Techniques : Grill setups for direct, indirect and rotisserie grilling

So, I get some questions on how I do different things on the grill, among other things how to keep a steady low temperature for low and slow BBQ on the standard Weber kettle. I have made the attached drawings to help me explain this better. Feel free to print and use this diagram as a reference, but don’t steal it and use it on your own webpage without asking me first, it took me some work to make it. Take a look at the diagram first, and below I will explain the different setups and what I use them for.

Grill setups for direct, indirect and rotisserie grilling

Okay, let’s start top left:

    • Indirect, two-sides: I use this when making roasts and other large pieces of meat. It’s good for a medium-low temperature, but can also go up to medium-high, just make the fire mounds on both sides bigger. I use this type of setup for instance for Whole, Smokegrilled Trout
    • Indirect/direct 50/50: This is perhaps my most used setup. It can go from medium to high heat, and it’s very versatile. You can grill indirect sides on the right side and have heat for searing meat and other thing on the left side. You have large safety/resting zone too, if you have larger piece of meat you want to sear first and then finish indirectly. I use this type of setup for instance in my Smokegrilled Mackerel recipe
    • Indirect/direct pile: This can be a good setup if you need a quick sear on something and then need to rest it a while after. I can see that it would be useful for thick t-bone steaks, for instance. You can also start with this for searing a roast or similar large piece, and then rake it out to both sides after for a long indirect cook.
    • Ring of fire: Haven’t experimented much with this one either. I can tell you I put it in there mostly for the name. I guess it could be good for indirectly grilling a very large piece of meat, it would give you a more even heat than some of the other options
    • Indirect, one-sided (low and slow!): I use this method for two things. Firstly,I use it when doing beef short ribs and pulled pork, in 12-16 hour sessions. I will then use a very minimal amount of briquettes, all on one side, 12-20 briquettes at a time, depending on the weather outside, and I use a large steel drip pan filled with about 4 litres (a gallon) of water in the middle of the grill. The purpose of the water is primarily to store heat and help me keep the temperature stable, but it also makes for a moist environment inside the grill. Adjust temperature using the bottom vent only, always leave top vent open. The second thing I use this for is rotisserie grilling chickens, ducks and other things. I will then use charcoal normally, and much more of it. No problem getting to 200-250 degrees centigrade (390-480F) with one big pile up against the side wall
    • Direct, all: I’ve only used this setup for one thing, but for that it’s very useful. We were having a big party, and I used the kettle for making a ton of chicken wings (only the small, outer wing part). For that, it was ingenious. A thin layer of coals over meant I could do 30-40 wings at a time on the grill as they needed no indirect grilling, only a good sear. Very efficient for making lots of sliders too I would imagine
    • Direct/indirect, two-zone fire: This is really a lot like the 50/50 setup, just with a smaller safety zone. Use when you need more sear space and less resting area.
    • Direct/indirect, three-zone fire: This is the most complicated setup. On the left 1/3rd of the grill there is a thick layer of coals for very high heat, the middle third has a thinner layer, and then there’s a safety zone to the right for resting. It’s just another option that might suit you depending what combination of food you’re grilling.

Yeah, that was a lot wasn’t it? I primarily use only 2-3 of these regularly, but it’s always good to know your options. Some common things to remember; always put a drip tray under your meat/fish when grilling indirect, you don’t want all the fat to drip and stick to the bottom part of your kettle. Another important point, when you set up, try to keep your coals away from the handles when you can. It will just be easier if you need to move the grill around during cooking if the handle sides don’t get too hot.

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Ember-roasted yams

Yams that have been roasted directly on the embers. Tasty!

This is maybe my all-time favorite side dish. It goes well with all meats, it’s healthier than potatoes, and it tastes fantastic. It really couldn’t be easier than putting something right on the coals and leaving it there. The burning of the outside gives the inside a lovely smokey flavor. Best trick ever!
Time: 45-60 minutes total
Skill level: Easy
Grilling method: On the embers
Grill temperature: Doesn’t really matter as long as the coals are white-hot

You’ll need to get hold of:
Yams
(Optional) Butter, garlic, herbs for a herb butter

Yams that have been roasted directly on the embers. Yes I have moved them to the grate for the photo. Don’t do that before they’re finished.

