One of my readers asked the question "What is indirect grilling?" recently by way of the Hey BBQ FYI contact form. Since indirect cooking on the grill is such an important barbecue cooking technique, I decided to write a page about the method, describing how to indirect grill on charcoal and gas grills.
Indirect grilling is cooking in a covered grill, with the heat source on one side and the food on the other. It's very similar to baking in an oven. The food is heated gently, and won't burn as easily as it would if the heat was directly underneath.
The temperature is controlled by adjusting the gas burner, or using fewer or more charcoal briquettes. When using a charcoal grill, by making adjustments to the lower and upper vents you can fine tune the temperature.
I'll be using a Weber kettle grill as the example here. Charcoal can be placed in a single pile, or in two piles, on opposite sides of the grill.
The benefit of using a single pile of charcoal is you have more usable grilling space. The downside is that the food will be cooking more on one side than the other, so it has to be rotated occasionally while it cooks.
When using two piles of charcoal, the food is positioned in the middle of the grill. There is heat on both sides of the food, so it doesn't have to be rotated as it cooks. But you lose some of the grill capacity.
Use a few bricks to keep the charcoal positioned where you want it. You'll see in the picture to the right how the charcoal is kept to the sides by the bricks. The food would then be positioned on the grill, right above the pan.
The pan is there to catch dripping juices, and to also add some moisture to the inside of the grill. Water or other liquid is kept in the pan, along with spices and herbs to add flavor.
Controlling the Temperature
Open the three bottom vents about halfway, and the top vent wide open to start. Monitor the temperature as the food is cooking. If it starts to overheat, close one of the lower vents (the one under the food) completely and wait fifteen minutes.
If it hasn't dropped, slightly close the other two lower vents and the lid vent. Tweak the vent settings and the amount of charcoal used to get the temperature you're shooting for.
As the ribs or brisket barbecue in the grill, it'll be necessary to add more charcoal every hour or so. It's best to pre-light the charcoal beforehand so grill temperature doesn't drop. I always use a charcoal chimney to light the charcoal, just so I know that there's no chance of my food's flavor being affected.
Barbecuing in a gas grill is easier than charcoaling it. The grill has to have at least two burners with separate controls. The burners can be positioned side-by-side, or front to back.
If your grill has front-back burners, use the rear burner, set at its lowest setting. Place the food in the front half of the grill.
In a gas grill having left and right burners, use either burner. Place the food on the opposite side of the grill.
If your gas grill has three or more burners, you can use the burners on each end of the grill, leaving the center ones off and barbecue the food in the middle. But this may not work, depending on the grill you have. The grill might get too hot with both burners going, even at their lowest settings. If that's the case, just use one burner.
The temperature range for most barbecuing is between 250-300 degrees Fahrenheit. Most gas grills have a grill thermometer mounted through the cover.
If it doesn't have on, mount one yourself. If it does, but it only has low-medium-high, or smoke-bbq-grill markings, replace it with a thermometer marked off in degrees. It's important to know the exact temperature your food is cooking.
When using a Weber charcoal grill, position the lid vent directly over
the food and insert the probe of an instant read dial thermometer
through one of the holes. That way you can keep an eye on the
temperature as the food is barbecuing.
What is indirect grilling? Barbecuing away from the heat source for gentle, slow cooking. Perfect for large cuts of meat like pork shoulders and briskets, and for tough cuts, like short ribs. You still need hot direct grilling for cooking that Porterhouse steak, but that's another page...
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