How to Set Up Direct and Indirect Heat
Direct grilling involves cooking the food directly over the fire, usually with the grate four to six inches above the embers. This method is best used for relatively small, thin, tender pieces of food that cook quickly, such as steaks, chops, chicken breasts, fish fillets, vegetables, tofu, and pineapple slices.
Charcoal: The challenge of direct grilling, especially over charcoal, is making sure the grill isn't too hot. To control the heat, build a three-zone fire. Use a garden hoe to rake half the lit coals into a double layer on one side of the grill, covering about one-third of the bottom. The remaining coals go in a single layer in the center. Leave the last third of the grill coal-free. This gives you three heat zones―a hot zone for searing, a medium zone for cooking, and a cool or "safety" zone, where you can move the food if it starts to burn or to keep it warm after cooking.
Gas: To control the heat on a gas grill, set one burner on high and one or two on medium. Leave one burner off. Or, if your grill has only two burners, use the warming rack as the safety zone.
If you are grilling brisket, a whole chicken, or a pork shoulder, indirect grilling is the best cooking method. It allows you to cook large or tough cuts of meat on your grill without burning the exterior. To indirect-grill, place the food next to (not directly over) the fire, covering the grill to hold in the heat. This turns the grill into a sort of outdoor oven.
Charcoal: Rake the coals into two piles on opposite sides of the grill and place an aluminum-foil pan in the center. The food goes on the grate directly above the pan, which will catch the drippings.
Gas: On a two-burner grill, light one side and place the food on the other. On a three- or four-burner grill, light the outside or front and rear burners; cook the food in the center. Most gas grills have built-in drip pans, so you won't need to place a foil pan under the grate.