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

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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.

Woman's hands reaching into the frame, removing chicken from apple cider brine & placing on grill grates in the indirect heat zone of her grill.
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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!)…

2 grilled pizzas on a Weber Genesis II propane grill. The pizzas are grilled with the 2-zone method, one is over direct heat & one is in an indirect heat zone.
2-Zone Grilling is the secret to perfectly grilled pizzas. Pictured, the pizza on the right is in a direct heat zone to grill the crust while the pizza on the left is in an indirect heat zone to finish cooking without burning.

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.

A woman's hand shown above an open Weber Genesis II, prepared for indirect heat grilling with one side of burners all the way open and the other side shut.
This propane grill is set up for 2-Zone Grilling – All of the burners on the right hand side of the grill are wide open (where Jess’ hand is shown) for a direct heat zone, while the burner on the left is closed for an indirect heat zone.

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!

A woman's hand shown above an open Weber Genesis II, prepared for 2-zone grilling with one side of burners all the way open and the other side only part way open.
This propane grill is set up for 2-Zone Grilling with 2 zones of direct heat. All of the burners on the right hand side of the grill are wide open (where Jess’ hand is shown) for a zone of high direct heat, while the burner on the left is opened to its lowest setting for zone of low direct heat.

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. 

Two steaks lay on top of an open charcoal grill with a thermometer sticking in one of the steaks to check the internal temperature
Control the grill temperature of a charcoal by adjusting the airflow dampers. A charcoal grill typically has 2 dampers, one on its lid & one under the bucket, as pictured on this Weber 22″ Kettle Grill.

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:

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.

& 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!

Want more grilling tips & recipes?

You’re in the right place! 🙌🏼 Subscribe to have PWWB Grilling Series updates sent straight to your inbox. We’re sharing exclusive grilling tips, tricks, & sneak peeks to our email friends. Plus, you’ll be the first to know about all of PWWB’s new grilling recipes all summer long. Subscribe below!

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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.

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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Comments

  1. 6.14.21
    Norman Rivkin said:

    How hot should the hot side of my grass grill be for BBQing chicken

    • 6.20.21
      Erin @ Plays Well With Butter said:

      Hi Norman! For BBQ Chicken, we recommend preparing your gas grill for 2-zone grilling, by turning 1-2 burners of your grill on to their highest setting (hot side or direct heat) & leaving the remaining 1-2 burners of your grill shut off completely (indirect heat). The direct heat zone will be the one directly over the burner flames & will likely register around 500-600 degrees Fahrenheit while the indirect heat zone (the area of the grill where the burners are shut off) will only be heated by the residual heat from the direct heat side.

      For step-by-step tips for grilling BBQ chicken, be sure to check out our Grilled BBQ Chicken recipe, hereGrilled BBQ Chicken (Barbecue Chicken Recipe)!

  2. 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!

  3. 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!

  4. 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