What is Indirect Grilling?

What is indirect grilling? Also known as two zone grilling, indirect grilling is a way to slow down the cooking process in order break down the connective tissues of meat or add smoke flavor, or both, so that the meat doesn’t burn.

Why is indirect grilling important? That’s where steaks are finished off to bring them to the desired doneness after a hot sear without burning the meat. Or BBQ sauce is applied so it can caramelize without burning the meat. Or where meat can absorb that sultry smoke flavor before being seared, again, without burning the meat. Indirect grilling can be done on on a box style grill, kettle, Kamado and even a gas grill. Pretty much any style grill.

Let’s put it this way, I use indirect grilling (or two zone grilling) about 90% of the time when I spark up a grill. Even when I cook steaks hot and fast, I use two zone grilling to finish them off. While it’s more prevalent on a charcoal grill I also do it on a gas grill as long as it has at least two burners. It’s that important to have a hot side and a not so hot side.

I was going to say a hot and cool side, but cool is still at least 200 degrees so cool is a bit of a misnomer. And I tend to go a little hotter at 300 when I do indirect grilling. So the hot side is indeed hot, but the other side is by no means cool:

What is Indirect Grilling?
Indirect Grilling Set Up from Above

There are multiple ways to indirect grill. The typical method, as seen in the picture above, is coals on one side and nothing on the other. When it’s time to put the food on, the meat goes on the side with no heat and smoke wood goes directly onto the coals such as these grilled pork steaks which are a midwest staple:

What is Indirect Grilling?
MMMMMMmmmmmm Pork Steaks!

Here’s one more picture of standard indirect grilling with a chunk of smoke wood for white sauce chicken wings:

What is Indirect Grilling?
Grilled Chicken Wings Done Indirect

But there is also the flank method which is technically three zone grilling with two hot sides and one cool spot in the middle:

What is Indirect Grilling?
The Flank Method

The flank method can also be done in a kettle style grill with or without those little charcoal holders:

What is Indirect Grilling?
The Flank Method in a Kettle

Now if you have a Kamado style grill, then you must use a place setter to deflect the heat:

What is Indirect Grilling?
The Place Setter in my Kamado Grill

The inherent problem with the place setter is that once it is in and the grill grate on, searing is hard to do. I’m particularly fond of the reverse sear method which entails smoking before searing. Because once a cut of meat is seared, it’s not taking on any smoke flavor. So infuse the inside of the meat with that smoke first and then sear it to caramelize the proteins on the outside which is a one way ticket to flavor town. To help get two zone grilling in a Kamado style grill, I highly recommend a half or half moon kiln shelf:

What is Indirect Grilling?
A Half Kiln Shelf in a Kamado Grill

The half kiln shelf deflects the heat of half the fire and allows for searing on the other half and thus two zone grilling in a Kamado grill.

***Pro Tip ~ If you have a really small grill and have a hard time having enough coals to keep the temps up and leave enough space for meat then use a disposable aluminum pan as it will dissipate the heat well and deflect it away from the meat like Dad did here over the on a kettle grill doing the flank method above with a grilled spiral sliced ham:

What is Indirect Grilling?
A Disposable Aluminum Pan to Increase the Heat Deflection

Any recipe that calls for roasting can be done indirect on the grill. Any recipe that calls for baking in an oven can be grilled indirect. It’s a lot like baking except you do it outside and there’s smoke. And frankly you can do it better on the grill. The look is so much better than a standard oven. Like this grilled apple stuffed pork tenderloin:

What is Indirect Grilling?
How awesome does that look?

And this grilled bone in, crusted pork loin:

What is Indirect Grilling?
Yeah, You Can Make That on the Grill

You can even do this grilled bacon, cheddar, pull apart bread on the grill:

What is Indirect Grilling?
Bread on the Grill?

That’s what indirect grilling is. If you aren’t going indirect, you just ain’t tryin’

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below or send me an email

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Scott Thomas

Scott Thomas

Scott Thomas, the Original Grillin’ Fool, was sent off to college with a suitcase and a grill where he overcooked, undercooked and burned every piece of meat he could find. After thousands of failures, and quite a few successes, nearly two decades later he started a website to show step by step, picture by picture, foolproof instructions on how to make great things out of doors so that others don’t have to repeat the mistakes he’s made on the grill.
Scott Thomas

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I’ve got to pick up a half moon. It’s one of the few pieces on my wish list that I haven’t gotten around to buying.


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