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Grilling Methods 101: Direct and Indirect Grilling

If there’s one thing every griller should know, it’s the difference between direct and indirect grilling. Any time you fire up the BBQ you’ll use one of these two methods, and knowing which one to use can make or break your cookout.

Whether you grill directly or indirectly depends on the size and thickness of what you’re cooking. Understanding the differences between direct and indirect grilling will help you decide when to use what method, so let’s take a closer look.

Direct Grilling

Direct grilling is a high heat grilling method in which you cook your food right over the flame or heat source. It’s the most common grilling method, and it’s often used to quickly cook relatively small or thin pieces of meat.

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When Should you Use the Direct Grilling Method?

Grill directly if what you’re cooking normally takes less than 10 minutes to cook, or if it’s less than 2 inches thick.

BBQ these cuts using a direct grilling method:

  • Steaks
  • Chops
  • Chicken breasts or thighs
  • Fish
  • Vegetables

How To Cook with Direct Heat

For better heat control while you grill, light your BBQ to create three heat zones – one high heat area, one medium heat area, and one low heat area to serve as a “safety zone” if your food starts to burn.

If your grill has two burners, set one burner on high heat, the other on medium, and use your warming rack as a safety zone. If your grill has four burners, set one on high heat, two on medium, and leave one off to act as your safety zone.

Lid Up or Down?

When you grill directly, you can leave the lid up or close it. If your grill lid is down, your food will cook faster and more evenly.

Having the lid down is usually ideal, unless you’re frequently basting your meal or what you’re grilling cooks so quickly that you run the risk of overcooking it with the lid down.

Indirect Grilling

When you grill indirectly, food is placed on the cooking grates next to the fire, not directly over the heat source.

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When Should you Use the Indirect Grilling Method?

Indirect grilling is ideal for larger or thicker cuts of meat because it allows these cuts to cook all the way through without burning the outside edges.

Use the indirect method when you’re grilling these cuts:

  • Roasts
  • Pork shoulders
  • Whole chickens
  • Tough cuts like brisket or ribs, which require longer, slower cooking to tenderize and break down the connective tissue

How to Set Up your Grill for Indirect Grilling

On a gas grill, light one burner on high and leave the other burner off. Cook your meal over the burner that is off.

If your grill has three or four burners, light the outside burners and cook your food in the centre of your BBQ.

Lid Up or Down?

When you grill indirectly, your BBQ lid should always be down. This allows the heat to surround the food and cook it more evenly and gently. If you have to open your BBQ lid to baste your meal, try to baste as quickly as possible to avoid losing too much heat.

Combining Direct and Indirect Grilling

Some dishes, like steak, chops, chicken, and vegetables benefit from using both direct and indirect grilling methods. Try searing your meat or vegetables over high heat then transferring them to a low heat area to finish cooking process indirectly. This is a great way to achieve that perfectly caramelized exterior and juicy interior.

Fire up the BBQ!

Understanding the difference between direct and indirect grilling and knowing when to use what method is the key to a successful BBQ.

Learn more great grilling tips and tricks.

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