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What’s the Difference Between Indirect and Direct Grilling?

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between indirect and direct grilling? If you’re new to grilling, it can be confusing trying to figure out which method to use. But don’t worry, we’re here to help!

Let’s dive into the difference between indirect and direct grilling, which method will you use, and when.

Burgers on a charcoal grill with flames

What does direct grilling mean?

Direct grilling is a cooking method that involves heating food over hot coals (in a charcoal grill) or over a propane flame (in a gas grill).

The food is placed directly on the cooking grate with the heat source directly below it.

This method of cooking tends to be fast and requires adjusting the temperature (by adjusting the top vent of the grill or removing the lid entirely) and flipping the food regularly to prevent burning.

The direct cooking method produces food with a crispy, charred exterior and a tender, juicy interior.

It works best for foods such as burgers, sirloins, tenderloins, chicken breasts, and meaty fish like salmon and tuna.

What does indirect grilling mean?

Indirect grilling is a cooking method that involves placing food on a grill rack, not directly above the heat source, usually with the lid closed.

This method works similarly to an oven, with the heat reflecting off the cover and other interior surfaces, allowing the food to be cooked from all sides in a lower, steadier fashion.

With indirect grilling, the food never comes in contact with the flame, allowing for longer, slower cooking.

It is typically used for tougher or larger foods that take longer than 20 minutes to cook, such as brisket, whole chicken or turkey, pork shoulder, and ribs.

Additionally, wood chips can be added to create a smokey flavor. This longer and slower cooking method helps turn tougher cuts of meat into tender, juicy bites.

Combo Grilling

Combo grilling is a combination of direct and indirect grilling methods.

With combo grilling, the food is initially seared over direct heat for a few minutes to get grill marks and caramelization, and then moved over to indirect heat and cooked with the grill lid down until the desired temperature is reached.

This method is perfect for larger cuts of meat, chops, steaks, whole tenderloins, and chicken pieces that require a seared exterior and a juicy, tender interior. It can also be used for grilled pizza and fruits.

Maybe you are new to grilling all together and wonder what is grilling. Well, I have a post just for you!

Difference between indirect and direct grilling

The difference between direct and indirect grilling is the positioning of the food relative to the heat source. Direct grilling is done by placing the food directly over the heat source, typically using high heat, and cooking quickly.

Indirect grilling, on the other hand, is done by placing the food away from the heat source and using lower temperatures, taking much longer to cook. Additionally, combo grilling, which is a combination of direct and indirect grilling, allows for juicy and flavorful meat with a seared exterior that can also be caramelized.

Also learn the difference between grilled and blackened food.

Benefits of direct grilling

Direct grilling has several benefits over indirect grilling. It uses high heat, which is ideal for quick-cooking foods like hot dogs, kebabs, burgers, vegetables, and tender cuts of poultry, pork, or steak.

Additionally, it produces food that has a crisp, slightly charred outside and a tender juicy inside.

Direct grilling also creates beautiful grill marks and is great for searing meat to give it color and crisp skin.

Benefits of indirect grilling

What benefits does indirect grilling have over direct grilling? Indirect grilling offers an extra layer of complexity and control to your cooking, allowing you to master grilling thinner and thicker cuts of meat.

This longer and slower cooking method helps turn tougher cuts of meat into tender and juicy bites, while the smoke flavor adds an extra dimension to your grilling.

How to use direct and indirect grilling on the grill?

When grilling, there are two ways to cook your food: direct and indirect. Direct grilling is when you place the food directly over the heat, while indirect grilling is when you cook the food next to the heat.

How to do direct grilling

Direct grilling is the most common form of grilling, with the heat source directly below the food. This method is great for cooking smaller cuts of meat, like steaks, chops, kabobs, sausages, and vegetables, which generally take less than 25 minutes to cook.

To use this method on a charcoal grill, spread hot coals evenly across the charcoal grate. Then, set the cooking grate over the coals and place the food on the grate.

Put the lid on the grill and lift it only to turn the food or to check the doneness at the end of the suggested cooking time.

For a gas grill, preheat the grill with all burners on high and place the food on the cooking grate. Adjust all burners to the temperature noted in the recipe, and close the lid. Then, lift it only to turn the food or to check the doneness at the end of the suggested cooking time.

How to do indirect grilling

Indirect grilling is similar to roasting and is used for larger cuts of meat, like roasts, ribs, whole chickens, turkeys, and other large cuts of meat.

It also works great for delicate fish fillets. Heat rises, reflects off the lid and inside surfaces of the grill, and slowly cooks the food evenly on all sides.

To use this method on a charcoal grill, arrange the hot coals evenly on either side of the charcoal grate. Then, place a drip pan between the coals and the food on the cooking grate.

Finally, place the lid on the grill and lift it only to baste or check for doneness at the end of the suggested cooking time.

If you are unsure if should you cover chicken when grilling I have the answer for you in this post.

For a gas grill, preheat the grill with all burners on high and adjust the burners on each side of the food to the temperature noted in the recipe.

Turn off the burners directly below the food, and place roasts, poultry, or large cuts of meat on a roasting rack set inside a disposable heavy-gauge foil pan.

For longer cooking times, add water to the foil pan to keep drippings from burning.

FAQs

Indirect grilling is best for tougher meats, large cuts of meat, and delicate fish that require a longer cooking time and a slower, more even heat.

Direct grilling is best for quick-cooking foods like hot dogs, kebabs, vegetables, shrimp, burgers, and thinner, tender cuts of poultry, pork, or steak.

Typically 225 degrees. With this lower heat, indirect grilling is great for slower-cooking foods like roasts, ribs, and whole chicken.

The slower cooking helps prevent high water or sugar content foods from burning or sticking to the grill grate.

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