Don't underestimate the versatility of your outdoor grill.

June 14, 2018
Melinda Josie

Have you ever set out to grill a multi-part meal and found yourself sweating over the hot grates all evening, only to walk away smelling like you’ve been toasted yourself? Setting up a three-zone fire allows you to churn out more than just burgers and dogs so you can kick back and enjoy an ice-cold lemonade or beer.

To cook an entire meal—say, steak, vegetables, and bread—all at the same time, divide the grill into three zones: a direct, high-heat area for searing and fast grilling; an indirect, medium-heat area for big pieces and long-cooking items; and a low-heat safe zone, where you can toast bread and move food to if there’s a flare-up. It’s simple enough with a gas grill’s nuanced settings, but it’s just as easy with a charcoal one. To get it right, follow these five steps:

Step 1: Light the coals and let them burn for at least 10 minutes. They’re ready when glowing and covered with light gray ash.

Step 2: Spread two-thirds of the lit coals in a double layer over a third of the bottom grill grate. This is your hot zone, for direct-heat grilling.

Step 3: Spread the remaining coals in a single layer over the center third of the grill grate. This is your medium-heat zone, for indirect grilling.

Step 4: Leave a third of the grill grate coal-free. This is the safe zone, where you can move juicy burgers and skin-on chicken pieces that are flaring or foods that need to be kept warm.

Step 5: Attach the top grate and get grilling.

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