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You want a simple answer to a simple question: When should you use the lid on your grill? But 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 a few key factors. What are you grilling? How do you want it cooked? And what kind of grill are you using?

Read on for when and why to flip your lid (or not).

Lid lifted off grillShare on Pinterest
Illustration by Maya Chastain

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, founder of Girls at the Grill and author of Steak and Cake. “The food will benefit from the rotating hot air (convection) and it won’t take as long to cook.”

Lid-off and lid-on cooking each have their benefits, but sometimes you want a combination approach.

For the best of both worlds, you can sear the outside of the meat directly over the flame or heat source with the lid open, then move the meat away from the flames (and high heat) and close the lid. This will 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 like burgers, thin steaks, chops, fish, shrimp, or sliced vegetables directly over the flames, you can leave the grill open.

For red meat, that means 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.

Hungry for more details about creating heat zones? Check out this vid on direct versus indirect grilling.

If you’re tossing in soaked wood chips for smoke flavor, you’ll need the lid down to contain the smoke.

Depending on whether you’re using gas or charcoal as a fuel source, peeking on your food while cooking with a closed grill can affect the food in different ways. With gas grills, opening the lid can lower the heat. With charcoal, the rush of oxygen can burn the food.

You’ll want to close the lid for things like barbecue chicken, steak, and ribs, and should try not to open it until it’s time to flip or remove the food (though you may need to move food more frequently if your grill has hot spots).

Lid on, lid off, or a happy medium of both? These grilling goodies let you decide.

1. Easy grilled steak

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. It all depends 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 easy grilled steak recipe.

2. St. Louis pork ribs with mango jalapeño barbecue sauce

You’ll cover the grill when making ribs too. In this case, it traps the smoky haze from apple and hickory wood chips. A dry rub plus DIY jalapeño barbecue sauce make these some of the most unique ribs around.

Get our mango jalapeño barbecue St. Louis pork ribs recipe.

3. Pineapple glazed shrimp skewers

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.

4. Grilled fish tacos

Since fish cooks so quickly, you’ll leave the lid off for it too. This recipe can be adapted to any firm white fish like tilapia, cod, snapper, or mahi mahi.

Get our grilled fish taco recipe.

5. Grilled corn with cayenne, lime, and cotija

Unlike some vegetables, you’ll cover the grill when you cook this corn. Since the cobs are wrapped in their husks, they’re essentially steamed (and somewhat smoked) while they cook for about 35 minutes — a relatively long time in the world of grilled veg.

Get our grilled corn with cayenne, lime, and cotija recipe.