Low and slow may be the secret to good barbecue, but you definitely don’t need a pit to make it happen at home. In fact, if you can understand and control a fire, you can cook anything low and slow in your own backyard. Here are three different ways to set up your charcoal grill for low and slow, and what to cook on each.
1. The half-and-half method: Coals under half the grate
With hot coals under only half the grate, you give yourself two distinctly different grilling surfaces: one for direct heat and one for indirect heat. On the direct heat side, you can sear meat over super-hot coals, like you’d do if you wanted to crisp up chicken skin or add color to a big hunk of meat. After searing, you can simply move your meat to the other side of the grill and pop the lid on, basically allowing the grill to function like an oven. This lets the meat cook slowly at a lower temperature while it soaks up all the smoky flavors of the grill.
Perfect for: Chicken, pork tenderloin, rack of lamb.
2. The alley: Coals pushed to either side
This is a great method for something like beer-can chicken on a kettle grill, as you need to place the meat in the middle of the grate (where there’s enough headspace in the closed grill for the bird to stand up). By raking the hot coals to the sides and giving yourself a strip of indirect heat down the middle, it becomes pretty simple to do two birds at once without overcooking the bottom half of the chickens. This method is also great for longer cuts of meat like ribs or pork tenderloin. You’ll get even heat from the two fires and a perfect runway for indirect cooking.
Perfect for: Beer-can chicken, slab of ribs, whole fish.
3.The three-zone fire
For this somewhat advanced method, picture the grill grate as a Mercedes Benz logo: A majority of the coals go in one third of the grill, a single layer of coals sit in another third, and there are no coals in the final third. This method gives you maximum flexibility with a high-heat searing area where you can give meat color at the beginning or end of cooking, a medium-heat area where you can keep things warm while you wait for other things to finish cooking and a low-heat area for low-and-slow finishing. It’s perfect for pleasing a crowd or for prepping different sizes of meat. For example, grilling chicken pieces is always a struggle because the legs are going to finish cooking long before the breasts do. With this set-up you can move the smaller pieces off the fire while you let the breasts continue to cook. Then you can finish everything off in the low-and-slow area, ensuring everything can come off the grill at about the same time.
Perfect for: Cooking a variety of food all at once, especially chicken.
With all of these setups, you can get a little more out of your fire with quality charcoal, like Kingsford’s new Long-Burning Briquets, which burn 25 percent longer than their Original Briquets. Also remember that by opening and closing the vents on the top and bottom of your grill, you can control the airflow into the fire. Even though it may sound counterintuitive, the more air you allow into the grill, the hotter the fire will get. Leave the vents open only a little to ensure the fire can breathe but still let that meat cook low and slow… bro.