How you do it:

  • No washing or prep needed, because you’re burning the outside to a crisp anyway
  • Just chuck your yams directly on the white-hot coals, turn them every 10-15 minutes until they have a nice, ashy, burnt finish on all sides
  • Prick them with a knife to check they’re nice and soft all the way through
  • Slice in two with a sharp knife, make a garlic or herb butter, mash it up a bit with a fork, and eat!

BBQ Gallery – I

Just some pictures from today’s BBQ-related cooking here at BBQviking’s house…

Whole, smokegrilled trout

There’s nothing that spells summer to me like grilling a whole salmon or trout. Grilling it whole also makes it juicier and more forgiving in terms of temperature. One small note on this, I see a lot of people “grilling” whole fish completely wrapped in aluminium foil. Now I don’t mean to be a BBQ snob, but I am, so here goes. When you do that, you’re basically steaming the fish, not grilling it. There’s also no way for smoke and other flavours of the grill to get into the fish. So, you might as well go inside and steam it in your kitchen, much easier. There.

Now that’s out of the way, let’s look at a good way of getting that delicious smokegrilled flavour on a big piece of whole fish. Trout or salmon can be used here, that’s up to you.

Total time: 2-3 hours
Skill level: Easy/intermediate
Grilling method: Indirect, two-zoned (some coals on each side, none in the middle)
Grill temperature: About 175 degrees centigrade (350F)

You’re going to need:
A medium-large whole trout (or salmon)
2 lemons
Some butter
Fresh dill
A clove of garlic
Salt and pepper
Oak wood chips (alternatively alder or fruit wood)
(Optional) A long fish basket for large fish
If no fish basket, some cardboard and heavy-duty aluminium foil

Serving suggestions:
Mustard-dill sauce
New potatoes (boiled or baked on the grill)
Butter-steamed spring cabbage
Grilled spring onions

How you do it:

  • Get the grill started as instructed above
  • Clean the fish if it hasn’t been done for you. Remove the head, tail, use kitchen shears to cut off any fins. Rinse it off in ice-cold water and dry with paper towels
  • Cut some diagonal slashes on both side of the fish, quite deep. We do this to allow the smoke and flavours to penetrate the meat properly when grilling.
  • Put thinly sliced lemon and some dill sprigs in each slash
  • Season the inside of the fish with salt and pepper, put some more lemon slices and dill sprigs in there too
  • Make a herb butter by melting a cup of butter, then chucking in a minced garlic clove and a handful or two of chopped dill. I also put some pepper in there, but that’s optional
  • If you  have a fish basket, good. If not,cut out two pieces of cardboard slightly larger than your fish. Wrap them in two layers of heavy-duty aluminium foil
  • Brush one of your new cardboard “planks” with butter
  • Brush the fish on both sides with herb butter and put it in your fish basket or on your cardboard plank
  • Put some water-soaked smoke wood chips on the coals. I like to get a good smoke level started before I put on meat or fish, because raw meat seems to take up smoke flavour more readily. This goes for all meats. Always get the smoke going good first, then put the food in.
  • Once the smoke gets going, put the fish in the middle of the grill, on its plank/basket
  • Baste the fish with herb butter every ten minutes
  • When the fish has been on the grill for 30-40 minutes, depending on size and temperature, it’s time to flip it. If you have a fish basket, that’s easy. If you have cardboard planks, butter up the second plank, and use your grilling gloves to flip the fish over on plank #2. It can be a bit tricky, so be careful
  • Grill the fish another 30-40 minutes until ready. If you have a Thermapen or other instant-read thermometer, look for the fish to be 55 degrees centigrade (about 130F). If you don’t have an instant read thermometer, make a small incision on the widest section of the fish near the backbone. The meat should be pale pink and opaque, not translucent and pink/orange.
  • Serve!

