|The SmokinLicious® culinary crew’s two-zone cooking method set up to smoke Fava Beans on the Gas grill with Wood chunks!|
We all know that the key to easy and successful outdoor cooking is to control the temperature. I also believe that outdoor cooking should not hold you hostage at the grill. That’s why everyone should learn the two-zone cooking method for grilling.
Let’s cover what type of cooking you can do by this method, why it’s so successful, and how to set up the zones.
Why Two-Zone is BestTwo-zone cooking can be done on any type of grill no matter the fuel source. What is two-zone cooking? Using the fuel source on only half the grill while the other half holds the food. Although you may use the unlit side of the grill for most of the cooking, you have the benefit of finishing crispy skins of items or quick cooking thinner cuts of meats on the direct heat side.
Two-zone cooking is also called direct and indirect cooking. The indirect side uses indirect convection heat to cook the food which means the heat generated by the lit side radiates into the material of the equipment and produces heat (convection heat) on the unlit side. The direct side produces the heat within the unit and can be used when quick cooking is needed or when a food that has been cooked on the indirect side needs crisping, additional coloring, or some char.
Set Up a Two-ZoneThe primary reason you want to set up two-zone cooking is most of the grill cooking does not require direct heat. When you consistently cook foods, especially meats, over direct heat, you easily can have dried, stiff, flavorless results. This is due to the components of meat reacting at different temperatures that with direct cooking occur too fast to react.
I will tell you that you need a grilling area that is large enough to establish two zones. I judge the space needed with a rectangular, disposable foil pan. If the pan can fit on half the grill area without issue, then you have plenty of room for a two-zone setup. When using a gas grill, this means lighting the burners on one half of the grill. If you don’t have an even number of burners, then decide how many are to be turned on and how many left off. With a charcoal grill, placing the hot coals on only half the charcoal area. On an electric unit, if you can manipulate the heating element, isolate the element to one side of the unit. The temperature that works ideally for two-zone cooking is 225°F. Of course, I always add wood chunks to give a smoky flavor to the foods. Remember, the hardwood goes on the direct side of the grill or lit burner or hot coals.
Note that you can also use a water pan using two zones. This can be placed on either side of the grill depending on when you need the direct heat side. Keep in mind, when doing meats, it’s great to place a pan under the meat with vegetables (onions, potatoes, celery, peppers, etc.) and a small amount of liquid that can collect the meat renderings. You can also place pans of beans to catch those drippings. Anything is fair game.
For those times when you don’t want to add any additional foods, you can simply lay a thin foil pan under the grill grate of the indirect side or a sheet of foil. That will collect any fat drippings.
Cook Anything!Since radiant heat is what you are cooking with when foods are placed on the indirect side, you can cook anything. I love doing tarts and cakes via this method, especially during the hot months when you don’t want to lite your indoor oven. In fact, those are the times that I cook an entire meal using a two-zone setup.
You can also cook multiple items using both direct and indirect heat. A long cooking meat goes on the indirect side, is cooked to temperature and held there, while a side dish is cooked on direct heat. Don’t forget, if the cookware you use is high heat tolerant, you can use cookware as well. This is how I can make cakes, tarts, and bread on the grill. You need to view this equipment like an oven as that is essentially what it is!
Use Like an Oven & Walk AwayI’m going, to be honest. Although it’s true that you can produce more moist foods using a two-zone method the real reason I love this method of cooking is I can walk away from the grill. This is particularly true when using a gas grill which holds the temperature steady, which for me, is 250°F for long cook meats and regular baking temperatures for all my cookies, cakes, tarts, bread. Remember, charcoal grills will still require you to refuel so the temperature can fluctuate more if you’re not careful. Keeping an extra chimney starter of charcoal going will solve that issue.
As a final note, even though two-zone cooking allows you more time away from the grill, you still need a good digital thermometer to monitor the temperature of the food. Invest in an easy read one and you’ll really enjoy this new way of grilling and smoking.