An important part of learning how to cook on your BBQ is understanding the different ways you can set it up to cook. By learning the differences between direct vs indirect cooking and how to setup your grill for each, you will start to understand which methods work best for different recipes.

I have put together a short 4 part series of articles to explain these different cooking methods. We will also look at how you will set your BBQ up for each of them. 

Direct vs Indirect Cooking

You will most likely hear these two word a lot in BBQ recipes so I thought it would be a good place to start. They basically describe the cooking zones where the food is placed on the BBQ in relation to the heat source. There are different techniques within these two main methods that I will explain later in this article but for now just try to think of it this way

In your house, Your grill would be classed as DIRECT heat and your oven would be classed as INDIRECT heat.

So let’s take a look at each of these main cooking zones and some of the different things you might cook in each of them.

Cooking over Direct Heat

Traditional BBQ such as burgers, sausages, steaks etc is cooked using direct heat and is commonly known as grilling. When grilling meat, you place it directly over the heat source and this will work on a gas or charcoal BBQ.

Direct vs Indirect Cooking - Cooking a steak over direct heat

Grilling is the most common method for smaller pieces of meat that will cook through quickly. You can still achieve a high, medium or low direct heat but thicker cuts of meat will often burn on the outside before they are fully cooked in the centre.

Another form of direct cooking ( and possibly the most direct of them all) is placing your meat directly onto the charcoal. This is known as cooking ‘Dirty’ and basically involves getting your charcoal red hot, blowing off the ash and throwing in a juicy steak. This gives you a beautiful golden crust on the steak while keeping the inside rare. This method will only work with Lumpwood charcoal as briquettes tend to have too much ash and can break apart easily.

Cooking using Indirect heat

I mentioned above that the indirect cooking method is a lot like cooking in your oven. Again, it can be used on charcoal and gas BBQ’s. It basically means placing your food opposite the heat source so with the lid of your BBQ closed, your food will cook in the ambient heat.

Direct vs Indirect cooking - cooking a pork but indirect

There are many different ways to set up your BBQ for indirect cooking. We will look at each of them in more detail in the upcoming articles in this series but let me give you this example to help explain how it works.

If you have a 3 burner gas BBQ, you would light the left and right burners. You would then place your food directly over the middle burner. Your food will not be cooking on heat coming from directly underneath it but from the ambient heat coming indirectly from the left and right burners when the lid is closed.

The same method can be achieved on a charcoal BBQ by placing the charcoal at each side of the BBQ, leaving a gap in the middle. If your food is placed above that gap and you close the lid, the ambient temperature inside the BBQ will cook your food.

This cooking method is ideal for cooking larger cuts of meat such as roast beef or chicken that need a longer time to cook all the way through.

One of the most popular ways to use the indirect cooking method is ‘low and slow’. This involves cooking at a low indirect heat, bringing the internal temperature of the meat up slowly to break down fats and give you juicy, succulent meat.

In the next part of this series of articles, we’ll look at how to set up your gas or charcoal BBQ for direct cooking. Be sure to sign up to become a FREE member for exclusive email content and to be notified when I’ve posted new articles or recipes on the blog.

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Explaining the different heat zones

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