How to Use Indirect Heat on Your Gas Grill for Low-and-Slow Flavor

Harness the power of indirect heat to prepare your most succulent roast yet (or anything you want to cook low and slow) with these Test Kitchen tips.

While charcoal grills are the affordable gold standard for many home cooks, gas grills can accomplish nearly anything and everything a charcoal-fed grill can (just with slightly less smoky flavor). Gas grills offer oodles of benefits over charcoal, too: They're a cinch to get fired up because they can light in less than 60 seconds, are easier to clean, and are a super-efficient way to master grilling with indirect heat. Use our refresher on indirect grilling, then discover how to grill indirectly using gas as your fuel. Our guide for indirect heat gas grilling works no matter how large or small your gas grill is. Yes, even if you have a slim two-burner model, it's all the same.

2 chickens on grill
Jason Donnelly

What Is Indirect Grilling?

Indirect grilling involves cooking food via hot air circulating around the food, much like a convection oven. While the heat is on, it is not immediately under the item you're cooking—hence, the term "indirect grilling." Indirect grilling is more akin to roasting or baking than to direct grilling.

Just like you'd never try to bake a cake recipe or a loaf of sourdough bread with the oven door open, you can't accomplish indirect grilling with the lid open. With the lid closed, the gas offers ambient heat that cooks lower and slower than direct grilling. (Dive into more about direct vs. indirect grilling here.)

So when should you grill indirectly? Indirect grilling is ideal for cooking large pieces of meat or anything that calls for 20+ minutes of cooking time on the grill. If you attempt to grill something large over direct heat, such as a spatchcocked or half chicken, you risk burning the outside as you attempt to get the inside to a food-safe temperature.

Indirect grilling also plays a major role in our best way to grill steak and can be utilized when smoking food. In case you missed it, here's how to turn a grill into a DIY smoker.

How to Grill on Indirect Heat While Using a Gas Grill

Our tips for indirect grilling offer general directions, but know that your owner's manual is the best place to score personalized advice.

To prepare a gas grill for indirect grilling, follow these easy instructions:

  1. Open the lid of the gas grill and check that all knobs are set to "off."
  2. Slowly open the valve on your propane tank then wait a couple minutes for the gas to reach the grill.
  3. Light each burner on your grill individually, then close the lid. (Yes, we start by preheating all burners before indirect grilling.)
  4. Preheat the grill for 15 minutes, or until the temperature on your grill's thermometer reaches 500°F to 550°F.
  5. Use a grill brush to scrape the grates of any residual debris.
  6. Adjust accordingly for indirect grilling based on the size of your grill. Depending on the cooking time of your food, you may need to turn down any "on" burner(s) to low or medium low. Check your specific grilling recipe for further details.
    1. Two-burner: Turn one burner off and place the food on the cooking grate over the unlit side, away from the heat source.
    2. Three-burner: Turn off the middle burner and place the food in the center of the grill.
    3. Four-burner: Turn off the middle two burners and place the food in the center of the grill. (Since the heat sources will be further away from the food, you may need to adjust the temperature to be slightly higher when indirect grilling on a large gas grill like this compared to a two- or three-burner grill.)
  7. Close the lid and cook for the time listed in the recipe, or until the food is cooked to a safe temperature.

Test Kitchen Tip: For any food that might release juices or that get coated in sauces, place these on a drip pan before positioning on the grates for indirect grilling. Use a roasting rack set inside a heavy-duty foil pan, and add a bit of water to the drip pan to keep the drippings from scorching if you'd like to use these for a sauce or gravy later. Or to create a foil drip pan from foil, tear off a sheet of heavy-duty foil about 2½ times as large as the food you will be indirect grilling. Fold the foil in half, then fold up the edges to make 2-inch-high sides. Crease the corners to seal.

Now that you're a pro at how to grill indirectly, take a peek at these 19 grilling tips from the pros for the best barbecues ever. Then all that's left to do is slip on that apron, gather your ingredients, and prepare your appetite to devour your best-ever, cooked-over-fire feast.

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