Two-Zone Grilling Method: What is a 2-Zone Fire and How to Set Up a Grill?
Grilling comes with inherent risks as many of you know. No, not to you, but your food! Flare-ups can occur seemingly at random, and your meats can easily burn if you're not paying attention. Of course, this is more of a worst-case scenario, as many veteran grillers know how to handle their grills. If you're just starting out, or are moving onto a new type of grill, you'll want to know about 2 zone cooking.
What Is 2 Zone Cooking?
Two-zone grilling method, in a nutshell, is setting up your grill so that there are two zones of heat; direct heat, and indirect heat. We'll go over both in a moment so no need to worry. How this method works is one side of the grill is cooler than the other, allowing you to cook with two different temperatures! It's a very simple concept, but one that you'll find very helpful when you light up your grill.
Now, note that when we say "cooler", this part of the grill is still hot and you will burn yourself if you aren't careful. It's just cooler relatively speaking to the hotter side of the grill.
What is Indirect Heat and What is Direct Heat?
2 zone grilling relies on there being two different heats present; direct, and indirect. Direct heat will be found in the area that is directly exposed to the flame down below. This area will be the hottest, and flare ups are much more likely here. On the other hand, this area will provide those beloved scorch marks and quickly cook any meat, vegetable, fish, etc.
Indirect heat will be the area that isn't directly in contact with the flame. The temperatures will be lower, although you'll still burn yourself if you touch this area. Here food can be smoked and slow-cooked; as well as being an area to safely move anything if a flare up occurs. Because heat is transferable, the metal grate over your fire will still be hot regardless if it's in contact with the flame.
That's the reason as to why the 2 zone method works. Your grates, regardless if they're over the flame or not, will still heat up if there is heat present. And in turn, you can still cook foods on the indirect side as long as it's hot.
How do You Set up a 2 Zone Grill?
The good news is you don't have to buy a brand new grill to use two zone grilling! In fact, this method can be used on a variety of grills, including charcoal, gas, and even electric. So long as there is an area that is hot, and one that is cooler, you've got yourself a 2 zone grill! Of course, how you set up your 2 zone grill depends on which type of grill you have.
Setting up a 2 zone grill for a charcoal grill is very simple, and in fact, is one of the easiest 2 zone grills you can set up. First off, divide your grill into the section that will have direct heat, and the one that will have indirect heat. In the area you plan to have indirect heat, clean out any leftover pieces of charcoal and charcoal dust; the cleaner the better.
On the side with the direct heat, pile on your choice of briquets. Normally 80-100 smaller briquets will do the job, but if they're larger sizes around 50 or so will be fine.
Gas Grill and Electric Grill:
Setting up a gas or electric grill for 2 zone grilling is also easy, assuming you have an even number of burners. With an even number of burners, keep one-half lit and the other half off or on low heat. For an uneven number of burners, you do have some more freedom on how you want to set up the burners. You can keep two hot, one cool, or two on medium and one on hot.
Is There a Medium Heat?
A common question that we see with 2-zone grilling is if there is a "medium heat" you want to look for. And there is, a 300s; with the 220s being the lower-end and the 500s being the higher end. For your indirect zone, you want the temperature to be between the 200s to 300s. Direct needs to be in the 500s or higher.
The medium heat is a good way to make sure that your indirect and direct zones are their proper temperatures.
How to Manage Your 2 Zone Fire?
Now that you know the basics on a 2 zone grill, let's look at maintaining the fire. This really only pertains to charcoal grills, as opposed to electric or gas. For those types of grills, all you need to do is switch the dials to change the temperature. So, when starting your charcoal grill, we recommend a charcoal chimney; a topic we've covered before, including which chimneys are out favorite.
This heated charcoal will be the cornerstone of your charcoal pile. From there, you'll need to manage the temperature and we recommend a good quality digital thermometer to check on your temperature. Remember, for the direct heat your aim should be 500 degrees. The indirect heat needs to be in the lower 200 to 300s, as we discussed.
Only add more fuel if the temperature is dropping, as you don't want the direct heat to be too hot and burn anything and everything in that area.
What are The Advantages of Two-Zone Grilling Method?
Now that we've explained how 2 zone grilling method works, and how you'd want to set up your grills, what are the advantages? As you recall, we did briefly touch on this topic previously so let's look at this topic more in-depth.
Protecting Your Food:
Firstly, having two different zones keeps your foods safe from flair ups, or from burning. With traditional methods of heating, the entire grill will be one unified temperature. So, if the temperature is too high, the food will burn. On the other hand, if the temperature is too low then the food will take much longer to cook or might not cook at all. A good meat thermometer is highly recommended for keeping an eye on your temperature.