Simple mustard-dill sauce

Here in Scandinavia, trout and salmon is very often served with dill and mustard. So why not make a sauce of it? This goes well with any salmon or trout dish.

Time: 10 minutes
Skill level: Easy

You’re going to need:
1.5 cups of mayo (homemade is best of course!)
0.75 cup sour cream
0.5 cup of dijon mustard, honey mustard or sweet Swedish mustard, depending on what your preference is
Handful of chopped fresh dill
Some lemon juice
Salt and pepper

How you do it:

  • Put everything except lemon juice and salt and pepper in a bowl and whisk it all together
  • Season with lemon juice, salt and pepper
  • Serve!

Did I mention this sauce goes well with for instance smokegrilled trout

Butter-steamed spring cabbage

Spring cabbage is one of the tastiest vegetables out there. It goes well with grilled fish, especially salmon or trout. In Norway we call it summer cabbage, because that’s when you can get it here. This is the easiest and best way to prepare it if you ask me, and it’s super fast.

Time: 10 minutes
Skill level: Easy
Grilling method: Steaming over direct heat
Grill temperature: Doesn’t really matter

You’re going to need:
A head of spring cabbage
4 tablespoons of butter
Salt and pepper
Aluminium foil

How you do it:

  • Slice the cabbage in longish strips about a half-inch wide
  • Make a big sheet of aluminium foil, put 4 tablespoons of butter on it
  • Put the cabbage on top of the butter
  • Season with salt and pepper
  • Make it into a bowl shape, that you half close on top
  • Put it over direct heat on the grill, and let the butter steam the cabbage for about 5-10 minutes depending on heat level
  • Serve!

This goes well with for instance a whole grilled trout or smokegrilled mackerel

Equipment – Basic setup

I live in Norway, where the selection of grills and accessories is pretty scarce, so I have some good ideas and experiences when it comes to how to make do with a pretty simple setup. Here’s my opinion on what you need to get started doing real low & slow BBQ.

In Norway, gas grills are increasingly popular. I have one myself, but it’s been standing unused on the patio since I got my Weber kettle last year. I don’t recommend anyone to get a gas grill if they plan to do some slow-cooking at low temperatures. If you must have a gas grill for this, get an expensive one that has a separate burner for a smoke chamber. On the regular gas grills, making smoke usually means keeping at least one burner on half or full, which means it will get too hot in the grill for doing things like pork butt.

There’s actually a lot of stuff you can do with this very basic type of grill. As long as you have a lid, some valves for temperature adjustment and some creativity and DIY skills, you can do all sorts of fun stuff with a basic Weber kettle or similar. And they’re fairly cheap, last long, and have spare parts readily available. All in all the best place to start. It can do direct grilling, indirect grilling. I even make 12-16 hour pork butts and beef ribs on my Weber kettle with nothing but briquettes and smoke wood, and a steel pan from Ikea full of water to help me keep a steady temperature. Using this setup I’ve managed to keep a steady temp of 100-110 degrees centigrade (210-230F) for many, many hours. It takes some effort, practice and skill, but that’s also what makes the food taste extra good when it’s done, isn’t it?

Based on my experience, here are my recommendations for a good, cheap and versatile setup that will bring you years of BBQ joy:

  • Standard Weber kettle, 22-inch (best size for availability of various accessories)
  • Chimney starter (never use chemical firestarters again, I use newspaper soaked in some food oil, and it will light charcoal and briquettes easily)
  • Water source or fire extinguisher (safety is always important)
  • Some good grilling gloves, I use leather builder’s gloves from the local hardware store, they’re cheap so I just replace them when they get too dirty
  • A good pair of long tongs and a nice flat spatula with some surface area
  • A cheap, basic digital, probe thermometer for larger cuts of meat like pork butt or roasts
  • A hinged fish basket, preferrably one with a detachable handle so you can leave it on the kettle and still get the lid on properly. If you don’t find one with a detachable handle, get out your dremel or some other metal-cutting power tool, and make one without a handle. You can use your tongs and/or gloves to flip it.

