Direct Cooking - The Simple Alternative
There are two different ways to cook on a barbecue - Direct or Indirect. As the name implies, Direct Cooking is where the heat or flame is directly under the food being cooked.
Direct cooking on the hot plate (griddle)
The plate or griddle is ideal for cooking foods that contain a great deal of fat, such as sausages and hamburgers that are either very small, thin, or hard to control on the open grill, such as bacon strips, tomatoes, thin steaks, some fish fillets, or pineapple etc that would traditionally be cooked on a fry pan, such as onions, pancakes, pizza, flapjacks, or eggs.
It is advisable to cook all foods on the plate (griddle) slowly and on a moderate or medium heat. This helps to retain the foods natural juices and consequently flavor. If the heat is too high, your food could be cooked, or even burnt on the outside and raw on the inside. Remember that it is the heat in the plate that cooks the food, rather than the flame below. As such the plate will retain the heat for some time after the flame is reduced - so make allowances for this when cooking.
You can cook using the direct method with the hood up, or down - the choice depends upon the taste you are trying to achieve. But remember, if you do prefer to cook with the roasting hood down, never cook with the burners on high. Best results can be achieved by keeping the burners on low to medium heat within the desired cooking area. If you are cooking without a hood, or with the hood in the open position, heat will be lost; therefore you can use any burner configuration that suits the recipe, or your personal taste.
Direct cooking on the grill
This method of barbecuing is probably the most common method of barbecuing meat, chops and steak, for the food retains the true barbecue taste and flavor. Generally thinner cuts of meat, fish and poultry that cook fast, are more successful with this form of cooking, whereas thicker cuts are best cooked by the indirect method, or a combination of both.
Firstly, lightly oil the grill before lighting the BBQ. Then pre-heat and when the BBQ is hot, place the food directly on the grill to quickly sear it and seal in the flavor and juices. If your grill has a roasting hood, there are a number of ways you can combine both direct and indirect cooking. You can quickly sear both sides of your food on the grill, then transfer the food to a non-lit portion of the BBQ, lower the hood and continue cooking in an indirect manner.
Or, you can leave your food cooking over the lit grill and lower the hood. However, it is advisable to reduce the flame so that the convection heat created within the hood can complete the cooking process. Because this method of cooking circulates the heat, there is less need to turn the food.
What Gives Food that Unique Barbecue Flavor
Surprisingly, it has little to do with the fuel you use. Many people believe you need wood or charcoal to have a real barbecue, but the experts definitely disagree. It's a simple three-step process.
- Food cooks on the open grill.
- Juices fall onto the flame or coals below.
- The juices burn or evaporate; sending flavor filled vapor back up to the food where it came from.
In other words, it's the vaporizing of the cooking juices, not the smoke from the fuel that does the trick.
How Vaporizer Bars help (Not all grills are equipped)
The problem with too much juice falling on coals is that it can build up and burn with a full flame. This is called flare up. A little is okay, but too much tends to leave your food charred and unattractive.
Vaporizer Bars are designed to prevent juices from building up, by causing them to spread out and evaporate faster. More of the flavor from the cooking juices finds its way back to the food instead of falling through to the drip tray, or building up and burning in a full flame.
A roasting hood makes it even better.
By trapping the vapor inside an "outdoor oven", the cooking vapor will fall back on the food on all sides, not just from underneath. The food stays moist while it's cooking.
Indirect Cooking - Far More Versatile
Indirect cooking is where the heat circulates around the food, cooking by convection. Little or no heat is directly underneath the food. This method of cooking applies only if you have a roasting hood.
Indirect cooking is similar to an oven and is recommended for rotisserie cooking, roasts, poultry, casseroles, vegetables and whole fish.
The indirect method of cooking can also be used to cook such items as thick meat and fish steaks that have been quickly seared on the grill by the direct method (to seal in the natural juices) then completed by the indirect method. The golden key to success in indirect barbecue cooking is to take your time and cook slowly. Firstly pre-heat the BBQ as previously described, then:
- If your Grill has 2 burners - turn both burners down fractionally below medium
- If your Grill has 3 burners - turn the central burner off and reduce the two outside burners to medium
- If your Grill has 4 burners - turn the two inside burners off and reduce the two outside burners to medium
- If your Grill has 5 burners - turn the three inside burners off, leave one outside burner on high and reduce the other outside burner to medium.
Now raise the hood and place the food on the unlit, center portion(s) of the cooking surface. If you are cooking a roast, it is a good idea to use a special roast holder which not only keeps the meat away from the heat source, but sits neatly into a baking tray. This is essential in the case of the 2-burner barbecue where the meat tray will be sitting over direct heat.
This is a great way to cook chicken, and large pieces of meat. You know it really is interesting that rotisserie cooking doesn't get more respect. Most grill manufacturers will tell you that you don't really need to use a rotisserie because a grill with a lid does the same thing, provides even roasting. The standard view of cooking is to move the heat around the food, not the food around the heat.
There are so many advantages to rotisserie cooking. Meats are generally juicier, self-basted and slow roasted. Of course there are a few differences between grilling and rotisserie cooking that you need to be aware of. The first place to start is with the instruction manual for your particular grill, beyond that remember that while a lot of grilling is done over a very hot fire you need a lot less heat for the rotisserie.
