What Is Indirect Grilling?

Today, let’s talk about a cooking method that may not be as popular as its direct counterpart but definitely deserves a spot in your culinary repertoire. It goes by the name of indirect grilling, and if you haven’t tried it yet, you’re in for a treat! But what exactly is indirect grilling? Well, picture this: a slow-cooking technique where your food is not placed directly over the heat source, instead, it’s cooked off to the side. This allows for a more gentle and even heat distribution, resulting in juicy, tender, and oh-so flavorful dishes. So whether you’re planning a backyard barbecue or simply want to elevate your grilling game, let’s delve into the world of indirect grilling and discover its mouthwatering possibilities. Indirect grilling is a cooking technique that involves using indirect heat to cook food slowly and evenly. Unlike direct grilling, where heat is applied directly under the food, indirect grilling uses a two-zone fire setup, with the heat source placed on one side of the grill and the food placed on the other side. This allows for gentle, indirect heat to cook the food without the risk of burning or charring.

Indirect grilling is a popular method for cooking larger cuts of meat, such as roasts, whole chickens, and racks of ribs, as well as delicate foods like fish fillets and vegetables. It is especially well-suited for low and slow cooking, where the food is cooked at a lower temperature over a longer period of time to achieve tender and juicy results.

Many grill enthusiasts prefer indirect grilling for its versatility and ability to infuse flavors into the food. By using different smoking wood chips or adding marinades and seasonings, you can create a range of delicious flavors that are sure to impress your guests.

So, how exactly does indirect grilling work? Let’s dive into the details.

Heat Source Placement

The key to indirect grilling is positioning the heat source correctly. For charcoal grills, this is typically done by arranging the charcoal on one side of the grill and leaving the other side empty. For gas grills, you can achieve indirect heat by turning off one or more burners and placing the food on the unlit side.

The goal is to create a temperature difference between the two sides of the grill, with the heat source side being the hotter zone and the food side being the cooler zone. This temperature difference allows for slow and even cooking, as the food is not directly exposed to the intense heat of the flames.

Cooking Time and Temperature Control

When using indirect grilling, it’s important to carefully monitor the cooking time and temperature to ensure your food is cooked to perfection. The ideal temperature for indirect grilling typically ranges from 225°F to 275°F (107°C to 135°C), depending on the recipe and the type of food you’re cooking.

To maintain this temperature, it’s important to adjust the airflow on your grill. For charcoal grills, you can do this by partially closing the vents to reduce the oxygen flow, which will lower the heat intensity. For gas grills, you can adjust the burner knobs accordingly to control the temperature.

Additionally, using a reliable meat thermometer is essential to ensure your food reaches the desired level of doneness. Different cuts of meat have different internal temperature targets, so referring to a temperature chart or recipe will help you determine the proper cooking time.

Now that you understand the basics of indirect grilling, let’s explore the types of grills that are suitable for this cooking technique.

Types of Grills Suitable for Indirect Grilling

Charcoal Grills

Charcoal grills are a popular choice for indirect grilling due to their versatility and ability to impart smoky flavors to the food. With a simple setup of charcoal briquettes or lump charcoal on one side of the grill, you can achieve perfect indirect heat for your cooking needs. The adjustable vents on a charcoal grill allow for precise temperature control, giving you the ability to regulate the heat intensity.

Gas Grills

Gas grills offer convenience and ease of use, making them a popular choice among grill enthusiasts. While gas grills are primarily designed for direct grilling, they can also be used for indirect grilling by utilizing the different temperature zones. By turning off one or more burners and placing the food on the unlit side, you can create an indirect cooking environment. Gas grills typically have built-in temperature gauges, making it easy to monitor and adjust the heat as needed.

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Pellet Grills

Pellet grills have gained popularity in recent years due to their ability to provide precise temperature control and flavorful results. These grills use wood pellets as the heat source, which are fed into a hopper and automatically ignited. The pellets are then burned and produce both heat and smoke, creating a unique and delicious flavor profile. Pellet grills are known for their versatility and can easily be set up for indirect grilling, making them a favorite among BBQ enthusiasts.

