Direct vs. Indirect Grilling: What's the Difference?

 A person grilling meats on different sections of a grill

Let’s talk about direct vs. indirect heat. While the differences between the two grilling methods may seem straightforward—and they are in some ways—there are temperature techniques that can drastically level up your grilling game.

Grilling is an art. There’s so much more to it than just tossing food on a grill and hoping for the best. If you’re serious about your backyard BBQs, learning about multi-zone grilling is a crucial step on your journey.

Creating mouthwatering food requires finesse, control, and on-the-fly decision making. You need to move your food to the right spots at just the right times to achieve perfection.

Understanding the ins and outs of direct vs. indirect grilling is the key to unleashing your inner grill master. We’re here to provide an in-depth overview of both grilling styles so you can approach every cookout with confidence. Let’s start with the basics.

Direct vs. Indirect Heat: Frying Pan vs. Oven

Both types of heat sources are used in cooking in general—they’re not specific to grilling only, although grills can really maximize their unique benefits. A simple way to view them is by considering two common cooking tools: the frying pan and the oven.

It all comes down to how heat is transferred to and distributed throughout the food and its surrounding area. The difference between direct vs. indirect grilling is that direct heat transfers heat through conduction, while indirect heat transfers heat through convection.

  • Conduction heat is when heat is transferred to an object through direct physical contact.
  • Convection heat is when heat is transferred to an object through air or fluid.

A frying pan uses conduction heat. The food is applied directly to the hot pan’s surface, and heat is transferred directly to the food, cooking it. An oven uses convection heat. The air inside the oven heats up, which indirectly cooks the food.

Combo Cooking

Sticking with the same example of using different tools for direct vs. indirect grilling, let’s look at combo cooking. This term simply means that you use both direct and indirect heat sources to make food.

For example, when making a large roast, it’s a common practice to start with a frying pan to get a nice sear on the outside and then transfer the meat to the oven or slow cooker to finish cooking the inside low and slow.

Understanding how direct vs. indirect heat cooks food lets you get the best of both worlds. One method isn’t necessarily better than the other; it's all about context.

When you want a fried egg, you don’t plug in your slow cooker because you instinctively know which heat source works best. Direct vs. indirect grilling is exactly the same.

Why Using the Right Heat Source Matters

Heat sources drastically affect both flavor and texture. In fact, many foods require a specific type of heat to be appetizing.

Going back to the large roast example, if you were to cook it solely on the frying pan, the outside of the meat would become charred black by the time the inside was cooked to a safe temperature.

On the other hand, if you were to cook it solely in the oven, you’d miss out on the sear that locks in moisture, seals in flavor, and gives the meat a beautiful, golden-brown crust. You'd end up with a mushy roast that lacks complex flavors.

Multi-Zone Grilling

A person grilling various types of meat

Okay, now let’s move from the kitchen to the backyard. The concept of direct vs. indirect grilling can be applied by giving your grill two zones for direct and indirect heat or, even better, three heat zones for flavor-searing, finishing, and holding.

Not all foods require multi-zone grilling. For example, a perfect steak only needs to be grilled over direct heat to come off the grill with a perfect sear and appetizing flash marks on the outside, and a juicy, medium-rare inside.

On the other hand, grilled chicken thighs or chicken breasts require that you understand direct vs. indirect heat to cook them properly. You sear the outside first, and then move them to indirect heat to make sure that the meat is cooked all the way through.

Once you recognize how direct vs. indirect grilling changes the food’s flavor and texture, you can adjust your approach to the specific dish on the menu. Generally, larger, thicker cuts should be seared on direct heat and finished over indirect heat, while thinner cuts only need to be seared. Of course, there are always exceptions.

Professional-Style Grilling with FlavrQ

Our proprietary grilling system makes it possible to grill like the pros in many ways. The most obvious benefit is that you can get charcoal-grilled flavor with a gas grill, but that’s just the start.

FlavrQ also increases your gas grill’s temperature by 100° or more. This drastic performance boost makes it possible to choose between direct vs. indirect grilling in a way that was previously impossible.

Simply put, most stock gas grills aren't able to reach the extreme temperatures needed to sear food properly. Knowing about direct vs. indirect heat isn’t enough. You must have the right tools to use the different types of heat effectively.

With FlavrQ, you can dedicate one section of your grill to scorching hot direct heat for flavor-searing, another section with indirect heat for finishing, and another section with low or no heat for holding until it’s time to serve.

How to Create Multiple Grilling Zones with FlavrQ

Kebabs on a grill

The great thing about the FlavrQ Grilling System is that you don’t have to choose between direct vs. indirect grilling. You can install one FlavrQ Grid for searing only and then continue using standard gas on the other sections, just like before.

Of course, we highly recommend upgrading your entire grill—the FlavrQ Grid improves radiant heat distribution even when you’re grilling with gas alone—but the option is there if you prefer a hybrid approach. Either way, FlavrQ doesn’t permanently modify your grill, so you can easily switch it up anytime.

Installing the FlavrQ Grilling System doesn’t require any special tools, knowledge, or training. It only takes a few seconds to start enjoying the juiciest and tastiest foods at home. And, now that you know the difference between direct vs. indirect grilling, you can customize your grill according to your personal preferences. Here’s how.

  1. Measure your grill to make sure it’s compatible with the FlavrQ Grid (most gas grills are).
  2. Order the FlavrQ Grid and our patented ChipCharwood®.
  3. Remove your gas grill’s grate.
  4. Place the FlavrQ Grid over the radiant bars.
  5. Replace the grate.
  6. Spoon the ChipCharwood® onto the FlavrQ Grid.
  7. Light the grill.
  8. Grill like a pro.

Teach Your Old Grill New Tricks

Now that you’re familiar with how direct vs. indirect heat are different, the next step is to start using this knowledge to level up your grilling game. Understanding the basics of direct vs. indirect grilling will put you on the right path, but first-hand experience is the key to mastering it.

We’re gas grill fans. However, we do admit that while gas grills offer many advantages, they have some shortcomings—mainly temperature and flavor. Our goal was to fix those problems, and we’re proud to say that we succeeded.

With FlavrQ gas grill accessories, you can finally achieve that elusive, bold charcoal-grilled flavor and enjoy juicier food with flash marks and rich colors that get mouths watering. Our ChipCharwood® is 100% natural and chemical-free, so your food is healthier, and your grilling sessions are better for the planet.

Explore Our Patented Grilling System Now

The FlavrQ Grilling System

We hope this guide to direct vs. indirect grilling is helpful as you embrace the techniques that turn you from a casual cook into a bonafide grill master. If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch. You can also find more grilling tips and tricks in our BBQ blog.

When it comes to direct vs. indirect heat, knowledge is important, but having the right equipment is mandatory. Order the FlavrQ Starter Kit today. It comes with everything you need to grill like the pros—just bring the grill and food.

FlavrQ Puts the Power in Your Hands

Passionate grillers tend to have strong opinions about their methods, so the pros and cons of direct vs. indirect grilling will vary widely depending on who you ask. There’s no right or wrong way if your food’s delicious!

That said, you must have a strong grasp of the fundamentals to be able to move beyond them. You can’t break the rules unless you know them. And, you can’t grow as a griller if your grill can’t keep up. That’s where we come in. Boost your Q with FlavrQ!