the modern gal’s guide to mastering indirect heat & zone grilling

the modern gal’s guide to mastering how to grill with indirect heat by creating temperature zones in your gas or charcoal grill. grilling with indirect heat (by creating temperature zones in your grill) is key to successfully grilling so many different types of food (grilled wings! grilled steak! grilled veggies!). this post will walk you through how to create temperature zones in your grill to control your grill’s temperature & grill with both direct & indirect heat. the modern gal’s guide to mastering how to grill with indirect heat by creating temperature zones in your gas or charcoal grill. grilling with indirect heat (by creating temperature zones in your grill) is key to successfully grilling so many different types of food (grilled wings! grilled steak! grilled veggies!). this post will walk you through how to create temperature zones in your grill to control your grill's temperature & grill with both direct & indirect heat. #playswellwithbutter #grilling #grillingtips #outdoorgrilling #grillingDIY #howtogrill #grillingforbeginners #indirectheatgrilling #2zonegrilling

plays well with butter is all about helping you find the confidence to really own your spot behind the grill this summer. {learn more about the pwwb let’s grill, girls! series here.}

earlier this year, when i asked you guys over on instagram what kind of help you needed with when it comes to grilling, i lost count of the number of you who wrote in asking something like…

  • “i don’t get the temperatures…like, it’s fire. it’s hot right?! haha…clearly my bf grills for me…”
  • “can you show us how to grill meat? how do you not turn a steak into a car tire?!”
  • “how do you grill veggies without burning them to a crisp?!”
  • “i can never grill chicken perfectly…it’s either still raw when i cut into it, or super dry!”

if that sounds familiar, you’re in the right place. 

the big secret to tackling all of the above?: HEAT ZONES. 

grilling with zones of direct & indirect heat sounds super complicated, but it’s actually pretty simple. this post will walk you through how to grill with indirect heat & direct heat. i’m pretty sure once you give it a try, being able to grill with temperature zones will change your grilling game dramatically.

2-zone grilling: how to grill with indirect heat vs. direct heat

grilling with direct heat is probably what comes to mind whenever you think of grilling: you cook your food directly over the heat, whether a gas burner or charcoal.

grilling with indirect heat is different in that your food isn’t directly over any heat source. instead, when you are grilling, your food will be off to one side of the grill while the opposite side of the grill is heated (with a gas burner or charcoal). even though it’s not directly over the flame or charcoal, the residual heat & hot air in the grill will cook your food. 

another way to think of it: direct heat is a lot like cooking on a stove (food cooks because a pot or pan is in direct contact with the heat source) & indirect heat is a lot like baking in your oven (whatever you’re baking cooks from the hot air in the oven, not a direct flame). 

how to set up for 2-zone grilling:

setting up your grill for 2-zone grilling is really as easy as turning the burners on one side of your grill & keeping the other side turned off. if you are grilling with charcoal, all you have to do is set your charcoal on one side of the grill, leaving the other side free of charcoal.

use the indirect zone to cook more delicate food or food that needs to cook a little more slowly in order to retain its moisture (hello, chicken, i’m looking at you!). once your food has almost cooked through in the indirect heat zone, you can move it into the direct heat zone for a hard sear, giving it those crispy, charred bits that make your mouth water whenever you think of grilled food. 

controlling grill temperatures with the 2-zone method:

aside from practicing how to grill with indirect heat vs direct heat, the only other thing you’ll want to consider when it comes to grilling with temperature zones is how hot you want your zones to be. 

which, when it comes down to it, is pretty easy. if you need your indirect zone to have a higher temperature, you simply make your direct zone hotter by dialing up the flame or adding more charcoal to the mix until your desired temperature is reached in each zone. 

or, if you are grilling with 2 direct heat zones (2 zones of direct heat with different temperatures), simply adjust the flame or charcoal in 1 zone to adjust the temperature for that zone. 

this is exactly why we suggest keeping a couple of oven thermometers on your grill’s grates at all times to measure the temperatures in each of the heat zones since they’ll differ from the overall temperature of the grill (the direct heat side will be hotter, the indirect heat side lower). (read more about other must-have grilling equipment here!)

one final note: controlling grill temperatures on a charcoal grill:

if you are grilling on a charcoal grill, you’ll control the temperature of the charcoal by adjusting the airflow dampers. a charcoal grill usually has 2 dampers, one on its lid & one under the bucket. opening the dampers up wider will create more airflow to your charcoal, allowing it to reach higher temperatures. likewise, closing the dampers causes less airflow to the charcoal & cools things down. 

wrapping up!

ready to hit the grill & give grilling with indirect heat a try?? good! i hoped so! be sure to check out my famous 3-ingredient grilled buffalo chicken wings recipe & take a crack at it. zone grilling is the secret to suuuper juicy wings with a perfectly crispy, charred crust. out of all the recipes on pwwb, grilled chicken wings is one of my faves! plus, be sure to give @playswellwithbutter a follow on instagram – i’ll be teaching you how to grill up some goodness all summer long & i can’t wait for you to join me!

if this all still feels new to you, i encourage you to head over to this grilling 101 post, where i dive into more details about must-have grilling equipment, how to light your grill, & how to clean your grill (videos included!).

your turn!: have you ever tried grilling with indirect heat or grilling with different temperature zones? what are your favorite recipes to grill? do you have any other questions about 2-zone grilling that i can help answer? drop a comment below – i’d love to chat!!!

don’t forget to pin for later!!!the modern gal’s guide to mastering how to grill with indirect heat by creating temperature zones in your gas or charcoal grill. grilling with indirect heat (by creating temperature zones in your grill) is key to successfully grilling so many different types of food (grilled wings! grilled steak! grilled veggies!). this post will walk you through how to create temperature zones in your grill to control your grill's temperature & grill with both direct & indirect heat. #playswellwithbutter #grilling #grillingtips #outdoorgrilling #grillingDIY #howtogrill #grillingforbeginners #indirectheatgrilling #2zonegrilling

About jess

i help modern gals turn everyday moments into celebrations with recipes that are just as easy as they are elegant.

6 Comments

  1. This is a very useful and informative article. Good tips for delicious grill 😉 I will try your tips my next barbecue.

  2. jessica, i’m so glad to hear that! be sure to let me know if you give zone grilling a try! xo

  3. Thanks! This explanation was really easy to follow and will be coming in handy soon!

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