What Is Two-Zone Cooking?

diagram of charcoal grill set up for two zone cooking

Today, we’re diving headfirst into the world of two-zone cooking. It’s like grilling’s secret handshake, the Jedi mind trick of BBQ, and the golden ticket to perfecting your grilling game. 

Two-zone cooking is a technique where you set up your grill with two distinct heat zones: one hot and one cool. It’s like having a large black coffee with a triple shot of espresso and a lazy Sunday afternoon nap all in one grill. 

This method gives you the flexibility to cook a wide range of foods to perfection, from searing steaks to slow-roasting. Two-zone cooking is required for either the reverse sear technique, or sear and slide technique.

Zone Usage

Direct Heat Zone: This is where the action happens, and it’s scorching hot! This is where you sear your steaks, get those beautiful grill marks or overall char, and unleash your inner grillmaster. 

Indirect Heat Zone: This is your safe haven, where you can catch your breath and let things simmer down. This zone is where you’ll finish cooking thicker cuts of meat, roast veggies, and prevent flare-ups from turning your masterpiece into charcoal.

Setting Up Two-Zone Cooking on Charcoal and Gas Grills

To set up your charcoal grill for two-zone cooking, pile all of your coals on one side of the grill; this will be the direct heat or hot zone. The other side will have no coals and will be your indirect or cool zone. 

For a gas grill, only light half of the burners and leave the other half turned off to form hot and cool zones.

Why Two-Zone Cooking Rocks

Safe Zone
Having a cool zone on the grill is not only perfect for allowing your food to gently coast up to the desired temperature. It also acts as a safe zone in the event of a flare up, or if the action just gets too hot (pun intended). At any time you’re grilling over direct heat, if the need arises you can easily move your food over to the cool zone for a break in the action.

Perfect Steaks Every Time
Imagine this: You sear a thick, marbled ribeye steak on the direct heat side, creating the perfect char. Then, you move it to the indirect heat side to gradually cook to your desired doneness without burning the edges. It’s like a steak symphony, and you’re the maestro.

No More Burnt Chicken
We’ve all been there, right? Chicken breasts that are burnt on the outside and raw in the middle? Not anymore! Start your chicken on the direct heat side, crisp up the skin or char the flesh, and then let it finish cooking to juicy perfection on the indirect heat side. No more dried-out poultry tragedies!

Tips and Tricks for Two-Zone Cooking Mastery

Preheat Like a Boss: Give your grill time to reach the right temperatures. It’s like letting your car warm up on a chilly morning.
Keep the Lid Closed: Unless you’re flipping or checking on your food, keep that lid shut! It helps maintain consistent heat and infuses that smoky flavor.
Invest in a Good Thermometer: Don’t guess when your meat is done. A reliable thermometer is your best friend on the grill. I recommend those from reputable companies like Thermoworks and FireBoard. Both companies make incredibly accurate, well built thermometers.  Practice, Practice, Practice: Like any superhero, mastering two-zone cooking takes some time. Experiment, make mistakes, and enjoy the delicious results along the way.

So there you have it, folks! Two-zone cooking is your ticket to grilling greatness. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or just starting your grilling journey, this technique will level up your game and have your guests begging for seconds. Remember, with great grilling power comes great responsibility (and a full belly). Happy grilling!