Direct and Indirect

Hot Bead Briquettes

When it comes to barbecuing two methods come to mind. Cooking with indirect heat and cooking with direct heat. Each of these methods have their purposes, so what’s the difference? This is indirect vs direct heat grilling!

There are two cooking methods that can be used with a charcoal grill: direct and indirect. These methods don’t have much to do with the type of grill being used or the style of cooking; they depend mostly on the thickness and volume of the food that is being cooked. Understanding the differences between these two methods and knowing when to use which is the first step towards mastering the grill.

Direct Heat Grilling

Direct grilling is a very simple method in which the food is cooked directly over the heat of the charcoal. There is only one variation in direct grilling that is of any importance: keeping the lid down, or leaving it up. This concept can be understood clearly by picturing a frying pan placed on a burner; only the part of the food that is directly in contact with the pan is getting cooked significantly. However, if a lid is now placed on top of the frying pan, any heat rising out of the base is trapped by it and is hence utilised in cooking the top and sides of the food. Thus, cooking with the lid down reduces the time taken for the food to get cooked significantly.

The direct method should be used for small cuts of meat that are less than two inches in thickness and cook in less than twenty five minutes. Things like steaks, chops, kabobs, fillets and sausages are perfect for direct grilling. Direct grilling is also necessary to sear meats in order to create a caramelized texture where the food touches the grate.

Indirect Heat Smoking

Indirect smoking is more similar to roasting than grilling. It requires the source of heat to be built away from where the food is being cooked and the grill lid to be in the closed position. In a typical gas grill this situation can be visualized by imagining that the burners act only on one half of the grill and the food that requires heating is placed on the other. The only heat that is acting on the food is due to convection and radiation. Since no side in particular is being exposed to direct heat, the food is cooked much more evenly. This does mean however that the cooking will take place more slowly.

Indirect smoking is most suited for meat that requires longer than twenty five minutes to cook, or for foods that are so delicate that exposing them to the heat directly will lead to scorching. Anything that would burn on the surface before it can get cooked through the middle is a good candidate for indirect smoking. Examples include ribs, pork shoulders, whole chickens, turkeys, sirloin roasts, and other large cuts of meat that are over two inches in thickness.

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