Direct Vs Indirect Grilling : Pros and Cons

Choosing the right grilling technique can often make or break your barbecue sessions. Here’s everything you need to know.

If you’re planning for a barbecue, it is important to understand the kind of grilling technique you will need to use: direct or indirect. It is not as if one method is superior to the other. The food that you wish to cook will determine whether you need a direct or an indirect grill.


Direct Grilling

Direct grilling means placing the food directly over the source of heat, whether coal or gas. This method works best for small and tender stuff like burgers, hot dogs, vegetables and small pieces of meat. Basically, any item that requires less than 30 minutes to cook. Direct grilling gives a crispy, seared crust to the food.

Make a careful use of a drip tray as drippings might land directly in the fire during the process, leading to dangerous flare-ups. Flip all the items just once in order to expose both the sides to heat, when you’re halfway through the cooking time.

You need to keep a close watch to prevent the food from burning. This doesn’t mean you will constantly lift the lid to peek at it. It will only lengthen the cooking time by letting off heat and smoke.

Setting up the grill

  • For a charcoal barbecue, make a single even layer of coals that extends an inch or two beyond the edges of food to make a zone of fire over which the food will be grilled.
  • For a gas barbecue, set all the burners at the same temperature to grill the food evenly.  Always light a gas barbecue keeping the lid open.

Here’s how direct and indirect grilling can be done on a charcoal grill


Building a triple zone fire

Steven Raichlen explains how one can create variations of temperature consisting of a hot, medium and a safety zone even in a direct grill.  You can use the hot zone for searing, the medium zone for cooking and the safety zone can help you in case the food starts to burn

  • In case of a charcoal barbecue: make a double layer of coal on one-third of the grill, keep a single layer in the centre and the remaining one-third without coal to serve as a safe zone.
  • In case of a gas barbecue: set one of the burners on a high flame, the next on a medium flame and turn off the remaining one to make a safety zone.

Indirect Grilling

Indirect grilling, as the name suggests, involves placing the food to one side of the source of heat and not directly above it. The method is used for larger, tougher foods that require long durations over a low temperature to get cooked. Large pieces of meat, whole birds, ribs, etc turn out best when cooked over indirect heat, with juicier meats.

Indirect grilling is a slow process that evenly cooks all the sides of the food through reflected heat. It doesn’t require you to flip the food during the whole process. You will never end up with large pieces of meat charred on the surface while almost raw at the center!

Setting up the grill

  • For a charcoal barbecue, light the coals using a chimney starter, lighter fluid or electrically. Once the desired temperature is reached, divide it into two piles onto the opposite sides of the grill, leaving sufficient gap in between to place the food at the center.
  • For a gas barbecue, light the outside burners, keeping the ones in between turned off. Cook over the one which was not lighted. If you have a two burner gas, light one of them to a high flame and cook on the other.

Direct and Indirect grilling on a gas grill

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