Learning the 2-zone grilling method (direct heat grilling vs. indirect grilling) is the secret for successfully grilling so many different foods – perfectly grilled wings, juicy grilled chicken breast, tender grilled steak, & even grilled pizza! With 2-zone grilling, you create temperature zones in your grill to control your grill’s temperature by using both direct & indirect heat grilling.
In case you missed it!: Mastering the 2-Zone Method is part of Grilling 101 in the Plays Well With Butter Annual Grilling Series, a free content series dedicated to helping you find the confidence to really own your spot behind the grill this summer. Learn more about our 3rd Annual Grilling series or sign up below to get our best grilling tips straight to your inbox!
Years back, 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.
The PWWB Guide to 2-Zone Grilling – Let’s Get Started!
Grilling with zones of direct & indirect heat may sound complicated, but it’s actually pretty simple. This post will show you exactly how to grill with indirect heat & direct heat. Being able to grill with temperature zones will dramatically change your grilling game!
Consider this your comprehensive guide to mastering the 2-Zone Grilling Method, including (click for shortcuts!)…
- DIRECT VS. INDIRECT HEAT. What is 2-zone grilling? We’ll explain the difference between using direct & indirect heat & share why it is a grilling game changer!
- GRILL SET-UP. Step-by-step tips on how to set up your grill for successful 2-zone grilling.
- CONTROLLING GRILL TEMPERATURES. Once you’ve got your grill set up for 2-zone grilling, it is important to understand how to maintain & control the grill temperatures to get the results you want. We’ll show you how!
- 2-ZONE GRILLING WITH CHARCOAL. Lastly, we’ll share our best tips on how to control temperature when using a charcoal grill – that’s a whole other beast, & we’re here to help!
2-Zone Grilling: How to Grill with Direct vs. Indirect Heat
What is direct heat grilling? ⇢ 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.
What is indirect heat grilling? ⇢ 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.
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:
2-Zone Grilling on a Gas Grill ⇢ 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. The direct heat zone is the area of the grill directly over the lit burners & the indirect heat zone is the remaining area of the grill on the unlit side.
2-Zone Grilling on a Charcoal Grill ⇢ 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. The direct heat zone is the area of the grill directly over the charcoal & the indirect heat zone is the remaining area of the grill.
How to Use 2-Zone Grilling ⇢ 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 it’s almost cooked through, transfer it into the direct heat zone for a hard sear. This 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.
If you need your indirect zone to have a higher temperature, you can do so by simply making your direct zone hotter – dial up the flame or adding more charcoal until the desired temperature is reached in each zone.
If you are grilling with two direct heat zones (i.e. 2 zones of direct heat with different temperatures, like for making beer brats), simply adjust the flame or charcoal in one zone to control 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 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.
Ready to try 2-Zone Grilling?
That’s the spirit! I hoped you would be! 🙌🏼 Here are some recipes to get you started with direct vs indirect grilling:
- Perfectly Grilled Buffalo Chicken Wings – One of PWWB’s most loved recipes. 2-zone grilling is the secret to suuuper juicy wings with a perfectly crispy, charred crust!
- Grilled Wisconsin Beer Brats – One of my favorite summer meals! By creating 2 zones of heat, you can boil the brats right on the grill & finish them off for a craveable, charred bite.
- Grilled Pizza – Cook a pizza – from scratch – right on the grill, without worrying about the crust burning!
- Best-Ever BBQ Chicken or Grilled Cider Chicken – Grilling season staples for summer & fall!
Ready to Hit the Grill?
If this all still feels new to you, I encourage you to head over to Grilling 101, a compliation of tips & tricks for all of 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 15 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.
Want more grilling tips & recipes?
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