By contributing writer Sean, aka “the hubby”
Have you ever thrown a burger on, or tried to get that chicken to come out tasty, tender and done? Only to be thwarted by the flame?
I recall the first time I meticulously marinated chicken thighs in an amazing spiced buttermilk bath for hours. Then prepared the flame on the grill with anticipation of how awesome this food will taste. The weather was perfect and I just knew perfection was around the corner.
Flash forward to the finished product and boy did I learn my lesson. After placing my chicken directly over the heat source I proceeded to thoroughly char the outside, and by char I mean leather meets hockey puck with a nice pink interior. And for chicken that is not a good thing.
Heat – Direct vs. Indirect Grilling
I find this is the best way to start the process of any meat and then move to an indirect method. Want grill marks? Direct heat is the easiest. Want that crispy texture but not burned? Direct heat is the fastest way to get there. Basically you place the desired item over the heat source…. directly.
Vegetables, grilled fish, lean beef and pork tenderloin I find work well using direct heat. The lack of a fat avoids the dreaded flare up and lean cuts of anything cook up quickly. So you can get a beautiful exterior and strive for the medium rare interior. And on vegetables, I love a nice crispy texture with flavor, not something that folds over on itself.
One of the principles of barbecued meat especially, the indirect method is one of the ways to find perfection in both a beautiful exterior and finished interior. Depending on your cooking device, you have a heat source but instead of keeping the meat positioned directly over a flame, you simply place your cooking item directly to the side. By doing so, you avoid the constant high heat that can cause a fast sear and eventual burn to the exterior and instead control how you like your exterior texture.
Fatty meats, hamburgers and chicken work so well here. Why burgers? I just find that with a ground meat you still need to get the interior temperature to the safe zone. By leaving the burger on a direct source the entire time, you run the risk of an over well burger. The same applies to chicken, it’s not the fat; it’s getting your chicken to the safe zone that is critical. So I like to get a nice sear over a direct heat and then move to indirect heat. I find that the meat throughout is juicy. (Especially if you stuff anything in your burger or chicken like cheese) For a general rule, the fattier the meat, the more it lends itself to an indirect method, whether a high or low heat.
So let’s revisit my first error in judgment for chicken. As I started to learn from my mistakes I found the easiest way for that amazing exterior crispiness combined with the moist interior was to start with the direct heat. By placing the chicken over direct heat for about four minutes per side I was able to add grill marks and a crispy skin, but not to the point where it blackens.
I then moved the chicken to the indirect area on my grill, closed the cover and monitored the temperature both inside the grill and the chicken itself to avoid something that was dry and able to break a window like a rock.
For a charcoal enthusiast that means you keep your coals to one side making sure you have a high heat area and a low heat area.
For a gas grill, same concept, turn on one or two burners for the sear and then move the item being grilled to the cooler side. I’ve found that even by changing the dials on the gas grill from high to a medium or even low, the fact that the meat could sit directly over the top may cause flare ups (especially if using sugar based sauces) or a little tougher exterior.
There are a number of ways to practice heat management and this is one of the basics. Best part is practice, grab some meat and grill it up! And if I can prevent someone else from creating hockey pucks instead of chicken, I consider that a success.
Business by day, BBQ by night. Father of twin toddlers. Husband of the author of this awesome blog. Fan of PBR.
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