What is the Difference between Direct and Indirect Heat Grilling?

October 18, 2021 3 min read

Electric griddle side view

Grilling is one of the versatile cooking methods and can cook various foods. However, grills of various types have different types of heat, i.e., direct, indirect, and combo heat. Distinguishing between these methods is one vital step to becoming better in your grilling. Usually, some foods cook well on direct heat, while others do better on indirect heat.

What is the difference between direct and indirect heat grilling? Direct heat grilling uses high heat, and food is in direct contact with flames. Also, direct heat grilling cooks pretty quickly. In contrast, indirect heat grilling uses low heat, it’s slow, and food is not in direct contact with flames. Generally, the difference is where food is placed with a heat source.

Electric grill top view

Differences between Direct and Indirect Heat Grilling

What is Direct Heat Grilling?

As the name suggests, it’s a kind of grilling whereby food is placed on a grill grate directly over a heat source such as charcoal or gas grill burners. Heat is transferred to your food from the heat source through conduction.

Also, it involves the use of high heat, and the cooking is very fast. Therefore, direct heat grilling requires you to regulate the temperature and flipping of foods to prevent overcooking and burning foods.

Direct heat grilling is a cooking method best for salmon, hamburgers, chicken breast, pork chops, and steaks such as tenderloin, sirloins, etc. Due to its strong searing, it results in nice golden brown and crisp texture. Also, it leaves excellent grill marks.

How do you grill with direct heat?

If you’re using a gas grill, it’s very simple to grill. Start by turning on the burners to the highest setting and preheat the grill for about 10-15 minutes. Then adjust the burners to a lower setting in case the grill is scorching. Place your food on the grill grate for cooking. All you have to do is to regulate your temperature depending on the food you’re cooking.

You can also use the direct heat of a charcoal grill for cooking. Start by preparing the grill. Your charcoal should be in a pyramid style, or else use a chimney starter. Once the coal is lit and there is white ash, spread them out to create an even layer. Preheat the grill for about 10 minutes before arranging your food in a single layer on the cooking grate. You can also use the dumpers to regulate the cooking heat.

What is Indirect Heat Grilling?

Indirect heat grilling entails cooking foods over a grill grate but indirectly. Usually, heat is transferred to the food from the heat source through the convention process. Additionally, the temperature is relatively lower. As a result, the cooking time is longer than direct heat grilling.

Smoking is also another type of indirect cooking method. It entails cooking on a grill with a lid or real electric smoker, pellet smoker, or gas smoker.

There are three ways/ methods to use indirect heat for cooking on a grill. It entails the following:

Three-zoned indirect heat grilling

You should create on both sides of the grill, leaving the center part of the grill with no direct heat. The center part is where you place your food for cooking using indirect heat generated from both sides of the grill.

Two-zoned indirect heat grilling

For this method, you should place charcoal on one side of the grill. The foods cook on the other side using indirect heat from the side with the hot charcoal. However, you have to flip your foods regularly to ensure they cook both sides.

Fire ring indirect heat grilling

You should surround the perimeter of the grill with hot charcoal. The center section of the grill should have no charcoal. Food is placed in the middle of the grate and cooked using indirect heat from all sides of the grill.

Note: The above three methods mostly apply to charcoal grills only.

Indirect heat grilling is best for cooking tough meat, large cuts, ribs, and whole chicken. It’s the ultimate choice of barbecuing.


Do electric grills have flames?

Unlike other conventional grills, electric grills don’t produce flames. For this reason, electric grills don’t produce smoke.

Do smokers use indirect heat?

Smokers use convention as means of transferring heat from the heat source to food. Convention of heat is a form of indirect heat transfer.

What temperature should my indirect grill be?

The grill should be at a medium-low temperature of approximately 250-350 degrees F.

Check out Atgrills indoor electric grills and griddles to cook food on a cookware with indirect heating.


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