Starting with your equipment, you will need a Rotisserie attachment for your particular grill. I suggest making sure you get a good one with a powerful motor. Now these days you are seeing an increasing number of grills that come with rotisserie attachments and some even have a special rotisserie burner. Rotisserie Burners are great because they will put heat on from behind which will allow all drippings to fall without causing flare-ups. The rotisserie burner is a nice feature because it automatically sets you up for indirect, even heating. You can even get an attachment for your charcoal kettle grill that works very well.
Moving on to the fire, you do not want a hot fire directly under the food you want to spin. Many items will be large and hence will get very close to the fire. If you are using a gas grill sometimes it is best or even necessary to remove the grills (before heating) before cooking to allow sufficient room for the meat to turn. You can use the outside lower grills to add heat to the grill if you want to speed up the cooking time, but remember the slower the meat is cooked the better it will be.
If you are using a charcoal grill build the fire around the edges so that it overlaps the food by a few inches but has no coals directly underneath. Also place a drip pan under the food to avoid flare-ups and to keep the direct heat at a safe distance. If you are using charcoal you will probably need to add more burning coals every 30 minutes.
Now the most important thing to remember in using a rotisserie is balance and security. Place the meat on the middle of the rotisserie skewer and fasten as firmly as you can. If you are cooking poultry remember to secure the wings and legs in as tightly as possible. If parts are loose to flop around as it turns you can get burning and it can through off the balance. Many rotisserie units have a counter balance to help you get it just right. I suggest that once you have the food secured to the skewer that you roll the skewer in the palms of your hands to make sure you have a good balance. Try slowly rolling it to see if you have a heavy side. If the spit is unbalanced you will put stress on the rotisserie motor and will make one side turn slower than the other causing uneven cooking. Adjust until you have a good balance.
As for cooking times your best bet is a meat thermometer. Cooking charts below might be a good guide but differences in wind, air temperature, equipment, etc. will throw these calculations off. The thermometer will tell you when the food is cooked. Best guess just won't cut it.
If you set up your rotisserie so that the top of the item is moving away from you and place the drip pan slightly towards the front of the grill then you will have an easier time scooping up the drippings for basting.
Cooking Times and Temperatures
Although there is no substitute for experience, we can give you a guide to cooking times to get you started. The roasting hood temperatures and cooking times given below should be used as a rough starting guide only Unlike an internal oven that is being used under controlled conditions and is insulated - the very nature of outside cooking means that the barbecue is subject to a large and varied range of conditions, such as external temperature, wind, sun, humidity and altitude, all of which can affect the overall cooking temperatures, times and performance. If the barbecue and hood are used in a cold climate, or in an exposed, cool or windy position, then the internal temperature under the roasting hood may be considerably less and your food will take longer to cook. On the other hand, if the barbecue is situated in a hot, sunny area, the temperature under the roasting hood could increase, speeding up the cooking time.
The best way to take the guesswork out of indirect cooking and make sure that your food is cooked to your satisfaction is to use a meat thermometer, or meat probe.
Below are some examples of approximate cooking times. As a guide, two burners on medium with the roasting hood down for the 3, 4 and 5 burner barbecues, produce approximately 195°C (385°F). Two burners on medium, with the roasting hood down on the 2 burner barbecue, produces approximately 205°C (400°F)
- 45-55 minutes per kg (20-25 minutes per Ib) at approximately 180°C (355°F)
- 45-55 minutes per kg (20-25 minutes per Ib) at approximately 180°C (355°F)
- 55-60 minutes per kg (25-30 minutes per Ib) at approximately 170°C (340°F)
- 40-50 minutes per kg (18-23 minutes per Ib) at approximately 160°C (320°F)
- 20-30 minutes per kg (9-14 minutes per Ib) at approximately 150°C (300°F)
- 40-50 minutes per kg (18-23 minutes per Ib) at approximately 180°C (355°F)
Controlling Flare Ups
Flare ups, when flames reaches over the top of the grill, are a common, though poorly understood barbecuing experience. Grease and juices from cooking meat act as fuel. When this "fuel" builds up it can catch alight. It is quite common especially while cooking fatty foods like sausages, to have brief bursts of flame above the grill. Some flare up in these circumstances is inevitable. This flare up, if it only happens occasionally and is controlled, can add to the outdoor flavor of your food. If it happens too often it can spoil a good meal.
How to minimize flare up
Infrared heat can go a long way to vaporizing grease before it builds up. This has the added benefit of sending flavor back up through your food while it is cooking. Other things you can do to minimize flare up include:
- Avoid the temptation to keep turning or poking the food once it starts cooking. Every time you poke, prod, or turn the food, valuable juices are lost, drying out the food and causing flare-ups.
- Try cooking leaner cuts of meat
- Trim excess fat from meats to be grilled.
- You can boil sausages before grilling to remove excess grease. As mentioned, some flare-ups are inevitable. However, if they do occur, relocate the meat to the plate (griddle), or another part of the cooking surface until the flames subside.
- Have a spray bottle of water handy to extinguish small flare-ups. Don't use to much as this can eliminate flavors
Using a Side Burner
Side burners turn the barbecue into an outside kitchen. Combined with the roasting hood and rotisserie, you can cook almost everything that can be cooked in a conventional kitchen.
A side burner is similar to the burner on a gas stove. As such you can use any conventional pan, including saucepans, fry pans, wok and cast iron cooking pots to cook any number of foods or recipes.
One word of warning. It is advisable not to use the side burner on very windy days as the flame can be extinguished.