Indirect Grilling Technique

    Did you know? Indirect grilling is so much more common than we know! It's a grilling technique that we all employ unknowingly, all the time.

Have you ever just wanted to put the food a little to the side, away from the heat? It's not yet cooked, but, you don't want it to burn ..... Have you ever said, let me just cover the lid just so that it can cook more evenly, so the heat can circulate in there? Perfect, because that's the indirect grilling method! Covering the grill helps the trapped heat to cook over and around the food.

Indirect Grilling of Chicken Indirect Grilling of Chicken

This method of grilling simply involves not putting the food directly over the heat as opposed to the direct heat grilling method. You can grill indirectly with charcoal, gas or wood.

Most grills have a second level grid that's set higher than the main cooking grid making it possible to use indirect heat to grill delicate small foods like cheese, fish or desserts.

The indirect grilling method is mostly suited for larger foods, where the grill is kept at medium-low temperature, 250-350 °F (120-175 °C). At this temperature, the food cooks well on the inside  without charring or burning on the outside. 

Large roasts, leg of lamb, briskets, whole turkeys and chicken and slabs of ribs can be cooked in this manner. Foods with sugary sauces, glazes and marinades are best suited for this indirect cooking method too.

A metal drip pan should be used to collect dripping fat and juices. You can use an aluminum baking pan available at your local grocery store. Place the pan under the cooking grid, under the food to collect juices.

The constant heat applied to the food coupled with extended grilling time causes the membranes and connective tissue in the meat to break down and release natural juices. These fluids can extinguish a flame, cause flare-ups or clog grilling equipment. Use a drip pan.

Some grill cooks get creative  with juices that can be collected to baste or create tasty sauces. The drip pan also helps to make clean-up a breeze later .... Fill this pan with water to add moisture in your cooking chamber. You can also use beer or broth in the pan to enhance other desired flavors too!

It is possible to try and get too creative. Just be sure not to add combustible liquor!

Indirect Grilling with Charcoal

Charcoal grilling is perfect for indirect heat grilling. Start by creating heat zones in your grill. This simply means stacking the hot coals in a given way to get different heat levels in the same grill.

If you have a small kettle-type grill, you may be able to get away with two zones. One side with all the heat from the burning coals and a not-so-hot  side. Place a metal drip pan on the side with no coals.

If you have a bigger grill, you can have a 'three-heat-zone' for cooking; high, medium and low heat. To get high heat on the hot side, use your long metal tongs to stack two levels or layers of coals. The more the coals, the higher the heat. Do the same on the medium heat side by stacking just one layer of coals on the charcoal grate. Again, drip, drip, set the metal pan on the low heat side of your grill, the area with no coals. Reduce flare-ups.

Some charcoal grills have an adjustable charcoal grate or firebox. Start off by raising the hot coals in the firebox high, right under the grill to heat the grill up. Lower the coals to reduce direct heat to the cooking foods. Now, you can place your food on the cooking grid. For best results, keep your lid closed most of the time.

This indirect heat method takes longer to cook foods. Be prepared to add more coals if you need. Lump charcoal can conveniently be added unlit to an already cooking fire due to the clean burning qualities it embodies. Charcoal briquettes are a little trickier to add while you are cooking. Depending on the type of briquettes, make sure your coals are not smoking when you add them to the grill.

Instant or self-igniting briquettes have to be fully lit and ready to cook before being introduced to the fire. They will infuse your food with undesirable smoke and petroleum 'flavor'. Consider using a charcoal chimney also known as a chimney starter to light the charcoal briquettes on the side first, then use them to cook.

Pay close attention to the recommended grilling times and temperature of foods prepared with indirect heat. Most of these foods are generally large pieces and need to either cook well on the inside or at least achieve the safe internal temperature.

'Ring of Fire'

A 'ring of fire' is a unique indirect heat grilling technique. In this technique the coals are placed on a grill in a ring formation. The 'ring of fire' formation creates an outer hot ring around and a not-so-hot center for placing food on the cooking grid.

Start by lighting your charcoal in a charcoal chimney also known as a chimney starter. Remove the cooking grid. When the coals are ready, carefully place them on the outer rim of the charcoal grate.

