This depends on what you’re cooking, the size/type of your barbecue and the weather outside.
In a professional restaurant kitchen setting, where taste matters more than energy efficiency, chefs typically cook steaks on a grill that has no lid. They use them to grill chicken, sausages, salmon and pretty much anything else that requires even heat for a relatively short time. These grills are much more powerful than a home barbecue, allowing them to reach high heat without requiring an enclosed space.
In a home setting, where you’re as concerned about the energy bill as the taste of your meal, cooking with an open lid can seem needlessly wasteful. An open lid means lost heat, which means more gas is required to maintain the temperature of the grill. The energy incentive of closed-lid cooking seems obvious, in the same way you keep an oven door closed when baking a cake and the door of the house closed during the middle of an Alberta winter.
But in practice, it’s not that simple.
There are reasons to cook with the lid open, at least in certain circumstances. Trapping heat inside your barbecue makes it cook more like an oven than a grill; that’s fine if you want to use your barbecue as an oven to bake a pie or roast a chicken, but it’s not ideal if you want to use it for many of the things an oven can’t do.
With the lid open, you get precise control over the heat hitting one surface of your food; with the lid closed, you still have the heat acting on the bottom of the food, but it also picks up heat from the air surrounding it, which can lead to mixed results. For example, closing the lid means you can’t get the same quality sear on both sides of a steak, as the top will already be partially cooked by the time the steak is flipped.
After a chat with our chef instructors and home economists, we’ve compiled a list of cooking scenarios where either a closed lid or an open lid on the barbecue would be ideal:
- Pizza on a baking stone
- Anything baked (pies, crumbles, etc.)
- Preheating the grill
- Indirect cooking
- Cooking a whole chicken
- Smoking something with a smoke box
- Grilling large pieces of meat like a turkey, roast, leg of lamb, etc.
- Anything that falls under the proverbial “low-and-slow” grilling technique
- Food cooked on a rotisserie
- Hot dogs
- Shrimp, prawns, zucchini planks and other small things that could easily be ruined by overcooking
Keep in mind the heat/intensity of your grill, along with adverse weather conditions, may make cooking on an open grill difficult. Your barbecue must be able to generate enough consistent heat to cook food thoroughly one side at a time. If you’re struggling with this, know that a clean barbecue makes better use of its heating power.