Kamado Grills

Kamado grills, also known as ceramic grills or egg grills, are versatile cookers that excel at both direct and indirect grilling. These grills are designed to retain heat thanks to their thick ceramic walls, allowing for excellent temperature control. By adjusting the airflow and using the two-zone fire setup, you can easily achieve indirect heat for your cooking needs. Kamado grills are known for their ability to retain moisture, resulting in succulent and flavorful food.

Now that you have an idea of the different types of grills suitable for indirect grilling, let’s move on to preparing your grill for this cooking technique.

Preparing Your Grill for Indirect Grilling

Clean and Preheat the Grill

Before using your grill for indirect grilling, it’s important to clean it thoroughly to remove any leftover residue from previous cookouts. Scrub the grates with a grill brush to remove any stuck-on food particles, and use a mild dish soap for a deeper clean. Rinse the grates thoroughly and allow them to dry.

Once your grill is clean, it’s time to preheat it. Preheating the grill ensures that it reaches the desired cooking temperature and helps to prevent food from sticking to the grates. Simply turn on the burners or light the charcoal and let the grill heat up for about 15-20 minutes.

Using a Drip Pan

Using a drip pan is a common practice in indirect grilling, especially when cooking fatty cuts of meat. A drip pan is placed under the food to catch any drippings, preventing flare-ups and minimizing the chances of the food becoming greasy.

To use a drip pan, simply place it on the grill grates on the side opposite the heat source. Fill the pan with water, broth, or another liquid of your choice to create steam and add moisture to the cooking environment. The liquid will also help to keep the temperature stable and prevent the drippings from burning.

Setting Up Two-Zone Fire

To achieve indirect heat, you’ll need to set up a two-zone fire on your grill. This means having a hot zone and a cooler zone on opposite sides of the grill.

For charcoal grills, arrange the charcoal on one side of the grill, creating a pile or a half-moon shape. Leave the other side empty, so that there is no direct heat under the food. This setup allows the heat to circulate around the food, ensuring even cooking without burning.

For gas grills, turn off one or more burners on the side where you plan to cook the food. This will create a cooler zone on that side of the grill. The burners on the other side should be left on to provide the heat source, but the food should be placed on the unlit side.

Adding Smoking Wood Chips

One of the benefits of indirect grilling is the opportunity to add smoky flavors to your food. This is achieved by using smoking wood chips. Soaking the wood chips in water for about 30 minutes before using them will help them to smolder and release smoke more slowly.

Once the grill is preheated and the two-zone fire is set up, simply add a handful of soaked wood chips to the hot side of the grill. The chips will start to smolder and produce smoke, infusing your food with delicious flavors.

Now that your grill is prepared for indirect grilling, it’s time to explore some popular techniques used in this cooking method.

Popular Techniques Used in Indirect Grilling


Smoking is perhaps one of the most well-known techniques used in indirect grilling. By adding smoking wood chips to the grill, you can infuse your food with a distinct smoky flavor. This technique is especially popular for cooking meats like ribs, brisket, and pulled pork. The slow and low cooking process allows the smoke to penetrate the meat, resulting in tender and flavorful results.

To smoke your food, simply follow the steps for indirect grilling and add the wood chips of your choice to the grill. Close the lid and let the smoke work its magic. Depending on the recipe, smoking times can vary from a few hours to overnight.

Rotisserie Cooking

Rotisserie cooking is another technique that works beautifully with indirect grilling. Using a rotisserie attachment or rotisserie basket, you can cook large cuts of meat, such as whole chickens or roasts, with even heat distribution. The rotisserie slowly rotates the food while it cooks, ensuring that it is evenly browned and juicy on all sides.

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To use a rotisserie on your grill, follow the manufacturer’s instructions to attach it securely. Place the food on the spit rod or in the rotisserie basket, making sure it is balanced and centered. Turn on the rotisserie motor and let it do the work. Monitor the internal temperature of the food with a meat thermometer to determine when it is done.

