Since most of us have not gone to culinary school to learn about grilling but are self-taught in the backyard through trial and error, there could be some basics you're missing. Ever wonder about the difference between direct and indirect heat? Or how to use them when grilling? You're not alone! We are going to explore these fundamentals of grilling and other tips in "Grilling 101: What is Direct and Indirect Heat?"

The smell of grilled food is one that never goes away. Those who have had the pleasure know this first hand, and those whose stomachs are rumbling from just reading about it! Grilling over an open fire can be a wonderful experience for both cookers and eaters alike. When you set yourself up to succeed by learning the fundamentals, backed with tried and true techniques, there's nothing quite like cooking outside over open flame.

If you're planning on grilling anything more advanced than basic burgers and dogs, you need to understand direct and indirect heat - what they are, why they differ, and how they are used. Simply stated:

  • Direct heat is when food sits directly over the flame or burner.
  • Indirect heat is when food is placed adjacent to the lit burner or fire.

Let's dive into each to gain a better understanding of how to use them. These simple guidelines will help make your next cookout even more delicious!

The Encore Grill can burn solid fuels and gas simultaneosly

Grilling 101: What is Direct Heat?

We will start with direct heat because that is most likely what you have already been using.  Direct heat is when the food sits directly over a flame or burner, like placing a pot on a stovetop. Whether using charcoal, gas, propane, or other solid fuels, you are using direct heat when the food is directly over the heat source.

Direct heat cooks foods quickly because it has more direct contact with the flames than indirect sources of heat do. It is ideal for foods that will cook through before burning, like hamburgers, carne asada, certain types of seafood, kebabs, and thinner cuts of meat. The high temperatures from the concentrated heat are great for searing meat to lock in natural juices and moisture while forming a tasty crust.

Grilling 101: What is Direct and Indirect Heat?

When grilling most items, it is generally preferred to always set up a grill for both direct and indirect zones, giving the chef more tools and safeguards if the grill gets too hot. Even with steak and hamburgers, it's helpful to have a cooler part of the grill available in case of flare-ups or to prevent burning.

To get the best results when grilling, you need a balance of high and low heat areas. The direct zone is where your meat will receive intense, fast-cooking heat, while the indirect zones offer lower temperatures for slower roasting.

The Benefits of Direct Heat When Grilling

The Atlas Grill

Grilling enthusiasts, we've all been there — standing by the grill, tongs in hand, wondering if we're using the proper cooking method. Direct or indirect heat? It's a question that can baffle even seasoned grillers. But fret not; as your trusted guide in all things grilling, American Made Grills is here to help. Let's explore the benefits of using direct heat when grilling.

  • Fast Cooking Times: Direct heat grilling is like the sports car of the grilling world — it's all about speed. By placing your food directly above the heat source, you're using the highest possible temperature, which translates to faster cooking times. This method is perfect for thin cuts of meat, vegetables, and any food item that cooks quickly.
  • Perfect Sear Marks - Who doesn't love those beautiful, appetizing sear marks on their steak? Direct heat grilling provides the intense heat required to create these coveted grill marks. The high temperature quickly sears the surface of the meat, locking in juices and creating a flavorful crust.
  • Enhanced Flavor - Speaking of flavor, direct heat grilling can enhance the taste of your food in ways other methods can't. The high heat chars the outside of your food, creating a unique smoky flavor synonymous with barbeque.
  • Easy Monitoring - With direct heat grilling, your food is right over the heat source, making monitoring and controlling the cooking process easier. You can quickly adjust the temperature, flip your food, or move it off the heat if needed.
The Encore Grill from the Hybrid Grill Series

Grilling 101: What is Indirect Heat?

Indirect heat refers to zones of your cooktop area that are not directly over the burners or coals. There is still plenty of heat throughout the grill, but it is less intense in these areas. Thicker cuts of meat or poultry will burn before they cook through when only roasted over hot direct heat, whereas the cooler temperatures of indirect heat zones will cook the entire portion evenly.

Many people who grill prefer indirect heat because it cooks food more slowly and gently. This is great if you need a slower roast, such as for ingredients that contain sauces or delicate foods like fish. It's also a good option when the meat has been seared on the outside but still needs time to finish cooking before serving. By moving these pieces off of direct contact with the fire to an unlit part of the grill, they can keep roasting at their own pace without drying out or burning too fast.

Indirect cooking is your best choice to reduce the chance of flare-ups from fat and juices dripping onto direct heat sources. Indirect heat also spreads throughout the entire grill instead of only warming up one side or corner, creating an oven-like effect with the mesquite character of open flame.

The Estate Grill - Bringing the Indoors Outdoors

The Benefits of Indirect Heat When Grilling

At American Made Grills, we believe the secret to grilling perfection lies in understanding different cooking techniques. One technique often overlooked by grill enthusiasts is indirect heat grilling. We're here to shed light on this method and its many benefits.

  • Ideal for Slow Cooking - Unlike direct heat grilling, which is all about speed, indirect heat grilling is the marathon runner of the grilling world. By placing your food away from the heat source, you create an oven-like environment within the grill. This method is perfect for slow-cooking larger cuts of meat or poultry, ensuring they cook evenly without burning the outside.
  • Retains Moisture - Indirect heat grilling is a gentle cooking method that helps retain moisture in your food. Your meats come out juicy and tender, with a delicious smokey flavor that's hard to resist.
  • Perfect for Baking - Yes, you read that right! Your grill isn't just for searing steaks and grilling vegetables. With indirect heat, you can even bake on your grill. From pizzas to bread and even desserts, the possibilities are practically endless.
  • Reduced Risk of Flare-Ups - Grilling over direct heat can sometimes lead to flare-ups, especially when cooking fatty foods. However, indirect heat grilling significantly reduces the risk of flare-ups. This method allows for safer and more controlled grilling so that you can enjoy your grilling experience worry-free.
Grilling 101: What is Direct and Indirect Heat?

Grilling 101: Using Both Direct and Indirect Grilling

Providing a more forgiving grilling environment, plan to use both direct and indirect heat each time you grill. To set up your grill for direct and indirect grilling, ensure that one side of the grill is fully lit and leave the opposite side off for indirect cooking. For gas grills with more than two burners, you can vary the size of each zone with the number of lit burners. When using briquettes, lump coal, or hardwood, you can regulate the zones by keeping the pile of coals to one side of the grill or evenly distributing them in a single layer.

For an even better experience, the hybrid grill series from American Made Grills makes it easy to use both direct and indirect heat with its individual fuel trays and multi-fuel loading system. Simply place your soaked wood chips or charcoal in the outside fuel trays, ignite them with the gas burners, and let the aroma begin!

The next time you're planning on grilling something more advanced than basic burgers and dogs, take advantage of direct and indirect heat zones. Use the direct heat from your burners or coals to quickly roast or sear, and then move your food to indirect zones away from the fire to finish cooking. Direct and indirect heat zones offer a versatile way to get the perfect texture on your food, grow your skills, and show off your grilling prowess!

Next on Grilling 101

Grilling 101: The Basics of Grilling Chicken

If you're a grilling enthusiast, you know that chicken can be tricky to grill. But fear not – American Made Grills has you covered! We'll dive into the Basics of Grilling Chicken in the next installment of the Grilling 101 Series. We'll be sharing our top tips and techniques for achieving perfectly grilled chicken every time, from selecting the best cuts of meat to seasoning and grilling temperatures. Whether you're a beginner or a seasoned pro, this is a must-read for anyone looking to up their chicken grilling game. So, stay tuned for more expert advice from American Made Grills!

January 15, 2024 — Jason Klein