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Direct or Indirect Grilling

The first step towards achieving 'master grillmanship' is to understand the difference between direct grilling, indirect grilling, and smoking. Below we explain the differences, pros and cons and how to approach each type of barbecue set up.

Direct Grilling

This is what most of the world means when it talks of grilling: the food is placed and cooked directly over the fire. Direct grilling is a high heat method used to cook relatively small or thin pieces of food quickly. Typical foods that are direct grilled include steaks, chops, chicken breasts, fish fillets, vegetables, and bread.

How to set up your grill for direct grilling

You’ll get better heat control if you build a three zone fire, consisting of a hot zone, medium zone, and cool or “safety” zone. On a charcoal grill, rake half the coals into a double layer over one third of the fire box (the bottom of the grill). Rake the remainder into a single layer in the centre. Leave the remaining third of the firebox without coals.

Use the hot (double coal) zone for searing, the medium (single coal) zone for cooking, and the cool zone for warming or as a safety zone if the food starts to burn.

Indirect Grilling

Indirect grilling is designed to cook larger or tougher foods that would burn if direct grilled. As the name suggests, the food is placed next to, not directly over the fire. The grill lid is closed to hold in the heat, turning the grill into a sort of outdoor oven. It’s used to cook big cuts of meat, like brisket and ribs, that require long, slow cooking at a low or moderate heat. Indirect grilling allows you to work over a more moderate temperature (275 to 350 degrees) and makes it easy to introduce the flavour of wood smoke. Typically used to cook ribs, pork shoulders, briskets, whole chickens and turkeys, and other large pieces of food.

Indirect Grilling on a Barbecue

Indirect BBQ Grilling Set up

How to set up your grill for indirect grilling

To indirect grill on a charcoal grill, light the charcoal in a chimney starter (pictured, left), with Fire lighters, or with paper.

When the coals glow red, dump or rake them in two piles at opposite sides of the grill. (Some grills come with special side baskets for this purpose.) Place a foil drip pan in the centre of the grill, between the mounds of embers.

Place the grate on the grill and cook the chicken in the centre of the grate over the drip pan. If using wood chips for smoking, toss 1/2 cup soaked wood chips on each pile of coals to generate smoke.

Keep the grill covered, adjusting the top and bottom vents to obtain the desired temperature (usually medium, 230F/105C).


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