When building a fire with a charcoal grill, choosing between direct heat and indirect heat is simple. Use direct heat when grilling foods that cook quickly … say 20-30 minutes or less. If the food needs to cook 30 minutes or less, use indirect heat.
Build your fire with direct heat as well as indirect heat if you are cooking a foods that need a variety of different cooking times. When using a charcoal grill, this is just a matter of building the charcoal fire on one side of the grill, leaving the other side cooler. When using a gas grill, it comes down to how you use your burners to create different heating zones.
Let's look closer into the direct heat and indirect heat grilling methods:
Direct Heat Method
When grilling using direct heat, the food cooks directly over the flame or heat source. Some of the foods suitable for direct heat include burgers, steaks, smaller chicken pieces, fish, and vegetables. Direct heat is used to sear, or lock in the flavor, of meats. To ensure even cooking of these foods, flip each food item just once in the grilling process.
Direct Heat Using a Charcoal Grill:
Spread the hot coals evenly over the charcoal grate. Then place the food grate over the coals. Close the lid, and let the grate heat for about 10 minutes. Distribute the food over the grate, and close the lid. Only open the lid when you need to flip over the food, or to check for done-ness.
Direct Heat Using a Gas Grill:
Turn all of the burners on high, close the grill lid, and let the grate preheat for about 10 minutes. Adjust the burners to a medium flame and then place the food on the grill. Close the grill lid and only open to flip the food or check for done-ness.
Indirect Heat Method
Indirect heat grilling means the heat source is over on one side, while the food is over the other side. This will allow the heat to move around the food slowly and evenly. This type of cooking is closer to actually cooking barbecue than grilling, except that not as much smoke is infused into the meat as in BBQ. Some foods that are perfect for indirect heat grilling are roasts, whole chickens, ribs, and other large cuts of meat.
Indirect Heat Using a Charcoal Grill:
Distribute the coals evenly on one side of the charcoal grill grate. Place a drip pan on the side without the coals. Add water to the pan to keep the drippings from burning. Some wood chips in the pan will also add some smoky flavor.
Place the food grate over the hot coals. Close the lid and let the grate heat for 10 minutes. Distribute the food over the drip pan side on the food grate. Close the lid, and only lift it to check for done-ness.
Indirect Heat Using a Gas Grill:
Turn all burners on high, close the lid, and let food grate heat for 10 minutes. Place the food on one side, turn off any burners on that same side, and close the lid. Only open the lid occasionally to check for done-ness.
Remember, there are no set rules to grilling. Play around with the different flame settings and techniques, and get used to the way certain foods react to various temperatures and flames. The great flavor of your grill cooking will certainly show in the end.