You’ve been cooking outdoors for years. Yet all too often you end up with underdone drumsticks or charred hockey pucks (er, hamburgers). With the help of experts Steven Raichlen, the author of The Barbecue Bible ($23, amazon.com), and Jennifer Chandler, the author of Simply Grilling ($25, amazon.com), Real Simple put together this easy-to-follow guide to setting up your grill. Once you’re ready to bring the heat, check out this cheat sheet to learn how to grill practically everything.
Lesson 1: Direct vs. Indirect Heat
Your most important grilling decision is, of course, what to grill. Your second-most important? What type of heat to use. Choosing the right one—direct or indirect—can have a huge impact on how your food tastes, says Steven Raichlen. So what’s the big difference? With direct heat, you place small, quick-cooking items, like burgers, directly over the fire. When you use indirect heat, the fire is lit under only part of the grate. Slow-cooking food, like a rack of ribs, is placed over the unlit portion and cooked covered. “The effect is similar to roasting in an oven,” says Jennifer Chandler.
How to Set Up a Charcoal Grill
For direct heat: After preheating the grill for 10 minutes, rake the coals so they cover two-thirds of the bottom grate. The empty third is a safety zone, where you can move food that’s flaring up. Put on the top grate, place the food directly over the coals, and cook, uncovered.
For indirect heat: After preheating the grill for 10 minutes, rake the coals into two piles on opposite sides of the bottom grate. Put on the top grate, position the food over the empty space between the coals, and cook, covered. If you’re cooking for more than an hour, place a disposable aluminum pan between the coals and add an inch of water to keep drippings from burning.
How to Set Up a Gas Grill
For direct heat: After preheating the grill for 10 minutes, position the food directly over the lit burners and cook, uncovered.
For indirect heat: After preheating the grill for 10 minutes, turn off one burner, position the food over it, and cook, covered.
Once you decide between direct and indirect heat, use this guide to check the temperature of your grill.