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Direct Heat Grilling Vs. Indirect Heat Grilling

Direct Heat Grilling

When it comes to grill– we focus on most is if it tastes great. But did you know Direct heating and indirect heating?

In terms of grilling, if you want to do grilling well, you need to grab a lot of grilling knowledge, it is simple from how to preheat your grill. Of course, if you want to be a grilling master to tell if the food is cooked to eat, you still need some helpers, such as an instant-read meat thermometer.

Today, let’s know more about  Direct heating and indirect heating.

grill food


Direct Heat Grilling and Indirect Heat Grilling: What Are They?

Two major ways of cooking that lead to two considerably different results. But first – let’s define exactly what we mean when we say “direct” and “indirect” heating.

Let’s get the direct heat definition out of the way first.

Most of us are familiar with direct heat cooking. As the name implies – it’s when we cook something directly over the heat source. Like toasting a marshmallow over an open flame.

But direct heat grilling applies to more than direct exposure. It can also be expanded to include cooking with a frying pan. In this case, the heat source is the bottom of the pan – the part touching the actual heat source. As you would expect, only the bottom of the food is actually cooking.

Add a lid and the situation changes. Now the entire piece is cooking. Kind of like a conventional oven. The difference, of course, is where the heat source is located. In an oven, the heat source is usually located somewhere far away from the actual food being cooked. The food itself is cooked by the residue heat that is trapped inside by the closed door.

Grilling with indirect heat follows the same principle.

Rather than grilling the food directly over the heat, you grill it in a spot away from it. Usually with the lid closed. In a way, you transform your grill into a sort of makeshift oven for outdoor use.

But knowing what the types of grilling are doesn’t do much. You still need to know what the actual differences between the two are. Something beyond just moving the heat source around.

direct vs indirect grilling


The Difference Between Direct And Indirect Heat Grilling

The biggest difference between direct and indirect heating systems is the time needed for something to cook.

With direct heat, food is placed over high heat. It cooks fast and it also burns fast. It isn’t being cooked evenly either. Halfway through the process a flip is usually needed. As such, this method is perfect for thin pieces of food. Anything less than 2 inches thick makes the perfect candidate for direct heat cooking.

Anything thicker and it’s time to start looking at indirect grilling.

Unlike with direct heat, low to medium heat is used in indirect grilling. Placed away from the heat source, food cooks slow. Evenly. And without flipping. Great since you’ll need to keep the lid closed the entire time. The longer the lid is up, the longer it takes for the food to cook.

Although even in the case of direct grilling, you should keep the lid down. It helps the food to cook both faster and evenly.

Unless you’re cooking something quick to overcook like seafood – keep the lid down.

direct heat grill & indirect grill

Direct Heating

  • Best for small or thin pieces of food; Steaks, fish and chicken breasts for example.
  • Food is cooked directly over the heat source; High heat, cooks fast.
  • The simplest method to set up.

Indirect Heating

  • Preferred method for larger cuts of meat; Whole turkey, brisket, roasts, etc.
  • Low heat; Food is cooked slow and evenly.
  • More complicated to set up.

How To Set Up A Grill For Direct And Indirect Heat Grilling

So you have your meat and you have an idea of how you’re going to cook it. Now what? How do you set up your grill the right way for some home grilling?

If you’ve been paying attention than you’ve probably guessed already that there are two ways of setting up of grill. One way for direct grilling and another for indirect. Plus one more way for a combination of the two.

We’ll go over the last way later but for now – let’s show you how to set up a grill for direct heat grilling since that’s the simplest of the two.

A quick note on charcoal vs gas: Which is better? ”It depends.”

If you have no preference than gas is usually easier to set up for both kinds of grilling. That includes for a combination of the two also.

Setting Up A Grill For Direct Heat Grilling

  1. Spread the charcoal over an even layer
  2. Rake half of it to one side – roughly one-third.
  3. Spread the remaining coal around the center and leave the last third of the grill empty.

(If you’re using a gas grill – light the burners in the same way.)

You can use only a single layer across the entire grill but this method offers increased heat control. The side with most of the charcoal can be used for searing, the center for cooking and the empty side to keep it warm.

direct heat grill

Setting Up A Grill For Indirect Heat Grilling

If you’re using a gas grill, setting it up for indirect heat grilling is easy. All you have to do is turn on the burners on the side that you aren’t cooking on. For grills with multiple burners, you might need to light the sides and cook in the center instead.

With charcoal – it gets a little more complicated:

  1. Light the charcoal using a chimney starter
  2. Wait until the charcoal glows red and has a thin layer of white ash on top
  3. Rake them into two piles on opposite sides of the grill with a drip pan in-between
  4. Cook the food in the center and over the pan

After an hour or so, you’ll need to add more charcoal. Just light it the same way and you’ll be good. Make sure to leave the grill uncovered until the coals ignite though.

indirect heat grill

Combining Direct And Indirect Heat Grilling

Combining the two is when things get interesting. Surprisingly – it’s not that much more complicated either.

All you have to do is set up your grill for indirect grilling and start with the meat over the heat source. Once you get a nice sear, cook it the rest of the way on the opposite side away from the heat.

Quick and easy.

If someone asked you which of the two was easier and you had said “indirect heat on gas grill” – you would be correct.

In fact, gas grills make it easier to do direct heat grilling too. At the end of the day, choosing between the two really just comes down to personal preference. The real difficulty in grilling comes from knowing when the food is done.

A lot of people like to guess but honestly? A good cooking thermometer like the ThermoPro Digital Food Thermometer will always be faster and more accurate than any person.

When you take the meat off the heat at the perfect time? Just when the center has reached that perfect temperature…Trust me, you’ll never want to guess if it’s done again.

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