Grilling On Direct VS. Indirect Heat

A key factor in living your best backyard pitmaster life is becoming well-versed about direct vs. indirect grilling, and when to use both. It all boils down to where the food you’re cooking is positioned relative to your heat source, and whether that heat is from charcoal, gas, or wood.

So what is indirect heat on a grill? It’s that low and slow heat we mentioned, similar to your slow cooker but outside and with a burst of additional flavor from the smoke. Direct heat, in contrast, is a quicker and hotter cooking style since you’re placing the food directly over the heat source.

What is Direct Heat on a Grill?

When we say “grilling,” chances are you picture this—grilling food directly above its heat source, be it glowing charcoal, smoky wood, or gas grill burners. Direct grilling is fast, often done in a matter of minutes, and usually performed with the lid off. It’s ideal to sear and crisp the exterior of meats, vegetables, or fruits (yes, you can and should grill fruit!), and lends those enticing grill marks.

When deciding between direct vs. indirect grilling, consider the items at play (aka on your plate). Direct grilling is best for quick-cooking foods like hot dogs, kebabs, vegetables, shrimp, burgers, and thinner, tender cuts of poultry, pork, or steak. Flip once halfway through grilling for the best results.

To cook with direct heat, light your charcoal grill or turn on your gas grill to high. Aim for around 450°F to 650°F, depending on your recipe. Once the grill has preheated, transfer the food to the grill grates and cook, flipping once, until the internal temperature has reached a safe cooking temperature. Using clean tongs, transfer the cooked food to a player, allow it to rest for 5 to 10 minutes, then enjoy.

To cook with indirect heat, position the charcoal on one half of the grill or light the burners on only one half of a gas grill. Or try the three-zone method, with heat on either edge of the grill and an open space in the middle where you place the food so it receives heat from both sides. Some grilling experts swear by the “ring of fire” method, an option if you’re cooking with charcoal, which involves lining the perimeter of the grill with the heat source. This circular indirect grilling style yields the most even cooking. In any case, start your grill, close the lid, and allow it to preheat for 15 minutes. Place the food over an unlit portion of the gas grill or away from the glowing charcoal.