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Fire Configurations

The Two-Zone Fire

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The basic two-zone fire is an efficient charcoal arrangement for cooking a wide array of foods. It combines both direct heat (where the food cooks directly above the coals) and indirect heat (where the food cooks above and to the side of the coals). It is important to have both kinds of heat available at once, particularly when you are cooking with a live fire. Direct heat is best for grilling relatively small, tender pieces of food that cook quickly, such as hamburgers, steaks, chops, boneless chicken pieces, fish fillets, shellfish and sliced vegetables. Direct heat sears the surfaces of those foods, developing their flavours and texture, and it cooks relatively thin foods all the way to the centre. Indirect heat is best for roasting larger, tougher foods that require longer cooking times, such as roasts, whole chickens and ribs. Indirect heat also cooks the surfaces of food but in a much more even way.

The Three-Zone Fire

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You also can create a three-zone fire, which provides even more flexibility. On one side of the barbecue, pile coals two or three briquettes deep. Then, slope the coals down to a single layer across the centre of the barbecue without placing any coals on the opposite side. When the coals are completely ashed over and have burned down for 10 to 20 minutes more, after being emptied from the chimney—voila! You have direct high heat on one side, direct medium heat in the centre and indirect heat on the opposite side.

The Three-Zone Split Fire

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There are also times when you might prefer a three-zone ’split’ fire, where the coals are separated into two equal piles on opposite sides of the charcoal grate. This gives you two zones for direct heat (high, medium or low) and one zone between them for indirect heat. This works nicely for cooking a roast, such as a pork loin or beef fillet over indirect heat because you have the same level of heat on either side of the roast.

Even Indirect Heat

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Placing a disposable foil tray between the coals and filling it about halfway with water allows you to catch drippings and to extend the life of your barbecue by keeping it clean. Additionally, the water both absorbs and releases heat, so a water-filled tray means that you will have to add less charcoal during cooking to maintain the temperature of your barbecue. The charcoal baskets help to keep the coals clustered together so that they burn longer.

Ring of Fire

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The ring of fire is another way of arranging charcoal for both direct and indirect heat. The ring of coals around the perimeter provides direct heat while the empty centre of the ring provides an area of indirect heat.


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The bullseye is the flip side of the ring of fire. With the coals piled in the centre of the charcoal grate, you have a small area of direct heat but a large area around the perimeter for indirect heat. This is a convenient arrangement for slow cooking or warming several small pieces of food, such as bone-in chicken pieces.

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