the center for a more uniform doneness. “Cooking with the lid down captures the heat and lets it do its magic on the food,” says Elizabeth Karmel of girlsatthegrill.com. “The food will benefit from the rotating hot air (convection) and it won’t take as long to cook.”
But sometimes you want a combination approach: You sear the outside of the meat directly over the flame or heat source with the lid open, and then you move the meat away from the flames (and high heat) and close the lid to cook the inside of the meat without burning the outside too much. It’s similar to searing your meat in a sauté pan on the stovetop (like keeping an open lid on the grill) and then roasting it in the oven (like cooking with a closed lid on the grill).
If you’re grilling quick-cooking foods such as burgers, thin steaks, chops, shrimp, or sliced vegetables directly over the flames, you can leave the grill open. That way, you won’t lose that pink, juicy center so many of us love. But when you grill thicker steaks, bone-in chicken, or whole roasts you’ll want the lid down, especially when you’re cooking with indirect heat. Try our archive of Grilling Recipes for a variety of techniques and the food to use for them.
Learn more about creating zones for direct vs indirect grilling:
And if you’re tossing in soaked wood chips for smoke flavor, you need the lid down to contain the smoke. Peeking on your food while cooking with a closed grill can affect the food in opposite ways, depending on whether you’re using gas or charcoal as a fuel source. With gas grills, opening the lid can lower the heat. With charcoal, the rush of oxygen can burn the food.
To get started, experiment with these three grilling goodies:
With a thick New York strip or beefy rib-eye steak, you’ll want to close the grill to ensure it cooks all the way through, or at least as thoroughly as you want it, depending on your preference for rare, medium rare, or medium meat. This recipe includes some basic tips on making the most of your grilled meat experience. Get our Basic Grilled Steak recipe.
Leave the grill lid open for these sweet and savory shrimp kebabs with a tropical twist. They’ll cook quickly and get a nice char while the pineapple caramelizes. Get our Pineapple Glazed Shrimp Skewers recipe.
Unlike some vegetables, you’ll cover the grill when you cook this corn. Wrapped in husks, they’re essentially being steamed, and somewhat smoked while they cook for about 35 minutes—a relatively long time in the grilled vegetable world. Get our Grilled Corn with Cayenne, Lime, and Cotija recipe.
– Caitlin McGrath wrote an earlier version of this article in 2013.