With spring well under way and summer right around the corner, millions of people are getting ready to fire up their grills and enjoy delicious foods cooked right in their own backyards. However, many people, especially those who are new to grilling, are severely limited by their cooking techniques. Specifically, the common idea of lighting a fire and placing the meat directly on top of it, which is all many people have ever done, limits the types of meats that can be cooked on a grill, as well as how well even common meats will come out. This method, technically known as direct cooking, is great for some meats, but much less effective for others.

Unbeknownst to most people, there are several other methods of grilling. In this article, we will discuss two such methods: 2-zone and indirect grilling. Each of these has its own particular set of advantages over direct cooking in certain situations. While these methods are most commonly employed with charcoal grills, they can be put to use with propane or natural gas grills as well, simply by adjusting the flames and temperatures of the individual burners. As a general rule, larger grills will be better for making use of these cooking methods. However, with careful control, even a small gas or charcoal kettle grill can be set up for either 2-zone or indirect grilling.

2-Zone Grilling

Simply put, 2-zone grilling is a method that requires the creation of two separate temperature zones within a fire. 2-zone fires can be created on charcoal grills by spreading the coals unevenly within the grill. The area where the coals are less dense will be the cooler zone, while the more dense are will become the warmer. On a gas grill, they can be created by simply turning certain burners up to higher temperatures than others. These fires, which have both hot and cool zones, are ideal for grilling two different types of meat at once. They can also be used to grill different sized pieces of one meat. A prime example of the latter is barbecued chicken. Cooked on a direct fire, the wings and drumsticks are exposed to a temperature that should only be used to cook breasts and thighs. Using a 2-zone fire, the smaller pieces may be allocated to the cooler section of the fire, allowing all of the pieces of meat to be cooked evenly, despite their obvious size differences.

Indirect Grilling

Indirect grilling, while similar in concept to 2-zone grilling, is differentiated by the fact that an indirect fire will have all of its heat concentrated at one end of the grill, while the meat will be placed on the other end. This creates a condition in which the meat will be exposed to heat slowly over a longer period of time, which will cook the meat very evenly, as well as keep it from drying out. This method is usually reserved for very large pieces of meat that need many hours to cook through. Beef brisket, a meat that is notorious for drying out easily over a direct fire and which takes a very long time to cook, is a prime example. Indirect grilling is also useful for ribs, extremely thick steaks, and pork butt. Surprisingly, it can also be employed to great effect in grilling bratwurst, as slow exposure to low level heat will prevent their casings from rupturing, thus sealing in juices that would otherwise be lost.


While direct cooking is great for many common meats, a true pit master should always have alternative methods such as 2-zone and indirect grilling in his or her arsenal. These techniques can help you to grill juicier, more evenly cooked cuts of meat, and are sure to come in handy with large cuts. With summer fast approaching, now is a great time to try out new grilling methods.

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