Wow, what a winter we’ve had. Most years, we hear about the grilling-friendly weather in the South and West all year-long. But with up to 80 percent of the country covered in snow at times this winter, we had a shared experience of grilling deprivation.
To be sure, we’ve heard from the intrepid who told us they dug through the snow to fire up their grill. And, then, there were those whose grills were buried at the bottom of a mountainous drift.
So as we emerge from our snowy white cocoon, the first meals of grilling season are ready for cooking with smoke and flame in our very own backyards.
The first decision after you decide what you’re going to cook is: How am I going to grill it?
You’ve got two choices: direct-heat grilling and indirect. But how do you decide which to use?
Regardless of whether you are using a charcoal or gas grill, thin cuts of meat and poultry—¾” or less—are best grilled over direct heat. Thicker steaks, chops, and roasts are best for indirect heat.
So what’s the difference between the two methods, and how do you use each?
Direct grilling is when you cook the food right over your source of heat until the food is done—from start to finish.
Indirect grilling involves searing the meat or poultry over high, direct heat briefly, and then finishing it over medium to medium-high heat. This two-stage method is also known as zone grilling because you have a hot zone and a warm zone.
For direct-heat grilling, spread the coals evenly across the fire-pan so all the food on the grilling grid is exposed to the direct heat from below.
For indirect heat, place a drip pan in the middle of the fire-pan and arrange coals on either side, or mound the coals all to one side and place the drip pan opposite the fire. Sear over direct heat and then move the food to the warm zone, over the drip pan.
Because of the relatively short cooking times, you can put the lid on or leave it off as you choose.
One advantage of using a gas grill is that you can use your entire grilling surface, and, therefore, cook a larger volume of food at a single time, rather than cooking in batches.
For direct-heat grilling, turn your burners on high and cook directly over the heat.
Indirect grilling on a gas grill offers two options regardless of how many burners you have. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll use a two-burner grill for this explanation.
Method #1 – Turn one burner on high for searing and the other on medium-high for finishing.
Method #1 – Turn all burners on high for searing and then reduce heat on all burners to medium-high for finishing.
In all cases, use an instant-read thermometer to determine doneness, i.e., internal temperature. Always cook to your preferred degree of doneness by temperature, not by strict timing guidelines.