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When Should You Put Food On a BBQ?

When Should You Put Food On a BBQ?

When you’re entertaining friends and family (or you’re a BBQ newbie), it can sometimes be hard to tell when your grill is hot enough to cook on – and in what order you should put all the food on.

You can start cooking on a charcoal BBQ after about 30 minutes, or 15 minutes on a propane grill which heats up faster. You’ll then need to put foods on the BBQ in order of cooking time, from chicken first, then pork, corn cobs, hamburgers, sausages, steaks, seafood, vegetables, and bread.

So let’s consider in more detail how long it takes each type of BBQ to heat up, whether you should precook some food first – and we’ll then provide a list of what various foods should be on the grill to make it easy for you.

When is Your BBQ Ready To Start Cooking?

The answer to that question is: it depends. It depends on what type of BBQ grill you have – gas or charcoal.

Gas or charcoal? The Great Grill Debate. Which is better? As with everything else having to do with BBQ – if you ask three people you will get at least four opinions. Strong opinions. 

High heat or indirect? Do you sear or “reverse sear”? How about the two-zone method (or “redneck sous vide”, as Meathead Goldwyn says). Are you grilling like your grandparents – who were totally wrong?

Gas or charcoal? Charcoal grilling is earthy and traditional. Gas grilling is more practical and, in some ways, safer. In many places, like in apartment buildings, gas grills are the only choice. In drought-stricken areas under fire restrictions, charcoal fires are usually banned.

Grilling is part science and part voodoo. A big part of the fun of grilling is trying new ways with new stuff. Experiment! Here’s a video with 11 BBQ tricks, including grilled lemonade.

So, get your grill on! Try some tequila-lime-jalapeño marinade for chicken. Or some root beer on your pork chops. Or coffee-garlic-mustard-balsamic vinegar-light brown sugar slathered on your steak.

Gas grill or charcoal? Maybe you should have – both 🙂

How Long Before BBQ Coals Are Ready?

From 20 to 30 minutes.

A common mistake is to put some food onto the charcoal grill too soon. Coals should be two-thirds to solid grey. For slow cooking foods, like chicken, sausages, and some vegetables, it’s better to wait for the coals to mellow out.

When charcoal starts to turn light grey, the inside is still cool. You should wait until the outside is at least two-thirds covered in grey and has stopped smoking. There should be no flames, just intense heat radiating off the coals.

Typically, charcoal is started in a stacked pile like a pyramid or in a charcoal chimney. Be sure to spread the coals evenly on the grill before adding food. Consider spreading the coals with the two-zone method so you can sear on one side and use indirect heat on the other.

When you put meat on a metal grill too soon, it sticks. The metal grate should be piping hot. A good way to do that is to make sure the top grate (the meat grate) is on while the charcoal is heating up. Be sure to cover with the grill lid. The meat grate will be nice and hot at the same time the coals are.

Once the coals are ready for meats, take the meat grate off with heavy-duty grilling gloves, then spray it down with cooking spray or another lubricant.

Experts say, with charcoal grills, try to avoid lifting the lid too often. Lifting the lid with a charcoal grill lets in oxygen, causing the coals to burn hotter.

Sometimes coals burn to dust before your meat is done. To avoid this, try precooking dense meats. Also, check that the vents on your charcoal grill aren’t letting in too much oxygen while your meats are cooking. Vents should be open for coals to light, then partially closed while cooking.

Check out this charcoal grilling video for vent placement.

When is a Gas BBQ Ready To Cook On?

Gas grills do heat up faster than charcoal ones, but you still need to be patient before slapping on the steaks. Gas grills should be lit, then allowed to heat up with the meat grate in place and the lid on. Heat the grill until the grill’s internal temperature is 500°F for direct grilling. This should take around 15 minutes.

For indirect grilling, the internal grill temperature should be around 350°F.

Be sure to oil the meat grate before the steaks go on. You can remove the grate using heavy grill gloves, then spray with a grilling lubricant. Or you can rub the grate in place with paper towels soaked in a high temperature cooking oil. Try rubbing the meat grate with some bacon, or a raw potato.

Should I Precook Some BBQ Food?