Smokegrilled mackerel

Mackerel is one of my favorite fish to eat. It brings back memories of summers spent fishing in my little dingy outside Bergen on the west coast of Norway. A feisty fish that was fun to fish for as a kid growing up. It’s nice and juicy thanks to very high-fat content, and that also makes it very healthy, full of omega-3 and other good stuff. I think mackerel tastes fantastic, and I like to keep it really simple. Salt and pepper for seasoning, new potatoes on the side, with a sour cream sauce and some good butter. One thing that makes mackerel perfect for the grill, is the fact that it can smell quite strong. Fun when you’re making it and eating it, not so fun three days later in your kitchen. So, let’s take the mackerel outside!

In this recipe I combine smoking with high temperature grilling. Mackerel being a fatty fish, it takes up smoke flavour quite readily, so you don’t need a lot of time to get the right amount of smoke flavour into the meat.

Time: 45 minutes total
Skill level: Easy
Grilling method: Direct
Grill temperature: About 200-250 degrees centigrade  (390-480F)
Equipment: Fish basket, cherry wood chips for smoke

You’ll need to get hold of:
Fresh, raw mackerel (1 large per person)
New potatoes
Butter
Sour cream
Lemon
Fresh Dill

How you do it:

  • Have a hot grill waiting, with the 50/50 setup (coals on one side)
  • If you’re baking the new potatoes, prick them with a fork all around so smoke can get in, throw some wood chips on the coals and leave these on the indirect side of the grill. They will need 45-60 minutes depending on size
  • Prep and clean the mackerel unless you had the fish shop do it for you, remove all guts and blood, rinse and dry off with paper towels. I like to leave the tails and heads on, but you can remove these if you’re wimpy about it or if your kids have watched Finding Nemo too many times…
  • Liberally season the fish inside and outside with Maldon salt and freshly ground black pepper (I use Tellicherry)
  • Put the mackerel in your fish basket (oil it if it’s not a non-stick one). A fish basket is really necessary here, because mackerel will stick to your grill grate like crazy and it will be extremely difficult to flip the fish without it falling apart
  • Make a very simple sour cream sauce. I mix sour cream with some lemon juice, salt and pepper, and some freshly chopped dill
  • Grill the mackerel over direct heat, until the skin is nicely crispy and the meat falls of the bone easily (use a fork to test). If you’re using a thermometer, mackerel is a cold water fish and as such it should be ready when the meat is about 55 degrees centigrade (131F), but it’s so fatty it will stay nice and juicy way above that temperature too.
  • Serve with the baked new potatoes, sour cream sauce and some butter for those who want it. Easy living!

Quick tip: Spring onions on the grill

Spring onions or scallions are one of my favorite sides. They go well with almost anything. However, I had a lot of problems with them rolling of the grate and into the coals, or rolling off the grill completely sometimes when grilling in parks or at the beach. I picked up this nifty little trick from author and chef Steven Raichlen ( www.barbecuebible.com ). It made me feel like an idiot not to have though of this myself, but sometimes the simplest solution is the hardest to find.

Use bamboo skewers or any other skewer and do them like you see in the below pic. Also makes turning them much quicker and easier. This also works great with asparagus and other long, skinny things you put on the grill. For spring onions, while we’re at it, I do this, brush them with olive oil, and  sprinkle with Maldon salt and freshly ground pepper. Enjoy!

Some older BBQ shots

Some fun pictures here from 2011/2012. My favorite session of all of 2011 was grilling a leg of Scottish row deer down by the banks of the world-famous salmon fishing river Orkla in Trøndelag. It’s amazing how much better food tastes when you’ve been out in the fresh air all day fishing for salmon…