That being said, when you have a "cooler" side to your grill, you can quickly move over any food that might be close to burning or if you catch a spike in the temperature. This "cooler" side will still cook your food, but it won't burn your food either. Perfect for smoking or if you need a good crust on your steak.
Having Two Temperature Zones:
Another great advantage, and arguably why this method is so popular, is that you have two zones for cooking. As we said, the indirect zone not only protects your food from flare-ups or overcooking but provides you with an entirely different area to cook your food! Think about this. You got a nice crust going on your steak, so speed up the cooking by tossing it into the direct zone for a few minutes!
Or, if you have those great sear marks on your steak but need some browning to go with it, place your steak on the indirect side to finish the cooking. There is a lot you can do when you have two temperature zones at your control.
Works With Nearly All Foods:
With the 2 zone methods, nearly any food can be cooked. Including fish, vegetables, fruits, corn, potatoes, and so much more! Given that you have two temperature zones to work with, you can be much more risker with your food choices. For example, at higher temperatures fish tends to burn or fall apart. But with this cooking, you can grill fish without a problem!
More Things On The Grill:
When you have the entire grill at one temperature, it can be used only for one type of task; like searing. When you have two zones, you can cook more food. You can sear your steak, and grill some vegetables at the same time with 2 zone grill. And this means you can keep your guests happy by cooking more food to match their tastes.
Different temperatures produce different flavors, normally by browning or searing. You can quickly transfer your food around, providing much more unique and aromatic flavors! Hey, experimenting when it comes to barbecuing is never a bad thing.
Keeps Your Fuel Lasting Longer:
Lastly, you're expanding your fuel usage believe it or not. You're not filling the entire grill with fuel, only one side. Not only will this side heat up faster, but it's using a lot less fuel to do it. If you're on a budget, or hate wasting your fuel, 2 zone fire cooking is a great alternative to heating the entire grill.
Why Should You Use 2-Zone?
Besides the reasons listed above, 2 zone provides you with plenty of experimentation without risking your food. For example, you can try out searing, and if you think your steak or burger might burn you can quickly transfer it to the indirect side. Or if you want to try smoking but don't have a proper smoker, you can use the indirect side for smoking while still grilling your regular burgers and ribs.
What really makes 2 zones cooking beneficial is you have much more control over your cooking methods, and in turn, you won't risk damaging your steaks, ribs, etc. Given how expensive some cuts of meat can get, you don't want them burned or charred. You also have more control over experimenting and fuel consumption. For these reasons, and the ones listed above, is why you need to try out the 2-zone fire cooking method.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Can 2 Zone Cooking Work For Any Grill?
Yes! Gas, electric, and of course charcoal can use the 2-zone fire grilling method. In fact, we highly recommend this method unless you have specific tasks in mind such as grilling a bunch of burgers or smoking some ribs.
Is 2 Zone Cooking Hard To Manage?
Not at all! It's very manageable, and easy to start especially if you're using a gas or electric grill. All you need is a digital thermometer, and a grill where one half is hot and the other isn't as hot.
How Can I Tell My Temperature On A Charcoal Grill?
Use a digital thermometer to keep an eye on the temperature. If you have a gas or electric grill, you can easily check the temperature with any built-in monitors, and make adjustments using the dials.
What Meat Works Best With 2 Zone Cooking?
Just about all of them! Fish, shellfish, steaks, ribs, burgers, beef, chicken, you name it! The 2-zone fire grilling method can work on just about any type of meat, but you need to remember which side has the direct heat and indirect heat. After all, if you leave your fish on the direct heat for too long it will burn.
You will have more opportunities to cook much more risker, or harder-to-cook foods however. And of course, more opportunities to experiment.
Should Bigger Or Smaller Pieces Of Meat Be Cooked First?
Larger cuts should always be cooked first. They have much more surface space and take longer to cook, so focus on these before you begin on smaller or thinner cuts.
What Temperatures Should Be Used?
For direct heat, you'll want the temperature to be around 500 degrees or more. For the indirect heat, aim for 220 to 300 degrees. You can of course change the direct and indirect temperatures to whatever you like, but exercise caution so the food doesn't burn or take too long to cook.
And there you have it. Using the two-zone cooking method is easy, can provide tons of experimentation, and you save on fuel! Next time you're cooking, try your hand at the two-zone fire grilling method and see what you can whip up!