Yes! Whether you are cooking for lots of guests, or just the family, it pays to precook some foods. BBQ parties are great fun and a cherished summer ritual. Precooking your grilling foods allows you to mingle longer. Precooking can mean partially cooked or it can mean thoroughly done.

Some meats taste better with precooking. One example: sausages. Who hasn’t served sausages that are charred and rock hard on the outside but barely done on the inside? Sausages can be parboiled in beer or other liquids, then popped on the grill to sear and heat before serving.

Chicken is sometimes difficult to keep from drying up on the grill. Try precooking it in the oven, then searing it briefly on the grill. Same with pizza.

Sweet potatoes are great with many meats or vegan meals. Precook sweet potatoes, then slice them before grilling briefly. Same thing with corn on the cob. First cook it in boiling water, then sear on the grill.

Some sous vide fans will argue that all meats should be sous vide cooked to perfection first, then given some smoky charring on the grill and served hot and sizzling.

If you prefer to cook meats only partially, be sure that precooked but not completely cooked meats are physically separated from raw or cooked meats. For partially cooked meats should be taken directly to the grill and to finish cooking.

Precooking foods help with party planning. Once the grilling begins, you can keep your oven on at a warming temperature. Wrap grilled meats in foil and then put them on a baking tray in the warmed oven until everything is ready to serve.

When to put food and meat on the BBQ

What Should I BBQ First? (List of Foods in Order)

While you can experiment with a lot of grilled stuff, it’s best not to experiment with the meat’s internal temperature. Make sure you are serving friends and family thoroughly cooked meats. A digital thermometer is a grilling necessity.

Uncooked meats contain bacteria that can make you sick. Cooking meats to prescribed temperatures kills the bacteria. Avoid cross contamination – be sure to keep uncooked meats (and their bacteria) away from cooked ones. 

Keep uncooked meats away from cooked vegetables as well. A simple system of color-coded cutting boards can help. Large flat containers can help keep raw meat separate and you can marinade in them too.

Consider using two separate sets of utensils: one for moving raw meats onto the grill and one for cooking them. Often, you can use short kitchen-style tongs for moving meat onto the grill, then long grilling-style tongs for cooking on the grill.

For a grilled dinner with mixed meats, fish and vegetables, here’s a suggestion for grilling order.

  1. Chicken. Bone-in chicken typically takes longer to cook because indirect heat works best. Chicken can become dry on the grill, so cook it slowly, then move it to high heat to sear it fast. The internal temperature of cooked chicken should be 165°F.
  2. Pork. First, sear the pork chops over high heat. Then, cook through with indirect heat. They need to be thoroughly cooked, to 165°F.
  3. Corn on the cob. Corn on the cob takes about 30 minutes on medium heat.
  4. Hamburgers & Sausages. Hamburgers and sausages should be grilled to an internal temperature of 165°F. Question: can I grill them rare, like for a steak? Answer: the process of grinding meat introduces lots of places for bacteria to hang out all through a hamburger patty or sausage. On a steak, the bacteria hang out on the outside and are incinerated by grilling. Rare steaks are safe from bacteria, but rare hamburgers and sausages are not.
  5. Steaks. Use direct heat or inverse sear. Steaks can be done to individual taste. Rare steaks should be cooked to 125°F, medium rare to 135°F, medium well to 150°F and well-done to 160°F.
  6. Seafood. Use direct or medium direct heat. 
  7. Vegetables and fruits. High heat tends to char vegetables in an unappealing way. Use medium heat and be sure to brush with oil first. Try grilled watermelon – delicious!
  8. Bread. Grilled, toasty breads are delicious and fast.


So as a simple guide, a charcoal BBQ should be ready to cook on after 30 minutes, while a propane grill heats up faster in just 15 minutes.

Remember to put the fast cooking foods like bread, vegetables, seafood and steaks on last – and medium to slow cooking foods such as hamburgers, sausages, corn cobs, pork and chicken on first.

It’s also important to keep that uncooked food away from the cooked food to avoid food poisoning, so use two pairs of BBQ prongs to put them on the grill and turn them.

Mark H.

Homeowner and property investor Mark H. aspires to bring you the very best outdoor living content, based on his years of experience managing outside spaces. Read more >