Grilling on direct and indirect heat on a Napoleon Grill Rogue

Did you know that there are two ways for grilling? Knowing the difference between grilling on direct or indirect heat is what differentiates a grill rookie from a grill master.

You might know that the first thing you need to do is purchase the best quality raw ingredients. After you do that, the secret to great grilling is a simple one: knowing which cooking method to use, when to use one, the other, or both.

Of course, the thickness and volume of what you are grilling are important too but knowing which method to use and how best to do it is a very important part of being a great griller. Keep reading for an in-depth explanation of the difference between direct and indirect heat.

Grilling on direct heat

Direct heat grilling means cooking food directly over a heat source. This is the most basic and simple way to cook. You can use the direct method primarily for searing foods and for cooking foods that take less than 20 minutes to cook, such as steaks, hamburgers, chops and most vegetables. These are foods that generally cook quickly and benefit from the fast cooking of a hot grill.

This method is also ideal for most seafood like fish fillets and shrimp.

When you use the direct method, you should always place your food directly above the heat source and turn it once halfway through the cooking time. By doing this, you expose both sides of the food to the heat

You can use the direct method in both gas or charcoal grills to get juicy steaks, beautiful grill marks in whichever type of meat you use and crispy vegetables.

❗ The direct method works best with the grill lid closed during cooking. The only reason to grill with the lid up is for items that need a lot of basting, or that are cooked so quickly that having the lid down increases the risk of overcooking.

Anything that is less than 2 inches in thickness should be cooked by direct grilling. Any large food item or cuts of meat more than about 2 inches thick should be grilled indirectly.

Grilling on indirect heat

According to The Spruce Eats, indirect grilling is more similar to baking than direct grilling. Indirect heat is a zone created adjacent to the heat source. In this method, you place your food between the heat source, in an area heated by the flame but never directly above lit gas burners or charcoal.

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Since the food is not being exposed to direct heat from the burners it will cook more evenly. Of course, this also means that it will cook more slowly, as in a regular oven with reflected heat.

With the indirect heat, you can grill any cuts of meat over 2 inches in thickness. Also, other foods that require longer cooking times at lower temperatures such as brisket, chicken, ribs or turkey. For example, the classic potatoes wrapped in foil and nestled next to the coals are cooked with indirect heat. Moreover, you also use this method when you grill chicken or pork with a rotisserie.

You should know that the indirect heat works great for gas and charcoal grills. With a gas grill, it will depend on how you set your burner or if you would rather maintain it on or off. When it comes to charcoal grills, you can build any kinds of indirect fires. You just need to pile the coals around the edge or by aside. 

❗ Remember every time you lift the lid, heat escapes and can increase cooking time.

#BBQTip Put a drip pan over grey-ash covered coals to catch fats and juices as the food cooks. Add more charcoal as needed to maintain the cooking temperature.

grilling with the lid closed on a Napoleon grill in Algarve
You should let the grill lid closed during cooking. Photo: Broil King Baron 490 (on discount!)

Combo method

The combo method or combo heat is the combination of direct and indirect heat. You should use combo cooking with large pieces of meat, to sear them over direct heat and then slowly cooked them over indirect heat.

The combination between direct and indirect heat is also perfect for chops, tenderloins and some chicken pieces. It is also great for making grilled pizza and fruits.

Gas grilling: Heat zones make grilling a snap and are easier to control

Grill experts have proven that is harder to control heat levels or when the flames get too hot or too high with a charcoal grill. With a gas grill, you can program for higher heat on one side for grilling burgers, steaks or hot dogs, and lower heat on the other side for buns or veggies like zucchini or asparagus.

On another example, if you want to sear steaks, you can warm them on the grill on high heat. If you then want to slow the cooking process, you can achieve it by lowering the temperature.

Smoking is still an option on gas grills

If you are up to smokey flavour you should know there’s a way to get them from a propane grill. Many of the newer grills come equipped with a metal smoker box that allows you to put in wood chips that create flavorful smoke. This actually allows you to smoke any kind of food on your propane grill.

For those without a new gas grill, you can learn some tricks to create your own smoke box with aluminium foil and stop missing true smokiness.


Have you understood the differences for grilling with direct or indirect heat? The difference is where you place the food in relation to the heat source. What’s the cooking method you use the most? Try our grilling recipes and let us know your experience on Instagram by using the hashtag #BBQsAlgarve.

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