Direct and indirect cooking

When you are invited to a BBQ party, what is worse than having burnt and dry sausages, a hard and dried piece of chicken or even a tasteless (ashy) slice of bacon?

We are meat and barbeque aficionados so we always aim to master the cooking methods. I will give you some advice so you never burn your meat again.

What is direct and indirect cooking?

Direct cooking is the most well-known because as its name implies, it involves directly putting the meat onto the heat source. It is the most complicated to master because the intensity of the heat (which is hard to control too) generally causes food to become dry. When direct cooking, the temperature is so high that the water inside the muscles of the meat (about 75% is muscle) evaporates very quickly, making the meat very dry and hard.

Using the direct method with uncovered cooking, the food is cooked at the same time by radiation and by conduction but only from the bottom (infra-red radiation of the wood embers or charcoal and the conduction of heat by the grate which is in direct contact with the food).The outside of the food reacts very quickly by browning and transmits heat inside itself by conduction. Given that the BBQ is uncovered, the upper part of the food does not receive any radiation and then cools down.

Using the directly covered cooking method, the food is cooked at the same time by radiation on all of its sides and by conduction of the grate. The outside part reacts quite quickly by browning and transmits heat to the center of the meat by conduction. Given that the BBQ is covered, all the sides of the food receive the combustive radiation.

Direct uncovered cooking is used to SEAR meats by radiation, this causes stress in the muscle to quickly create a crust. The latter allows gravy to be caught during the resting time. This reaction is a little too difficult to explain in this article, but this is also a technique that gives more tenderness to the meat, if the time, cooking and temperature are mastered.

Of course, everything depends on the amount of ember and how far the food is from the heat source. Therefore, if you only put some charcoal briquettes in the bottom of a 57cm diameter Weber BBQ and the same amount in a 57cm diameter Kamado  BBQ, you will not have the same heat intensity on the grate because the distance between the grate and the embers is different (even though this is questionable because the Kamado ceramic does not produce radiation as an enamel Weber does. It is the same problem for insulation).

One of the problems in direct cooking is that when the meat fat starts running on the embers, there is a risk of an uncontrollable fire… The meat burns really fast, it dries and carcinogenic elements, dangerous for your health, appear too. The problem is if we cover the barbeque during the direct cooking, the fire is smothered, which is necessary to create that much talked about crust…

Indirect cooking means the food is cooked at a certain distance from the heat source. It is placed close enough to be cooked but far enough away not to burn too fast. This type of method is used the most because it is the easiest one to control. The barbeque always needs to be covered.

The meat is cooked by radiation on all sides and by the conduction from the grate. It is the infra-red radiation of wood, ember or charcoal and the grate conduction which is in contact with the food. The outside part of the food reacts way more slowly and transmits the heat towards the center by conduction. Given that the BBQ is covered, the sides of the food receive radiation by combustion.

Indirect cooking is ideal for all kinds of thinner meats, and for those which need time to be cooked like poultry, leg of lamb, whole train steak or roast… But this is also the best cooking technique for fattier meats (which tend to trickle a lot) like sausages, merguez or bacon… The falling fat drops do not touch the embers so they do not ignite. For sausages and merguez, the casing does not split open under the influence of the heat and the juice stays inside. Poultries have time to caramelize while cooking but the flesh remains tender inside…

The mixed mode

The art of grilling is to know how to juggle with direct and indirect cooking methods and to use them both at the same time! Start by searing your rib with direct cooking for example, then end with the indirect method. Mark your chicken fillet on each side using direct cooking and then leave it to cook.

In my restaurant, I even cook my burgers using the two cooking methods. I start by searing them on each side, and then I move them to the “cool” area of my barbeque. This leaves me some time to melt the cheese, warm up the onion jam and to cook my bacon slices. When I cook my chicken fillets, I always put a rub on them and leave it to slowly caramelize on the “cool” area of my barbeque. The result is an incredibly tender flesh and a thin sweet and spicy crust… My customers love it!

English butter caramelized rib steaks, fennel and smoked tomato salad.

This is an outstanding recipe of grilled and caramelized beef. The seasoning and the English butter together create a caramelized crust on the fat of the meat.



1/2 cup of Worcestershire sauce

1/2 cup of brown sugar

  1. Tablespoon of chili flakes
  2. Tablespoon of boiling water
  3. Branch of fresh rosemary
  4. Branches of fresh thyme

10 big garlic cloves or 20 small ones

1 cup of olive oil

English butter:

3 tablespoon of soft butter

1/3 cup of English sauce

1/3 cup of brown sugar

Salt and Pepper


2 fennel bulbs

5 nice and ripe tomatoes

1 handful of green olives

1/2 cup of olive oil

2 garlic cloves

A pinch of salt

Fresh thyme



You will need four nice rib steaks (I use a cured Rubia Galega, which is an awesome meat, but you can use any other breed of beef as long as it is well marbled).

You will also need wood to smoke your tomatoes and meat (Hickory, Mesquite, Cherry, Apple, Maple or Cedar are good.

The day before, prepare the seasoning by chopping garlic cloves and mix them with all the other ingredients in a bowl. Put your rib steaks in a freezer bag, big enough for the four pieces. Pour in the seasoning, close the bag and put it in the fridge for a minimum of four hours. it is better to wait between 12 to 24 hours.

The next day, take the meat out of the bag and lay it down on a chopping board. I personally add some coarse salt but this is a personal choice.

Cut the tomatoes in two and press them to extract their juices and pips. Leave aside. Cut the ends off the fennel and throw them away (you can chop the leaves and use them to decorate the salad) then slice the fennel about 1,5cm thick and chop the garlic gloves.

Stir the olive oil, thyme, garlic, pepper and salt in a bowl and add the tomatoes and fennel so that they are well coated.

Light the barbeque ready for indirect cooking (put the embers in one half of the barbeque). When it is hot enough, put the tomatoes, face down on top of the grate in the “cool” area. Add some smoking wood pieces on the embers and cover the BBQ so that the tomatoes cook slowly while smoking. They need about 30min. Cut the olives into pieces. After 15 minutes of cooking the tomatoes grill the fennel for a few minutes on each side. It has to soften. When the tomatoes and the fennels are finished, take a plate and add the olives and the tomato juice that you have left aside.

You now need to cook the meat. While the tomatoes are cooking, the barbeque is covered and the temperature will drop because of a lack of oxygen. Wait for one or two minutes until your embers are red or white. Add some smoking wood and grill your rib steaks for two minutes on each side (you only turn them once). Then, move your meat to the “cool” area of the barbeque. Use a brush to add some English butter and immediately cover. After two minutes, turn your meat over and smear it with English butter. Cover the barbeque again for two more minutes.

It is now time to serve. I serve with grilled corn and small roast potatoes as a side dish.

Bon appétit!

Rohan Hennebert

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