For outdoor cooking enthusiasts, grilling is more than a way to cook food. It’s a way to bring people together and create memories. To create the best memories, grillers often aim to create food that will be the talk of the town. A key first step in that goal is understanding the different heat grilling methods and when to use each one. Below, we’ll delve into the two primary grilling methods: direct and indirect.
Direct Heat Grilling
In this method, the food is placed directly over the heat source. Cooking in this way produces the characteristic grill lines that come as the food is charred. Of course, those lines aren’t merely for aesthetic purposes; they add to the smoky flavor of an unmistakably off-the-grill taste.
This method offers the quickest cooking time. However, this can present a downside as well. Because the outside chars quickly, it may get too done before the inside of larger foods has had enough time to fully cook.
Tips for Direct Heat Grilling
- Preheat the grill: Letting the grill warm up for 10-15 minutes before putting the food on will help it cook more evenly. The grates will be hot enough to give a proper char and the ambient heat enough to cook the insides more thoroughly.
- Clean and oil the grates: Food sears better on clean grates and will stick less often when they’re oiled. You can do this by brushing the grates with a wire brush prior to starting the grill and lightly oiling them with your favorite cooking oil.
- Move the heat source: For grills where the position of the grate or heat source can be adjusted, move them closer together to increase the amount of direct heat or further apart to reduce it, depending on the needs of the food being cooked.
- Manage flare-ups: Dripping fats and juices can cause the flames on a girl to flare up, causing charring and uneven cooking. A spray bottle of water can tame such flames.
- Test for doneness: Use a meat thermometer to remove the food as soon as it reaches the desired internal temperature. This will allow you to get the char you want without cooking the outside too much.
Indirect Heat Grilling
This method overcomes the limitations of direct heat grilling. Larger foods that will cook too fast on the outside and too slowly on the inside using the direct heat method aren’t suitable for grilling without modifying the strategy. Indirect heat grilling keeps those foods further away from the heat source. For example, you can start a fire on one side of the grill and cook a large piece of meat on the opposite side.
The heat will still radiate around the grill, but won’t directly cook the meat. The meat will take longer to cook, and won’t get as much of that characteristic grill char, but the additional time will allow the insides to cook thoroughly. Because the drippings won’t fall directly on the heat source, indirect grilling also minimizes flare-ups.
Tips for Indirect Heat Grilling
- Set up the grill: The indirect method requires that your heat source is only on one side of the grill and that the food is cooked on the opposite side.
- Monitor the heat: Indirect grilling requires steady and consistent temperatures. Use a quality thermometer to monitor the heat inside the grill.
- Control the heat: If your thermometer starts showing that the grill is becoming too cool, you can adjust the airflow to increase it. You may also need to add additional charcoal for extra long cook times.
- Use a drip pan: While a drip pan can be useful for direct heating as well, it’s extra important for indirect heating. It will help maintain moisture in the food so it doesn’t dry out during the longer cook times.
- Let the food rest: Resting is also slightly more important for indirect grilling than with direct grilling. The typically larger cuts of meat require more time for juices to stabilize.
Factors to Consider When Choosing a Grilling Method
When you set up indirect grilling, you’re automatically also setting up direct grilling. This allows you to cook indirectly on the side with no heat under it and directly on the other side. But how do you choose which method to use for which foods? The factors below will help you decide.
Type of Food Being Grilled
We’ve seen how thicker cuts of meat are more suitable for indirect grilling. This includes foods such as ribs and pork shoulders, or whole chickens and turkeys. Certain delicate types of fish will also taste better when cooked with indirect heat. Typical grill fares such as hamburgers, hot dogs, and almost all steaks still perform best with direct heat.
Vegetables such as asparagus and corn on the cob do well with direct grilling. However, thicker vegetables like potatoes or water-heavy vegetables like squash do better with indirect grilling. With vegetables, experiment to see which method provides a taste you prefer.
Desired Cooking Time and Doneness Level
Indirect cooking takes longer to cook. Sometimes, this is a requirement. Thicker food simply take longer to cook. For others, it’s more of a choice. If you want a steak cooked medium-rare and you want it fast, direct heat is the way to go. If you want the steak more well done and don’t want the outside too charred, indirect may work better.
Flavor Preferences and Desired Texture
Remember, direct heat will give you more of the characteristic char of grilled food. It’s a unique texture and taste that might not be what you’re in the mood for. Even if a food doesn’t need indirect heating, it still might provide the taste and texture sensation that you crave at the current moment.
Get Your Supplies at Clark’s Ace Hardware
When you’re ready to get your grilling season started, Clarks Ace Hardware is your Ellicott City BBQ store. We have a nice selection of grills, as well as the supplies you need to maintain and operate them.