What is Indirect Grilling?

Sara Schmidt

For a roasted dish with a grilled texture and flavor, chefs sometimes opt to use indirect grilling. Indirect grilling is a form of barbecue in which food is placed to the side of the heat source rather than directly on top of it. Usually conducted on a barbecue grill or inside a smoker, this grilling method is usually completed by igniting only some of the burners or charcoal, leaving part of the cooking area without direct flames.

Ribs can be cooked using indirect grilling.
Ribs can be cooked using indirect grilling.

Indirect cooking occurs through reflected heat. As the heat from a barbecue or smoker rises and is reflected off the lid, it returns to the food, cooking it low and slow until a fully cooked dish results. Indirect roasting also prevents the cook from having to turn the food, as the heat circulates around it for an even roast. The barbecue or smoker must be closed to ensure this effect.

Salmon fillets can be indirectly drilled to retain moisture and tenderness.
Salmon fillets can be indirectly drilled to retain moisture and tenderness.

To achieve the best results, the temperature of a grill or smoker should be between 250° and 300° F (121° to 149° C). A thermometer can be mounted on the cooking device to monitor the temperature, though most modern grills already come equipped with one. Any marinade or flavoring agent preferred can be using during indirect grilling. Wood chips and soaked planks are often inserted into the grilling area to flavor the food.

When cooking indirectly with a charcoal grill, coals should be added to one side of the charcoal grate only. Many cooks prefer to insert a drip pan when using this method to prevent fires and to catch drippings for later use. The food to be grilled should be placed over the drip pan, on the side of the grate without charcoal. The lid of the grill should remain closed throughout the cooking process, though it can be opened briefly for monitoring and basting the food.

This method of cooking is more time consuming and slower than direct grilling. Indirect grilling should not be used if less than 30 minutes is available for cooking. This form of grilling works best for items that are delicate or that can be slow roasted. Indirect grilling is a preferred way to prepare food if the cook needs to accomplish other tasks while the food roasts.

Most barbecue items can be cooked through indirect grilling. Whole chickens and other large slabs of meat are a favorite dish to prepare this way. Roasts, turkey, soy products, ribs, and vegetables can be cooked through this slow grilling method as well. Thinner cuts, such as salmon and other fish, can be kept moist and tender when grilled indirectly rather than directly, which can dry them out.

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