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Outdoor Grilling: Using Indirect Heat to Cook 'Low and Slow'

using indirect heat to cook low and slow on an outdoor grill

Typically when you cook food on the outdoor grill, you put it on direct heat, over the gas burners or the burning charcoal, whichever type of grill you like to use. Direct heat grilling is a great way to cook hamburgers, hot dogs, links, steaks, ribs, chicken pieces, and fish fillets. But certain kinds of food require indirect heat, which can be tricky if you don’t know how to go about it.

What food goes well on indirect heat?

The sort of food that works best on indirect heat includes beef brisket, pork shoulders and whole chickens. The reason for this is because, due to their size and toughness, attempting to cook them on direct heat will burn the outside long before the inside gets done.

How do you cook with indirect heat on the grill?

On a charcoal grill, two ways exist to use it for indirect heat grilling. The simplest way is to place the charcoal on one side of the grill and the meat on top of the grate on the opposite side. A more sophisticated way to use indirect heat on a charcoal grill is to place the charcoal on two sides with a drip pan in the middle. Then you put the meat on the grate in the middle over the drip pan. You can also toss water-soaked wood chips on the charcoal to create smoke.

On a gas grill, it all depends on how your grill is set up. If you have a two burner grill, light one burner and place the meat on the other side. If you have a three or four burner grill, light the two burners on the outside and put the meat in the middle. If your gas grill has a smoker pouch, put your wood chips in it. Otherwise, you can make your own with foil and place it over one of the burners to create smoke.

In each case, indirect heat grilling is done with the cover closed. In effect, you have turned your grill into an outdoor oven.

What does “low and slow” mean?

“Low and slow” uses low heat and smoke to slowly cook meat over many hours and is considered true barbecue. Some professional barbecue masters will take a long as 16 hours to cook a large brisket. The result, if done properly, is a tender piece of meat that pulls apart easily with a pair of forks or a gloved hand.

Professional quality smokers are available with a huge barrel to place the meat in and a separate fire box for the wood or charcoal. But you can get the same effect with indirect heat using your backyard grill though charcoal works best in this case.

Cooking a brisket on indirect heat

Preparation is key for cooking a brisket. First, you need to trim the excess fat, but not all of it because the fat will be absorbed by the meat in the cooking process to add to the tenderness. Then, you place the brisket on some aluminum foil and apply the spice rub. Every barbecue chef has their own spice rub, which can include garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne pepper, chili powder, and so on. You wrap the brisket in foil and store it overnight in the refrigerator can be absorbed by the meat.

Just before putting the meat on the grill, you might want to use an injector to fill the brisket with a good marinade. After you put the meat on the grill, you can periodically mop the brisket with the marinade.

After the brisket reaches an internal temperature of 175 degrees, take it off the grill and wrap it in foil. The internal temperature will continue to rise to 185 degrees within a half an hour to an hour. Then it is ready to slice and eat.

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Written by : Jane Rother

703-471-6699