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Direct and Indirect Cooking

If your barbecue experience is limited to cooking a sausage or burger on a disposal barbecue you have yet to experience what can be a very exciting way to cook food outdoors. As you learn new barbecue techniques, two key terms to understand are direct and indirect which are the basic methods of grilling.

Direct Grilling

Direct grilling means that the food is placed on the BBQ directly over the the heat source, regardless of whether you are using gas or coals. Just about every food, from meats to vegetables, can be barbecued directly, including sausages, hamburgers, sausages, cheese (Houmous), lamb chops, boneless chicken breasts, beef tenderloins, and all types of fish and shellfish.

Grilling over direct heat sears the food, coating its exterior with a tasty brown crust that’s loaded with a smokey flavour.

The primary difficulty with direct grilling is that you must watch your food closely to prevent it from burning. The other thing you need to be wary of is not too cook your food too quickly where it is seared (burnt) on the outside but still not cooked on the inside, which can causes food poisoning.

On a charcoal grill, the coals should be spread in a solid layer that extends about 1 to 2 inches beyond the edges of the food.

Indirect Grilling

Indirect grilling grills foods slowly and can be likened to cooking in an oven. The food is placed off to one side of the heat source and brings a number of advantages when doing a BBQ:

  • It slows down the cooking process: How many times have you used direct grilling to cook chicken and ended up with skin charred beyond recognition and meat that’s practically raw in the centre? With indirect grilling, food is cooked in a covered grill by heat that never directly touches it, and is comparable to oven roasting.

  • Indirect cooking actually gives you two types of fires (or two levels of heat) in one grill: You have a direct fire that can be used to sear food and an indirect fire to cook food slowly and thoroughly.

  • Indirect grilling eliminates the possibility of dangerous flare-ups: Fat drips from the food into the drip pan, rather than onto the hot coals, lava rocks, or ceramic briquettes.

Indirectly grill any large cuts of meat or whole birds, poultry pieces, pork tenderloins, ribs, or large roasts for delicious results. If you are using a gas barbecue you can also use a smoking box to help get some of those natural smokey flavours into your food.


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