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What Does Indirect Heat On A Grill Mean?

Grilling with indirect heat involves not putting the food directly on the heat source. Instead, you’re slowly cooking your meal next to the burning BBQ temperature. This cooking method is best for food items that need a long cooking time but might burn if cooked directly over the heat source. Grilling over indirect heat is ideal for smoking your food. 

I’ve had to master different cooking techniques because I frequently host friends, neighbors, and family for Sunday barbeques. They have praised my tasty meals, and I’m not bragging. If you are struggling to impress your own guests, don’t fret. I am here to introduce you to new methods. 

No matter what kind of grill you have, in this article, I’ll explain how to use indirect heat. I will also explain the differences between grilling with direct and indirect heat. If you stay with me till the end, I’ll also explain the process of using indirect heating for a gas or charcoal grill so that you can operate it effectively. 

How Does Indirect Heat Work On Different Grills?

what does indirect heat on a grill mean

The grill’s indirect heat operates similarly to an oven. Food cooks by hot air circulating it. In contrast to roasting or baking, the grill heat does not physically get into direct contact with the food you’re cooking. Indirect heat grilling is best for any dish that needs to be cooked for more than 20 minutes. 

There are four types of grills you can use:  

Two Burner Gas Grills

A gas grill with two burners is simple to use. Set one burner at the lowest setting. Give the burner time to heat up. Over the unlit burner place the food item you want to cook over the unlit burner. 

There is little space between the burner that is lit and the food that is cooking. You’ll need to turn the meal several times. Your food will get even heat on all sides. 

Three Burner Gas Grills

While lighting the two outside burners, leave the center burner unlit. Set the two burners to the lowest heat and give them some time to heat. 

Once the grill is hot, put the food on the middle burner.  Keep a close eye on the grills while turning the food to ensure even heating on all sides. If the heat from the grill becomes too much, switch off one of the burners.  

Four Burner Gas Grills 

Light the two outer burners only when using the four-burner grill. Give them a few minutes to heat up after turning them on. 

However, because there may be too much space between the burners and the meal, set to medium heat instead of low.

Charcoal On A Gas Grill

Some gas grills, such as the Napoleon models, come with a charcoal tray. Thanks to the charcoal tray, you can also smoke on gas grills. 

All you have to do is swap out the cooking grids for the charcoal tray on one side of the grill. Spread out a single layer of charcoal on the tray before turning on the grill’s burners.

Place the meal on the unlit burners once the grill has reached the desired temperature and the charcoal has a layer of white ash on it. For that added flavor, add some wood chips to the charcoal.

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03/07/2024 10:04 am GMT

Charcoal Grill 

If you want a smoky flavor in your cuisine, the charcoal grill is the better option. However, compared to a gas grill, a charcoal grill requires more work and is messier. 

Add some additional charcoal after lighting the initial batch. After starting the fire, 25 to 30 minutes should pass before you notice a thin layer of gray ash covering the coals. Replace the grill, then begin to cook.

What Is The Difference Between Indirect And Direct Heat?

what does indirect heat on a grill mean

Over direct fire, thinner foods with little sugar and water cook more efficiently. Such food includes vegetables, seafood, meats, and other delicate dishes. Over indirect heat, food with a higher sugar and water content will cook efficiently. But how does indirect and direct heat differ from one another? 

In the table below, I highlight the differences. 

Indirect HeatDirect Heat
Best for meals that need more time to cook.Ideal for items that grill for less than 30 minutes, mainly tender, thinner, or smaller ingredients.
Works with lower temperatures.Works with intense BBQ temperatures. 
Set the food on the side of the heat source.You place the food directly above the heat source.
The amount of briquettes depends on the size of the grill.Use enough briquettes to cover the charcoal grate completely with one layer.
Ribs, whole fish, sizable roasts, whole chickens, and turkeys are some items that cook well on indirect heat.Hot dogs, vegetables, steaks, burgers, pork chops, and chicken pieces cook better with direct heat.

How To Use Indirect Heat On A Gas Grill

You can use a gas grill like a charcoal grill. The food will taste different, though, because gas lacks the distinctive flavor of wood. A gas grill is simpler to light and easier to clean. 

