What is a two zone grilling method you might ask? This technique basically provides two cooking temperature ranges on the shared space of your grill. In case you didn't know this - not all food should be grilled as hot as possible with flames jumping all over the place!
The first zone is the hottest and is also known as cooking with “direct heat”. For example - on a gas grill, the heat source would be directly below the food being cooked. Zone 1 is used for searing, caramelizing, and adding grill marks. This is super easy on a gas grill, just turn off the flames on one side of the grill. Done.
The second zone is referred to as cooking with “indirect heat”. Cooking in Zone 2 helps retain moisture and juices in food. On the same gas grill, flames are only on one side of the grill while the food is on the other. Close the lid and you are essentially cooking in an oven, allowing your food to cook without burning.
Of course, cooking with both direct, and indirect heats can be done on a charcoal grill too and it isn't hard! To build a two-zone fire on your charcoal grill, just push your hot charcoal pile to one side of the grill. This give you your hot zone and your less hot zone.
Now that we have defined the 2 separate zones, how do they work together and why? Ultimately it can go 2 ways.
Say you have big fat steak, and when I say fat, I mean cut really thick. Set your grill up for the 2 zones with heat on one side, none on the other.
Season that baby and set it on the hot side of the grill. Sear it well on both sides, move to the second zone for some more gentle cooking action, and close the lid. Keep an eye on the temperature and cook that steak to just where you like it. FYI - I’d go to 125˚F with a good rest before slicing.
The second way to cook the same steak would be just the opposite. Also known as “reverse searing”. Initially the steak is slowly cooked over indirect heat, then finished by searing on both sides over a high direct heat.
Here’s a great recipe for Chicken Thighs that really demonstrates how to grill this way, and the results show why it’s worth it.