Direct Vs Indirect Cooking (The Simple Way To Learn) [September 2023]

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Grilling and smoking are great for cooking anything from burgers and sausages to pork roasts and brisket.

However, if you want to cook these cuts well, you need to understand indirect and direct cooking.

Then you need to understand which method works better for different types of food. We will explain below.

cooking burgers in direct heat on grill

What is Direct vs Indirect Grilling?

Indirect grilling uses lower temperatures and takes longer. Whereas direct grilling expose the food directly to high heat and cooks food fast.

The Three Types of Grilling Explained

Basically, cooking on charcoal or gas grills can be divided into three different methods;

  1. Direct Grilling
  2. Indirect Grilling
  3. Direct and Indirect Grilling.

The difference between the three methods is fairly simple. Where the food is placed in relation to the heat source (AKA the fire).

The Direct Grilling Method uses the heat directly from the flame to do the cooking.

The Indirect Grilling Method uses reflected heat to do the cooking. FYI Reflected heat is similar to an oven. 

The Direct & Indirect Method uses a mixture of these two methods to cook the food.

Direct VS Indirect grilling

What is Indirect Grilling?

The indirect method is used for cooking low and slow. You want to use this method when you are cooking larger cuts of meat over a long period of time.

This method is perfect for ribs, smoked brisket, chicken and spatchcock turkey, and all types of other meat with a lot of connective tissue. The indirect heat grilling method uses reflected heat to cook the meat, just as a convection oven does.

It allows for juicy meats without the need to turn or ‘play with the food as it’s cooking.

Unfortunately, the indirect method can only be used on covered grills, as the meat is cooked from reflected heat. The lid also helps trap heat by creating a stable temperature and moist environment.

Because of the nature of the indirect method you should try to stay away from opening the grill, this will ensure the meat is cooked evenly, as juicy as possible, and no longer than it needs to. 

The key to cooking using the indirect method is to add in briquettes every hour or so, this also helps ensure an even cooking temperature throughout the day and will cook the meat evenly and juicy.

What Is Direct Grilling? 

The direct method is primarily used for foods that generally take under 220 minutes to cook and that need to be seared.

Some common food items that require direct grilling are; chops, NY strip, most vegetables, hamburgers, ribeye & shrimp. 

The food is placed directly above the heat source and must be flipped halfway through the cooking process. This exposes both sides of the food to the heat and ensures even cooking the whole way through. Due to the high heat ensure you always use BBQ gloves.

The direct method is a simple method and can be used on any grill. However, this method does work better on a grill with a closable lid as this will trap more heat in and ensure a juicy result.

Is Combined Direct & Indirect Grilling Possible?

Yep, you can use combined direct and indirect grilling to cook your desired cut of meat.||

The direct method is used to sear the meat at the start of the cooking process to lock in all the juices and the flavor of the meat. 

The indirect method then finishes off the cooking process low & slow to cook the meat tender and juicy.

To use the combined approach, firstly start off the cook by placing your cut of meat on top of the heat source until well seared. You want to do this on each side of the meat to ensure it is going to cook evenly. This should only take a couple of minutes on a very hot grill.

Then move the meat into the center of the grill, ensuring the meat is evenly spaced on each side from the meat source. Close the lid and let sit to complete the cook. Try not to open the grill as this will let precious heat and moisture escape. This will cause the meat to take longer to cook and be drier and not as tender.

This method is more common in the world of barbecue because it offers the best of both worlds, A beautifully caramelized crunch on the outside with a moist and tender inside.

Using this method is definitely a crowd-pleaser and is going to get a good response at your next backyard cook-off.

So is Direct vs Indirect Better?

How to tenderize steak

There is no clear winner whether you should be using direct or indirect cooking.

Both methods including a combination of the two have their own time and place. Depending on the cut, I like to use a combination of direct & indirect, this way you get a really nice sear/ char on the outside of your meat.

Now and then, me and the family I like to cook at home and then take our meats down to the local park to enjoy the afternoon.

Instead of taking my BBQ, grill, or smoker down to the park, I like to cook at home and take the meat down in my faux cambro this keeps everything nice and warm and saves the hassle of lugging down the setup.

Wrapping it Up

I hope I was able to clear up what the three different grilling methods are for you today. When you have your next cookout and the conversation turns to direct Vs. indirect you will look (and sound) like a pro!

Do you have any thoughts on what method you prefer? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

Happy Smoking


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2 thoughts on “Direct Vs Indirect Cooking (The Simple Way To Learn) [September 2023]”

    1. Hiya John,

      I have come across this problem when I had a big green egg. I found they had some accessories to help with indirect cooking. The first one is the convEGGtor which is just a fancy name for a drip pan that sits between the flame and the food, it deflects heat, just a regular drip pan would work fine as well. If your cooking a chicken or turkey I would also suggest trying a upright roasting stand.

      Let me know how you go

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