Grilling basics

Charcoal or gas, direct or indirect heat, a searing blast or a gentle glow: Grillers have a lot of choices when it comes to building a fire

Beer and Grilling Guide


It’s your choice. Cooking with gas versus charcoal is a little like driving an automatic versus a stick, and both have their fans. Gas is easy—just turn it on and you’re good to go. With charcoal, you have to interact with the fire to keep the food cooking at the right temperature—adjusting the air flow, moving the coals, adding a bit more fuel, and doing a lot of impromptu shifting of the food to whichever spot is at the right heat. Some cooks feel that charcoal gives food a more “grilled” flavor, but gas aficionados tend to disagree.


When a recipe calls for direct heat, that means the fire is right beneath the food—ideal for grilling smaller items such as steaks, burgers, and kebabs, plus seafood and vegetables; they’ll be cooked all the way through by the time the outside is nicely browned.

Direct heat with gas. Open the lid, press the ignition, turn all burners to high, close the lid, and wait 10 minutes or so for the grill to get hot. Then adjust the burners for the temperature range you need. As you cook, keep the lid closed as much as possible.

Direct heat with charcoal:


In a recipe that calls for indirect heat, the fire burns to one side of the food or all around it rather than directly beneath. Large items such as turkey, long-cooked food like ribs, and flammable meats such as fat-rich duck or anything glazed in sweet barbecue sauce all benefit from the more gentle, radiant heat of this method.

Indirect heat with gas. Set a drip pan (see “The Drip Pan,” below) on one burner, either on the side of the grill or in the middle—it doesn’t really matter. With the grill lid open, ignite all the burners and turn them to high. Close the lid and wait 10 minutes or so for the grill to get hot. Turn off the burner with the drip pan on it and adjust the other burners to get the temperature you need. When the grill is at the right heat, set the food over the drip pan. As you cook, keep the lid closed.

Indirect heat with charcoal:

The drip pan. Whenever you grill indirectly, before beginning to cook, set a metal drip pan on the burner you intend to turn off (on a gas grill) or in the space cleared of coals (charcoal) underneath the cooking grate. The pan—ideally the same size as the food above it—helps prevent flare-ups by catching flammable falling bits. For extra-incendiary fatty foods (such as duck and some sausages), add water to the pan to fill it at least halfway. We also add water for long-cooking foods (ribs, turkey) to help keep them moist and to even out the temperature circulating inside the grill.


Some grills have built-in thermometers to guide you, but if not, use the following “hand test.” Measure the temperature often; on a charcoal grill, it can fluctuate quite a bit (your cue to move the food to a hotter or cooler spot, or to add coals). You may have to move food to several different spots before it has finished cooking.



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