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Water boils at a lower temp at higher altitudes; therefore things take longer to cook in water. But with grilling, is there a difference?

The reason I ask is that everything is cooking on the grill quicker at high altitude, than it was at sea level. I'm using the same grill, same cuts of meat, same settings, but everything is cooking faster. I grilled up some 2" rib steaks the other night just as I did at sea level for "rare", and they came out "well-done". What a waste. Chicken and pork has been doing the same, over-cooked. I've adjusted my cook times, but I'm wondering why the difference. Anyone know, or care to speculate?
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At very high altitudes there is somewhat less oxygen, or, maybe a better way of saying it is that the percentage of oxygen is smaller. Oxygen is necessary for fire to feed from.
Thus, the coals should burn more slowly at higher altitudes, and possibly will cool off faster and not heat up as much and thus, it seems to me logical that grilling at high temps should possibly take marginally more time.
I don't believe that altitude has any effect at all on grilling. When it comes to cooking meat, its a matter of temperature as I believe someone else has already pointed out. But what this leads to is not a question about altitude and how to deal with it, but the question of how to determine when something is done. If you can determine when its done, altitude and changes in cooking time become less important. Not UNimportant mind you, just less important. When preparing any meats, I try to consider the size of the piece of meat, its general nature, its current temperature, how hot my grill or pan is, and how long its been cooking.

Your common sense tells you that a large piece of meat will take longer than a small one since the heat has to penetrate much more of it to do raise the overall temperature and coagulate protiens.

In addition to its size, the general nature of the meat should be considered too. By that I mean, is it a tougher cut or a tender cut. A NY strip will take slightly longer (all things being equal) than a fillet. Light meat on chicken takes less time than dark. AND the cut of the meat will change the way it feels. This is important to me because I usually test for doneness by the way it feels.

The current temperature matters because common sense would tell us that its easier to bring a piece of meat that is 70 degress up to temperature than it is one that is 40 degrees. Knowing how warm or cold the meat is to begin with matters.

Just as the temperature of the meat, the heat source matters too. If its too hot, it'll sear the outside and begin to scorch before the inside is done. This becomes especially true of larger or thicker cuts. If you're cooking a larger or thicker cut, the heat should be lower since it'll need to cook longer and more evenly. You may also want to adjust your temperature based on how you like it done. If you want it rare, a higher heat. And if you want it well, a lower heat. The best way to tackle this is by having two cooking "zones" on your grill. I usually achieve this by placing a brick in the gill. Put your coals on one side only. You can sear your meat on that side and move them to the other after to allow them indirect heat to finish them.

All these things along with the length of time something has been cooking should tip you off as to when its done. As I said, I test by feel. If a piece of meat has no spring back when you touch it, its raw. As it approaches the dreaded well done stage, it will become firm. When it springs back after you touch it, its usually around the rare-medium stage. It'll take practice. But take note of how it feels when its raw and how it feels when you removed it. Even is you overcooked it, remember how it felt. If it was under done, remember that too. One other thing to keep in mind, most steaks will have drops of blood/juice that appear on the surface when they are about med-rare. If you see this, you'll want to remove them from the grill as they are already at that temperature. And finally don't forget that food continues to cook off the heat. Carry over cooking can actually take perfectly done steaks to over done steaks. Its trickier than we give it credit for.

Just practice, practice, practice. And drink good wine with all of it.

Dan J
From our conversations, I know lou is an avid and great griller... he knows the 'basics.'

His original post says everything is the same (cuts of meat, temp settings, grill, etc.)... the meat just cooks quicker.

Using our famous PV=nRT describes why water boils at a lower temp. V, n and R don't change. At higher altitudes, P drops hence T must drop also. Therefore, since water boils at a lower temp (and can't increase in temp without additives such as salt) it takes longer to cook.

However, I wouldn't know how to apply this to a grill (it is the Ideal Gas Law). Assuming the hot air in the grill is cooking the meat (not just the flames), the same applies. A lower pressure inside the grill leads to a lower temp, and longer cook time. And, we all know that fire needs oxygen. Therefore, with less oxygen in the air, the flames couldn't be as big/hot. All signs lead to a longer cook time.

lou, I think you are defying all laws of physics. Better call in Cal Tech, or MIT for this one. Smile
Last edited by mwagner7700
Originally posted by VinoMiko:
When you were cooking at sea level were you on the ocean with a good cool breeze? and are you now in a hot mountain area?

If so maybe the cool sea breeze kept the grill cooler and now with the hotter mountain air the grill is at a higher temp than before.

At sea level I was cooking in Naples, Italy in the heat as well. The only difference besides altitude is the humidity. Perhaps humidity has an impact as well?? Also, I've been cooking with gas not charcoal. I've been keeping the temperature the same, as every other variable except the altitude and humidity.

Yes, I understand the basics. I've done my fair share of grilling at high altitude in the past, but not with this grill. Each grill is different, but once I figure out each grill, they tend to be very consistent; hence my post.
The grill is the same that I've used the last few years, just different locale.

Thanks for the responses.
Originally posted by mwagner7700:
Originally posted by kingcalvin:
Great question and great advice. Here are some great Grilling Recipes
that i've found.


If you want great grilling recipes... pick up Weber's BIG Book of Grilling. It has everything: drinks, sauces, rubs, marinades, starters, beef, pork, game, poultry, fish, veggies, dessert, etc. It can't be beat.

Weber has a great web site, and most of the recipes a listed, here's the link
Weber recipe's and tips

Enjoy !!
As I was browsing the site I found this in the cooking tips section:

When you're using a Weber recipe, remember that cooking times in charts and recipes are approximate and based on 70°F (20°C) weather with little or no wind. (Cooking times for meat, poultry, and fish have been tested with the foods at refrigerator temperature.) Allow more cooking time on cold or windy days, or at higher altitudes, and less in extremely hot weather.

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