Everyone who barbecues or cooks outside should understand the difference between direct and indirect heat. Both techniques are important, depending on what sort of meat or food you’re cooking. Although the debate has gone on for decades, whether you use direct or indirect heat on the grill depends on what you’re cooking. So read on to find out which method is best for which types of foods.
Direct heat is the easiest grilling method to understand. You get the charcoal going, waiting until the flareups have died down and the coals are glowing a nice cherry red. Then you put the meat on the grill and let it sizzle, flipping it over at least once so that both sides are kissed by fire. Direct heat is best for hot dogs and hamburgers, but also sausages, chicken breasts, ribs, and steaks.
Indirect heat is a more complicated technique. When you are cooking meat such as brisket low and slow, you should never put it directly over the fire. That is a great way to get a dinner burnt on the outside but raw on the inside. Indirect heat also keeps vegetables and side dishes warm and prevents burning.
To achieve indirect heat, you can buy specialized barbeque grills that have a separate firebox for the charcoal or, in some cases, wood. The heated smoke wafts up to the chamber where the meat is kept and slowly, but steadily cooks it, if you do it correctly, to a pull-apart tenderness. If you don’t want to buy a special grill and use a gas barbecue, it is possible to use indirect heat, as well.
Keep the fire going by steadily adding coals or wood and occasionally basting the meat with your favorite wet rub. The one drawback to this cooking technique is that it takes 10 to 12 hours to do it correctly. Also, you need to keep the vents between the firebox and the chamber where the meat is slightly open. This will allow the right amount of heat and smoke to come through.
Indirect Heat with Charcoal
A simpler and less expensive technique for indirect heat uses a more standard grill. In this case, you shove the charcoal to one side. Grill chicken or other types of meat directly, sealing the moistness on both sides. Next, take it off the top of the fire to the other side to finish over indirect heat. This approach is not optimal for brisket or pork shoulder, but it is great for thicker cuts of meat, including steak.
Whether you use indirect or direct heat depends on the type of meat you plan to cook on the grill. Cuts that can cook faster can use direct heat, while those that have to roast low and slow should use indirect heat. Also, side dishes and vegetables can warm up over indirect heat. How you manage to create that indirect heat is up to you. Hopefully, understanding direct vs. indirect heat will improve your outdoor living experience.