Plank Grilling

Plank grilling is a technique that involves cooking food on a pre-soaked wooden plank, typically made from cedar or other aromatic woods. The soaked plank is placed on the cooler side of the grill, and the food is placed on top of it. As the plank heats up, it releases flavors into the food, creating a unique and delicious taste.

To plank grill, soak the plank in water for at least an hour before using it to prevent it from catching fire on the grill. Preheat the grill, then place the soaked plank on the cooler side of the grill. Arrange the food on top of the plank and close the lid. The steam from the plank will help to keep the food moist and flavorful.

Reverse Searing

Reverse searing is a technique used to achieve a perfectly cooked and seared piece of meat. It involves cooking the meat using indirect heat until it reaches the desired internal temperature, and then searing it on high heat to create a flavorful crust.

To reverse sear, set up your grill for indirect grilling and place a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the meat. Cook the meat over indirect heat until it reaches about 10-15 degrees below the desired internal temperature. Remove the meat from the grill, and while it rests, preheat the grill to high heat. Return the meat to the grill and sear it for a few minutes on each side to create a caramelized crust.

Now that you have explored some popular techniques, let’s talk about the best cuts of meat for indirect grilling.

Best Cuts of Meat for Indirect Grilling

Whole Chicken or Turkey

Cooking a whole chicken or turkey on an indirect grill is a great way to achieve moist and flavorful results. The slow and gentle cooking process allows the bird to cook evenly and retain its natural juices. For added flavor, you can brine the poultry before grilling or stuff it with aromatic herbs and citrus fruits.

To cook a whole bird using indirect grilling, preheat your grill and set it up for indirect heat. Place the bird on the cooler side of the grill, breast side up, and close the lid. Monitor the internal temperature and cook until it reaches a safe temperature, usually around 165°F (74°C) for chicken and 175°F (79°C) for turkey.


Ribs are a classic choice for indirect grilling, thanks to their ability to absorb the smoky flavors and become incredibly tender. The low and slow cooking method breaks down the connective tissues in the meat, resulting in falling-off-the-bone goodness.

To prepare ribs for indirect grilling, remove the membrane on the bone side of the rack for more even cooking and better flavor penetration. Season the ribs with your favorite rub or marinade, and preheat your grill for indirect cooking. Place the ribs on the cooler side of the grill, bone side down, and cook until the meat is tender and pulls away from the bone easily.

Pork Shoulder or Butt

Pork shoulder or butt is a cut of meat that benefits greatly from indirect grilling. The slow and steady cooking process allows the tough collagen and fat to break down, resulting in a tender and succulent piece of meat that can be easily pulled apart.

To cook a pork shoulder or butt, trim any excess fat and apply a flavorful dry rub. Preheat your grill and set it up for indirect grilling. Place the pork on the cooler side of the grill, fat side up, and close the lid. Cook until the internal temperature reaches around 195°F (90°C) for pulled pork that shreds easily.


Brisket is a popular choice for barbecues and is well-suited for indirect grilling. It is a large and tough cut of meat that requires low and slow cooking to break down the tough fibers and develop a delicious smoky flavor.

To cook a brisket using indirect grilling, season the meat with a flavorful rub and let it sit in the refrigerator overnight to allow the flavors to penetrate. Preheat your grill and set it up for indirect heat. Place the brisket on the cooler side of the grill, fat side up, and close the lid. Cook until the internal temperature reaches around 200°F (93°C) for a tender and flavorful brisket.

Fish Fillets

Indirect grilling is not only for meat lovers – it can also be used to cook delicate foods like fish fillets. Cooking fish indirectly allows for a gentle and even heat that prevents the delicate flesh from overcooking or sticking to the grill grates.

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To cook fish fillets using indirect grilling, lightly oil the fillets and season them with your favorite herbs and spices. Preheat your grill and set it up for indirect heat. Place the fillets on the cooler side of the grill and close the lid. Cook until the fish flakes easily with a fork, usually around 8-10 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fillets.


Indirect grilling is not limited to meats – it can also be used to cook a variety of delicious vegetables. The even heat provided by indirect grilling allows for a gentle cooking process that brings out the natural flavors and textures of the vegetables.