Here is my process of using an indirect heat gas grill. 

  1. Open the gas grill lid, and confirm that all the knobs are in the OFF position.  
  2. Open the propane tank valve gradually, then wait for the gas to reach the grill. It will take up to a few minutes. 
  3. Close the lid after independently lighting each burner on your grill. 
  4. Wait until the burner reaches 550°F (288°C) in temperature. 
  5. Use a grill brush to scrub the grates to remove any cooking residue.
  6. To determine if the burner heat should be low, medium, or still high, consult the recipe for the food item you are grilling. 
  7. Close the rid and wait until the food cooks according to the recipe. 

Place the food in a drip pan before placing it on the grilling grates if the foods you are grilling might release juices or if you have sauced them. 

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03/07/2024 09:09 pm GMT

How To Start A Grill With Charcoal

what does indirect heat on a grill mean

You can use indirect heating with your charcoal grill even if you don’t have a gas grill. Alternatively, you might prefer to use a charcoal grill despite owning a gas grill. Whatever the reason, you can ignite a charcoal grill using the following procedure.

  1. Start by placing charcoal around the charcoal grate’s outer borders while leaving the middle empty. Alternatively, you can place the charcoal on one side of the grill while leaving the other empty. Otherwise, a charcoal manager can put your coal up for a gradual burn that produces heat for 3–7 hours.
  2. Place a rolled-up newspaper underneath the charcoal in various places. Use a lighter or a fireplace match to light the newspaper. A charcoal chimney or an electronic charcoal starter are other options.
  3. When the coals are heated, remove them from the indirect heat zones using tongs. Over the fire, place the cooking grate. Allow the grate to warm up for 20 to 30 minutes. Place your food over the part of the grate that doesn’t have coals underneath it.
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Tips For Using A Charcoal Grill For Indirect Grilling

For most individuals, starting and using a charcoal barbecue can be challenging. However, it’s relatively easy if you know a few tactics. Here are a few of my tricks:  

  • Remember to clean and oil your grills to keep your food from sticking. Grease on your grill is a fire hazard. It is always advisable to thoroughly clean your grill before starting a fresh fire. You can use a grill brush to make your work easier.
  • How long the charcoal stays hot depends on your charcoal or briquettes. Lump charcoal burns hotter and faster and might make it more challenging to control its temperature. Briquettes burn slower than charcoal lumps. The best approach is to build a mixed fire using briquettes and lump charcoal.
  • You will need to spread light, high-heat oil over foods that lack natural oil to keep them from sticking.
  • Don’t light your charcoal using lighter fluid. Lighter fluid emissions could impact the flavor and smell of your meal. Because certain lighter fluids contain petroleum (mineral spirits) or alcohol (ethanol and methanol), they pose a fire risk. 
  • Use lighter fluid sparingly if you still want to use it. Use no more than a quarter cup of lighter fluid for every pound of charcoal. Before igniting, give the lighter fluid 30 seconds to absorb. 
  • To keep the charcoal together, use tongs. The coals should not be too far apart or closely packed together so air can’t circulate. 
  • Empty the ash periodically because as it accumulates, it smoothers the coal and takes up space for air. 
  • Regularly adding coals will keep your grill burning hot. When approximately 50% of the charcoal is left in the grill, add 5–10 pieces.


Use indirect grilling if the dishes you wish to prepare require more cooking time. While a gas grill can be simpler to operate while cooking, food cooked over charcoal or wood has a distinct flavor. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What does indirect heat on a grill mean?

Cooking food on your gas grill a few inches away from the heat source is called indirect heat. Food is not directly in contact with the heat source. 

Which Is The Best Heat For Cooking Steak? 

Start cooking the steak on direct heat for 3-4 minutes. Turn the steak onto the other side and repeat. Move the steak to indirect heat for slow cooking if it is fatty. 


  • Alanna Greene

    Alanna is an avid traveler who lives in Michigan. In addition to writing for Temperature Master, he also sells crafts on Etsy and takes long walks through the forests near her home.

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