Ring of Fire The 'Ring of Fire'

Mould a long sheet of foil to create the inner rim of the 'ring of fire' to hold your hot coals around if you need.

Remember to place a drip pan on the charcoal grate, right under the food, inside the 'ring of fire'. Add water into the pan.

Keep the grill covered the grill to ensure that the radiant heat generated by the 'ring' stays in the grill to cook the food evenly.

To add great wood flavor to your food, try using hardwood chips with your charcoal grill and enjoy flavorful foods cooked with indirect heat. The chips will do well because the grill is covered most of the time and this is ideal for 'smoking'.

Soak the wood chips in water 30-60 minutes before using them on the grill. Allow them to drip-dry then scatter them liberally over the coals. You can put the chips in a piece of aluminum foil, wrap it and poke some holes. Place the foil on top of the hot coals to 'smoke'.

"What else, umm .... let's see, yup. That pretty much wraps it up for the charcoal grill. Let's go over to the gas guys with their fancy dandy grill."

Indirect Grilling with Gas

"Thanks charcoal guys, hope all that smoke and soot is not getting to you. OK. Umm.... where was I?"

The gas grill can be used in a similar way to create your tasty foods cooked by indirect heat. The gas grill is a 'no mess no fuss' way of grilling. No coals to light up or move around just burners to work with to achieve good tasty foods all the time. With a wide range of gas grills in the market today, you can pretty much take your pick. The bigger your gas grill, the more the options available for using and varying different cooking techniques.

Indirect Grilling with Gas Indirect Grilling with Gas

The major thing to watch for in a gas grill is dripping fat. With a charcoal grill, its easy to get away with a lot of that. With the gas grill, dripping fat can spell long-term disaster.

Burners can get clogged creating safety and malfunction issues and clean-up can be a mighty chore. Some gas grills are outfitted with an underlying pan that can collect fat and juices and conveniently slides out for disposal and cleaning.

If you have more than one burner, you can cook indirectly. You can still do it with one burner but with low heat which means it may take much longer to cook foods indirectly. Two and three-burner grills have a better capacity for indirect heat grilling. Start by identifying where to put your shallow drip pan.

A quick overview of the Owner's Manual is highly advisable. Follow instructions carefully when assembling a new gas grill.

Turn all your burners on high to ensure an overall hot chamber for cooking. If one side of the grill stays cold, it takes significantly longer for all the components to heat up. The gas grill has to be hot enough before you can start cooking indirectly. Turn the heat up!

Next, turn off the burner on one side of the grill. This is the side where the food will be placed, to cook indirectly. Be sure to oil the cooking grid before placing your food to grill.

Now, it's flavor time! You can infuse your food with hardwood flavor. If your grill is outfitted with a smoker or smoking box, things are looking up!
Soak your favorite smoking chips in water 30-60 minutes before introducing them to the smoker box. Allow them to drip-dry for a few minutes.

The smoker box will normally have its own burner. Turn it on high until you see smoke coming out. When you see smoke coming out, turn down the heat to the smoker box accordingly.

All in all, pay close attention to recommended grilling times and temperature for large foods cooked with indirect heat. Ensure that the internal food temperature is reached and the grilled food rests for a few minutes before serving.

Last but not least, use a reliable digital food probe thermometer to measure the internal food temperature.

Indirect grilling is a great method for preparing food items outdoors. Master a few of the techniques, benefit from some grilling tips and thrill your taste buds with full flavor grilled food!

Return From - Indirect Grilling to Grilling Techniques
Return To - Home >> Top

Print Friendly and PDF


"All normal people love meat. If I went to a barbeque and there was no meat, "Yo Goober! Where's the meat? I'm trying to impress people here Lisa. You don't win friends with salad."

-Homer Simpson

"Grilling, broiling, barbecuing - whatever you want to call it, is an art, not just a matter of building a pyre and throwing on a piece of meat as a sacrifice to the gods of the stomach."

-James Beard

"It is very important that when you put something on the grill, you leave it in place to cook. If you move it around too quickly, chances are it is going to stick."

-Bobby Flay