Indirect Heat

This is one of the ways in which to cook food on your gas or charcoal grill.  In general you should use indirect heat when cooking larger cuts of meat.  We use indirect heat when cooking our favorite BBQ cuts, such as…ribs, pork butt, brisket, chicken, turkey, beef roasts, etc.

When using indirect heat, your goal is to never have any part of the meat directly over flames or charcoal.  You can only do indirect cooking with a charcoal or gas grill that has a cover. In this respect, it acts very much like a convection oven…..the heat swirls around the inside of the grill and the meat is cooked from all angles.  This also eliminates the need to “flip” or turn your meat during the cooking process.

The ideal temps for cooking “low and slow” are 225-275º with chicken going as high as 300-325º.  You will also want to place a water pan inside the cooking chamber.  This will help to moderate the heat and will keep the cooking chamber moist.  The best way to monitor these temps is with an oven thermometer.  I use the kind that has a 3-4’ cord.  On one end is an “L-shaped” probe and the other end connects to a digital display unit.  The beauty of this type is you do not have to lift the lid.  Every time that lid comes off, you will be adding 15 minutes to your cooking time.  Honest!!   Been there, done that!

So, how exactly do we accomplish indirect heat and keep those temps down?  Let’s explore first charcoal grills and then gas grills.


Pile the coals to one side of your grill or banked along the “back” wall. Then you will place the meat on the “front” part of your grill.  Now, let’s place our drip pan and water pan.  Directly in front of the coals, on the same level as the coals we will place the drip pan.  The idea is to catch the juices from the meats in this pan.

On the grill level, directly above the coals, we place a water pan.  Fill this, after placing in position, about half full of water.  The idea here is to baffle the heat and add some moisture.

Directly in front of this, and above the drip pan, will be the meat you are cooking.  Now, if you are using a thermo, it should be placed somewhere between the water pan and as close to the meat as possible, but not touching the meat.


One trick to keep the temps down and prolong your burn time is in the procedure to light the charcoal.  You will need to use a charcoal chimney for this.  Pile your unlit briqs in the grill.  Then, put about 20-25 briqs in the chimney and light them.  Once these are completely ashed over, spread them on top of the unlit briquettes you have already placed in the grill.  This accomplishes 2 things…..You will not have all the charcoal burning at one time and it will greatly extend your cooking time on one load of charcoal.  When we use this method in our smokers, we get 12-18 hour burn times on one load of charcoal!

Finally, if you would like to add some smoke flavor to the meat, you will need to add some wood chips.  The easiest way to do this is to simply throw a handful of chips directly onto the hot coals.  If doing this, soak these chips for about an hour to avoid flare-ups.  You only need to add a little smoke at the very beginning of the cook.  A word of caution….start small with just a little and work up to your flavor preference.  Not everyone likes a real heavy smoke flavor!  You may need to add more chips every 30 minutes.


Pretty much the same procedures as above can be followed for gas grills.   In this case, just light one burner…either the burner along the side or the back of your grill.  You will need to experiment with your particular grill settings to get your temps in the 225-275º range.  Once again you want to keep the meat from being directly over the flame.  One other difference…….there is no need for a drip pan, but you should still use a water pan to keep the environment moist and the heat down.

For smoke on a gas grill, you will need to buy a smoker box or use foil to wrap your soaked chips.  Poke a few holes on the top AND bottom of the foil to allow for some airflow.  Place the box or foil as close as possible to the flame.  If you are using chunks of wood, just place the chunk as close to the flames as possible.  To get the smoke going you will have to turn your grill on high.  Wait for the smoke to start and then back down your heat.

57 thoughts on “Indirect Heat”

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BBQ techniques, family recipes