How to Cook with Two-Zone Grilling

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Two-zone grilling is one of those BBQ skills that can completely change your grilling game. By having one side of your grill over direct heat and the other side over indirect heat, you have better control over how hot and fast your food cooks.

Hot coals on one side of the charcoal grill with text overlay - How to Cook with Two Zone Grilling.

What is Two-Zone Grilling?

As the name suggests, two-zone grilling means that you have two zones of heat on your grill. One zone will be hot over direct heat, and one zone will be warm over indirect heat.

  • Direct Heat. One side of the grill is over the direct flame. This is perfect for those hot sears, quick cooks, and whenever you want to cook over high heat. 
  • Indirect Heat. The other side of the grill is not over the direct flame but still provides plenty of heat to cook the food. This allows for a slower rise in temperature, it’s great when you want evenly cooked steak, perfectly cooked chicken breast, and everything in between.

Two-Zone Fire on a Charcoal Grill

My favorite way to fire up a charcoal grill is with a charcoal chimney. This allows airflow from the bottom to heat the coals, get them evenly hot, and it allows you control when you dump out the coals so you can get them exactly where you want them. This is ideal for two-zone cooking so you can place all the coals on one side of the grill.

I use a tumbleweed for my charcoal starter because it will light the entire chimney of coals in approximately 15 minutes. If you don’t have any of these, feel free to use whatever starter you like best. We’ve even been known for balling up paper towels as a starter to heat our charcoal.

After lots of trail and error, I prefer using lump charcoal when cooking on my charcoal grill. Briquettes also work fine. I’ve found that lump charcoal burns hotter and faster in a kettle style cooker like my Weber Performer Deluxe Charcoal Grill. Briquettes often hold temperature longer, and are more ideal for those slow cooks.

Charcoal being dumped out of a chimney.

Cooking with Two Zones on Charcoal

When your coals start to ash over on the top, you know they’re ready to go. Pour the hot coals on one side of the grill only. This will provide a gradient of heat with extremely hot on one side to cool on the other. The middle of the grill is the sweet spot for roasting cooking. The high-temperature side will give you a nice, crisp sear and hot and fast cooking. The indirect, cool side will give you a nice slow increase in temperature.

Once your coals are in your grill. Add the grates, close the lid, and allow the grates to heat for a few minutes before placing your food on the grill to cook.

Corn on the cob wrapped in foil over charcoal.

Two-Zone Fire on a Gas Grill

A gas grill was the first grill I ever cooked on. You don’t need anything fancy when starting out on your backyard BBQ journey. It’s all in the technique, and you’ll find it quite easy to set up two-zone cooking in your gas grill. Now that I’ve been at the grilling game for a while, I’ve splurged on my Weber Genesis II gas grill. If you’re looking to purchase your own grill, check out my Backyard BBQ Grill Guide.

Two-zone grilling works on a gas grill as long as you have AT LEAST 2 burners. You can do this with any number of burners, the idea is to have half of the burners turned on to provide hot heat and the other half of the grill generating little to no heat.

Having a two-zone setup on your grill is extremely helpful to help fight flare-ups. Having an indirect heat side allows you to pull your food whenever you need to mitigate flare up without having to battle the fire.

Two rib eye steaks and garlic wrapped in aluminum foil on the grill grates of a grill.

Cooking on a Gas Grill with Two-Zone Fire

When preheating your grill, turn on half of the burners on the same side, close the lid, and allow the grill to come to temperature. Depending on the recipe you’re following, you might need to turn on or off an additional burner to get your grill to the correct ambient temperature on your dome thermometer. You can also play around with how high you turn on each burner. Just remember to keep one side of the grill turned off.

The indirect side of the grill allows for a lot of flexibility when cooking food, including baking on your grill. Baking on your grill is great during those hot summer months when you don’t want to turn on your oven and heat up your house! Whether you’re cooking Pumpkin Pie on the Grill, or a Skillet Bacon Apple Crisp, you can do this with the indirect heat in your grill.

Along with baking on a gas grill, you can also use two-zone grilling to Smoke on a Gas Grill. Check out my post on this for a full how-to.

Recipes for Two-Zone Grilling

Now that you know the ins and outs of cooking food on your gas or charcoal grill with two-zone fire, try your hand at some of these recipes to master the technique!



Susie is the BBQ Brain behind the Hey Grill Hey website. Her passion for smoked meats and developing fun, new recipes have landed her on the Food Network, cooking turkeys with Shaq, and on a couple of Guinness World Records. When she’s not grilling, she is hanging out with Todd and their three kids, preferably outdoors!

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