Today we are going to learn about the difference between 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
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. This is 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. This 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. Also 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.
At my home, 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. I then 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…
How about finding out what woods are great to smoke with?