In the UK, people will commonly associate their BBQ with grilling. Grilling involves cooking smaller sized cuts of meat such as steaks, pork chops, sausage, burgers etc directly over a heat source, be it charcoal or a gas BBQ. In today’s tip I want to explain how to stay in control of how your food cooks over a direct heat by giving you a simple, yet effective way to set up your BBQ.
What is direct cooking?
Direct cooking is simply another term for grilling and involves cooking your food directly above the lit coals. It is a method of cooking that most people are familiar with as traditional foods such as burgers, sausages, chicken and steaks would all be cooked using this method as they are smaller cuts of meat that will cook quickly.
You can setup your BBQ for a direct cook easily by spreading your lit charcoal across the charcoal grate. Any area of your cooking grate that is directly above the coals is an area of direct heat. You can achieve a high, medium or low direct heat by adjusting the amount of charcoal you add to the BBQ. We’ll have a look at why you might want these different levels of heat in a future tip.
Setting up a safe zone
Whilst the aim of direct cooking is to have the heat source directly under your food, I always recommend you keep an area of the cooking grate that has no lit charcoal below it. I refer to this area as the safe zone.
To create a safe zone in your BBQ, spread the lit coals over approximately ½ to ⅔ of your charcoal grate, leaving the remaining portion empty. With the cooking grate on your BBQ you will have a large area of direct heat over the coals and a smaller area where you can move your food if you feel it is starting to burn or it is almost ready to come off.
With the lid on, food will continue to cook in the safe zone but at a slower pace to the food directly over the coals. This allows you to be in complete control of your cooking. The area at the very edge of your direct zone will also provide a lower direct heat which gives you another temperature zone to work with.
By understanding these different zones, you can control how your food cooks and use them to ensure all your food is ready to come off the grill at the same time. This setup also helps you to avoid burning your food on the outside whilst trying to ensure it is cooked in the centre.
If you are cooking a few burgers for example and you start them off over a direct heat. You may have turned them once or twice and they have a really nice colour on the outside but they still aren’t quite cooked in the middle. Leaving them over the direct heat to continue cooking could result in the outside becoming blackened before the middle of the burgers are fully cooked. If you have a safe zone setup, the burgers can be moved to this area of the cooking grate and with the lid on your BBQ, they will continue to cook from the ambient heat inside your BBQ but as they have been moved from the direct heat, they will not continue to colour on the outside.
I highly recommend you try this setup for your next BBQ and pay particular attention to how your food cooks in each of these zones. If you fill the entire charcoal grate with hot coals, you have nowhere to run if things get a little hot and heavy, but by simply keeping that small area of your grill with no coals below it, you now have the option of moving your food to an area with no direct heat. You can stay in complete control!