Mastering the 2-Zone Method: Using Both Direct & Indirect Heat Grilling for Ultimate Flavor


Learning the 2-zone grilling method (direct heat grilling vs. indirect grilling) is the key to successfully grilling so many foods (grilled wings! grilled steak! grilled veggies!). With 2-zone grilling, you create temperature zones in your grill to control your grill’s temperature by using both direct & indirect heat grilling.

Can’t wait to hit the grill? Be sure to check out Let’s Grill, Girls!, a grilling series here on PWWB created to help you grill more confidently & deliciously all summer long!

Jess of Plays Well with Butter smiling and holding a platter of grilled chicken wings and dipping sauce

Don’t forget to pin this Mastering 2-Zone Grilling post for later!

Last grilling season, when I asked the PWWB Instagram community 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 & 2-ZONE GRILLING.

Grilling with zones of direct & indirect heat sounds complicated, but it’s actually pretty simple. This post will walk you through how to grill with indirect heat & direct heat. Being able to grill with temperature zones will dramatically change your grilling game.

2-Zone Grilling: How to Grill with Direct vs. Indirect Heat

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

Direct heat grilling is what gives your chicken wings, grilled veggies, or burgers the delicious charred flavor that you can only truly achieve on a grill.

Grilling with indirect heat is different in that your food isn’t directly over any heat source. Instead, when you are indirect heat 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, your food gets cooked by the residual heat & hot air in the grill. 

Jess of Plays Well with Butter brushing sauce onto chicken wings that are grilling on a gas grill

Another way to think of direct vs indirect grilling: direct heat grilling is a similar to cooking on a stovetop (i.e. food cooks because it’s in a pot or pan, which is in direct contact with the heat source on the stovetop), while indirect heat grilling is similar to baking in an oven (i.e. food cooks/bakes by being surrounded by the hot air in the oven). 

How to Set Up Your Grill for 2-Zone Grilling:

Setting up your gas grill for 2-zone grilling is as easy as turning the burners on one side of your grill & keeping the other side turned off. If you are grilling with a charcoal grill, 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!).

Then, 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 the mouth-watering crispy, charred bits that likely come to mind whenever you think of grilled food.

Controlling Grill Temperatures with the 2-Zone Method & Indirect Heat Grilling.

Aside from practicing your direct vs. indirect grilling, the only other thing you’ll want to consider when it comes to 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 (i.e. 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 Grilling 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. 

Two steaks lay on top of an open charcoal grill with a thermometer sticking in one of the steaks to check the internal temperature

Wrapping up!

Ready to hit the grill & give grilling with indirect heat a try?? Good! I hoped so! Check out the famous PWWB 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, these grilled chicken wings are one of my faves!

best grilled chicken wings recipe (3 ingredients) | my grilled buffalo chicken wings recipe (grilled hot wings!) stay juicy from a secret step & ingredient! plus my exact steps for how to grill chicken wings.

Ready to Hit the Grill?

If this all still feels new to you, I encourage you to head over to this Grilling 101 post, where we dive into all the grilling basics – everything from how to light your grill to how to clean your grill.

All this talk about grilling have you feelin’ ready to hit the grill? Me too! Be sure to check out this post for my 13 go-to marinades you need this grilling season. At our house, a good marinade is at the heart of grilling season. I’m positive these marinades will be on repeat at your house this summer! For even more grilled goodness, be sure to check out all of our Grilling & Smoking recipes.

& lastly! Be sure to give @playswellwithbutter a follow on Instagram – I’ll be teaching you how to grill up some goodness all summer long, & we have so much fun on Instagram!

Ready to learn more grilling tips & recipes?

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Thank you so much for reading & supporting Plays Well With Butter. This post includes affiliate links for products I truly love & use on the reg in my own home. All opinions are always my own! Should you make a purchase using one of these links, PWWB will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you, which helps me continue to bring you great original & free content.

Don’t forget to pin this post for later!!!

Jess of Plays Well with Butter taking a kebab off of a gas grill and a photo of grilled chicken wings on grill grates with graphic text overlay for Pinterest.

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!

Hi there, I'm Jess!

If there’s 1 thing to know about me, it’s this: I am head-over-heels in love with food. I’m on a mission to make weeknight cooking flavorful, fast, & fun for other foodies, & PWWB is where I share foolproof recipes that deliver major flavor with minimal effort. Other true loves: pretty shoes, puppies, Grey’s Anatomy, & my cozy kitchen in Minneapolis, MN.


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  1. 5.13.19

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

    • 7.8.19
      jess said:

      thanks, george! i hope you do!

  2. 5.8.19
    jess said:

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

    • 6.10.19
      Jessica said:

      I did this weekend! The chicken I grilled came out so juicy using indirect heat!

  3. 5.8.19
    Jessica said:

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

    • 5.8.19
      jess said:

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