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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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.