When it comes to grilling, what is the difference between Direct Heat and Indirect Heat?
Barbeque recipes will often instruct you to cook using direct heat or indirect heat, and sometimes both.
So, what does this mean?
Knowing the difference between direct heat and indirect heat can be the difference between food that is burnt and food that is perfectly cooked. It’s about using heat properly.
Direct Heat vs. Indirect Heat
Direct Heat means grilling foods directly over the flame. It’s essentially an upside down broiler, but with flames. Foods that are placed directly over heat cook very quickly, therefor flipping and tossing halfway through cooking is mandatory to ensure even cooking.
Direct cooking creates a crisp, caramelized outer surface. Just be mindful of fatty foods. Whether it’s a fat cap on a NY strip steak, the skin on chicken wings, or a marinade made with oil, as the highly flammable fat drips directly over the flames, it fuels the fire and causes flareups, which are essentially grease fires. If this happens, move your food away from the flame until the fire becomes less intense.
Indirect Heat means grilling food away from the flame. It’s very similar to roasting. Heat circulates around the food, bouncing off the lid of the BBQ, cooking the food more evenly – similar to how heat acts in an oven. Food cooked using indirect heat doesn’t require flipping or turning. Remember to always keep the lid closed so you don’t lose the heat.
When Should You Use Direct vs. Indirect Heat?
Weber says to “…use direct heat for foods that take less than 25 minutes to cook,” – ie: burgers, steaks, vegetables and fruit, kebabs, sausages, fish, etc. They also say to “Use indirect heat for foods that require 25 minutes to cook or more,”, or foods that are too delicate to withstand the intensity of the open flame – roasts, ribs, whole chickens, delicate fish, etc.
Some recipes will tell you to use both direct and indirect heat. When you combine both methods, you get the best of both – food is started over direct heat for grill marks (which adds a delicious caramelized flavour) and then finished over indirect heat to slowly finish cooking – think Prime Rib.