The Key to Great Grilling is Indirect Heat

The key to great grilling is indirect heat. I always tell people that once they understand the difference between direct and indirect heat and when to use it, that they will embrace indirect heat.  In fact, I use indirect heat at least 80% of the time that I use my grill. That is why I love the Memphis Wood Fire Grill.  Unless you use the direct flame insert, the grill is already configured for indirect heat.  


Below is a quick and easy definition of the two major different grilling methods: 

DIRECT GRILLING means that you put the food directly over the heat source—similar to broiling in your oven.

INDIRECT GRILLING means that the heat is on either side of the food and the burners are turned off under the food—similar to roasting and baking.

My general rule of thumb is:

— If the food takes less than 20 minutes to cook, use the DIRECT METHOD

— If the food takes more than 25 minutes to cook, use the INDIRECT METHOD


*Once you’ve mastered cooking by Direct and Indirect heat, you are ready for the COMBO method.  It is exactly what it sounds like.  A combo-nation of the Direct and Indirect methods. It is as simple as searing the food over direct heat and finishing (cooking) over indirect heat.  This technique works well for everything from chops and steaks to whole tenderloins and even slices of denser vegetables such as sweet potatoes and fennel.  It is a time honored and well-respected tradition and the outdoor grill version of the way most restaurants chefs cook almost everything—searing on the stovetop and finishing the dish in the oven.

Now that you know the difference between direct and indirect cooking and how to use it, I can’t think of any better recipe than beer-can chicken to try out your newfound knowledge.  And, since you are cooking it on a Memphis Wood Fire Grill, you are already set for indirect heat. If you have never made beer-can chicken, I guarantee that if you make it once, you’ll make it over and over again and it will become a fast family favorite!  I truly believe that it is the best way to prepare a roasted chicken, bar none!


Smoked Beer-Can Chicken

It’s a technique that is easy to love, and once you understand indirect heat and how to set your grill for it, I know that beer-can chicken will become your go-to winner dinner.  I make it at least once a week!  I use a porcelain chicken sitter because it stablizes the chicken as it grills. If you prefer a more classic roasted chicken flavor, use only kosher salt and black pepper to season the chicken.  If you want it to have a “barbecued” flavor, use your favorite dry rub.

Makes 4 servings

Grilling Method: Indirect/Medium Heat

  • 1 whole roasting chicken, 4 to 5 pounds, preferably Amish or organic
  • Olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon favorite dry rub or kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 12-ounce can favorite beer
  • Special Equipment: Chicken Sitter
  1. Remove the neck and giblets, and rinse the chicken inside and out if desired; pat it dry with paper towels. Coat the chicken lightly with olive oil and season with 2 tablespoons of the dry rub. Set aside.
  2.  Preheat the Memphis Wood Fire Grill to 325 F. Fill the Chicken Sitter with the can of beer, or open a beer can, pour out about 1⁄4 cup of the beer, and make an extra hole in the top of the can with a church-key can opener.
  3. Sprinkle the remaining tablespoon of the dry rub inside the beer can. Place the chicken sitter or beer can in the center of the cooking grate over indirect medium heat and “sit” the chicken on top of the beer can. The chicken will appear to be sitting on the grate. Make sure the legs of the chicken are in front of the sitter or can to support the chicken as it cooks.
  4. Cover and cook the chicken for 1 to 1 1⁄2 hours, depending on size, or until the internal temperature registers 165°F in the breast area and 180°F in the thigh. Remove it carefully to a platter, holding the sitter or can with tongs.
  5.  Let it rest for 10 minutes before carving.
  6. NOTE: When removing the chicken from the grate, be careful not to spill the contents, as it will be very hot.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Elizabeth Karmel is a grilling and Southern foods expert and owner of Carolina Cue To-Go, an online barbecue shack selling whole hog barbecue.  She is the author of three cookbooks, including “Soaked, Slathered and Seasoned.”

©2017 Elizabeth Karmel

Elizabeth Karmel