If you've ever grilled food that was charred outside and undercooked inside, chances are the chef used the wrong grilling method. Direct and Indirect cooking are the two ways to grill food properly. Getting there is a simple as setting up your grill for the right method.
The direct method, similar to grilling, means the food is cooked directly over the heat source. For even cooking, food should be turned once halfway through the cooking time.
Use the direct method for foods that take less than 25 minutes to cook: steaks, chops, kebabs, sausages, vegetables and the like. Direct cooking is also necessary to sear meats. Searing creates that wonderful crisp, caramelized texture where the food hits the grate. It also adds nice grill marks and flavour to the entire surface. Steaks, chops, chicken pieces, and larger cuts of meal all benefit from searing.
To sear meats, place them over direct heat for 2 to 5 minutes per side. Smaller pieces require less searing time (see recipes for specific times for each cut). Usually after searing, you finish cooking the food at a lower temperature. You can continue to cook fast-cooking foods by the direct method; or use the indirect method to finish off longer-cooking foods.
To set up a charcoal grill for direct cooking, spread prepared coals evenly across the charcoal grate. Set the cooking grate over the coals and place food on the cooking grate. Place the lid on the grill and lift it only to turn food or to test for doneness at the end of the recommended cooking time.If you are cooking fattier foods that might generate a brief flare-up, leave a small section of the charcoal grate that is not covered in coals. That way you can move the food over indirect heat for a few seconds until the flames subside. Remember, shaking off excess marinade and oil before placing the food on the cooking grate and keeping the lid on the grill are the best ways to minimize flare-ups.
To set up a gas grill for direct cooking, preheat the grill with all burners on High. Place the food on the cooking grate, then adjust all burners to the temperature noted in the recipe. Close the lid of the grill and lift it only to turn food or to test for doneness at the end of the recommended cooking time.
The indirect method is similar to roasting, but with the added benefits of that grilled texture, flavour, and appearance you can't get from an oven. Heat rises, reflects off the lid and inside surfaces of the grill, and circulates to slowly cook the food evenly on all sides, much like a convection oven, so there's no need to turn the food over.
Use the indirect method for foods that require 25 minutes or more of grilling time or for foods that are so delicate that direct exposure to the heat source would dry them out or scorch them. Examples include roasts, ribs, whole chickens, turkeys, and other large cuts of meat, as well as delicate fish fillets.
The best barbecues are designed to give you ultimate control of your heat source so you can use the indirect method. This flexibility is intrinsic to the design of most charcoal grills. As long as you can separate the coals so that food in the middle of the cooking grate isn't sitting directly over the heat you're set.
Gas grills, on the other hand, are a little more complex. You have to have a burner configuration that allows you to use only the burners on either side of the food. We suggest you look for a grill with at least three burners in order to facilitate indirect cooking.
To set up a charcoal grill for indirect cooking, arrange hot coals evenly on either side of the grate. Charcoal/Fuel baskets or rails are handy accessories to keep the coals in place. A drip pan placed in the centre of the charcoal grate between the coals is useful to collect drippings that can be used for gravies and sauce. It also helps prevent flare-ups when cooking fattier foods. For longer cooking times, add water to the drip pan to keep drippings from burning. Place the cooking grate over the coals and place the food on the cooking grate, centred over the drip pan or empty space. Place the lid on the grill and lift it only to baste or check for doneness at the end of the suggested cooking time.