To grill vegetables indirectly, season them with olive oil, salt, and pepper, or your favorite seasoning blend. Preheat your grill and set it up for indirect heat. Place the vegetables on the cooler side of the grill and close the lid. Cook until the vegetables are tender and lightly charred, flipping them occasionally for even cooking.

Now that you know the best cuts of meat for indirect grilling, let’s cover some tips for successful results.

Tips for Successful Indirect Grilling

Use a Meat Thermometer

Using a meat thermometer is crucial for ensuring that your food reaches the desired level of doneness. Different cuts of meat have different internal temperature targets, so it’s important to refer to a temperature chart or recipe to determine the proper cooking time. Insert the meat thermometer into the thickest part of the meat, avoiding any bones or fat. This will give you an accurate reading and help prevent over- or undercooking.

Control the Grill Temperature

Maintaining a consistent temperature is key to successful indirect grilling. Keep an eye on the grill temperature using a built-in thermometer or an external one. Adjust the airflow or burner knobs as needed to maintain the desired temperature range. Remember, low and slow is the name of the game for indirect grilling, so be patient and resist the urge to crank up the heat.

Avoid Opening the Lid Too Often

Opening the lid too often can cause heat loss and result in uneven cooking. Each time the lid is opened, the grill loses heat, and the temperature needs to recover, extending the overall cooking time. Only open the lid when necessary, such as when checking the internal temperature of the food or adding wood chips. Keep a close eye on the grill temperature, and resist the temptation to peek.

Allow Resting Time

Resting time is an important step in the cooking process. Once your food has reached the desired internal temperature, remove it from the grill and let it rest for a few minutes before cutting or serving. This allows the juices to redistribute throughout the meat, resulting in moister and more flavorful results. Use this time to prepare any accompanying sauces or sides.

Experiment with Flavors

One of the great things about indirect grilling is the opportunity to experiment with different flavors and techniques. Try using different wood chips or combinations of spices and herbs to create unique flavor profiles. Consider marinating or brining your meat before grilling to add extra moisture and flavor. Don’t be afraid to get creative and have fun with your grill – it’s all about discovering what works best for you and your taste preferences.

Now, let’s address some frequently asked questions about indirect grilling.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can You Use Indirect Grilling on a Charcoal Grill?

Yes, indirect grilling is commonly used on charcoal grills. The two-zone fire setup, where the charcoal is placed on one side of the grill and the food on the other side, is ideal for achieving indirect heat. This setup allows for slow and even cooking, making it perfect for larger cuts of meat and delicate foods.

What Are the Advantages of Indirect Grilling?

Indirect grilling offers several advantages. Firstly, it allows for slow and even cooking, resulting in tender and juicy results. It also minimizes the risk of burning or charring the food, as it is not directly exposed to the intense heat of the flames. Additionally, indirect grilling allows for the infusion of smoky flavors into the food, giving it a delicious and distinct taste.

How Long Does Indirect Grilling Take?

The cooking time for indirect grilling can vary depending on the type and thickness of the food being cooked. Low and slow cooking is the general rule of thumb for indirect grilling, as it allows the food to cook at a lower temperature for a longer period of time. For example, cooking a whole chicken or turkey using indirect heat can take anywhere from 2 to 4 hours, depending on their size.

Do I Need Special Equipment for Indirect Grilling?

While there are specialized equipment options available for indirect grilling, such as pellet grills and kamado grills, you do not necessarily need special equipment. Many traditional charcoal and gas grills can be easily set up for indirect grilling by using the two-zone fire setup. With a little practice and attention to temperature control, you can achieve excellent results using the grill you already have.

In conclusion, indirect grilling is a versatile and flavorful cooking technique that allows you to achieve tender and juicy results. By using the two-zone fire setup, maintaining the proper temperature, and experimenting with different flavors and techniques, you can create delicious meals that will impress your family and friends. So, fire up your grill, gather your ingredients, and let the magic of indirect grilling unfold. Happy grilling!