When Grilling Small Roasts, Use The 3-Zone Fire Setup

As a grill cook, the three-zone fire setup may not be on your radar, but if you're grilling small roasts like chicken or pork tenderloin, you should definitely add it to your smoky arsenal. The most challenging part of grilling is temperature control, especially when using a fussy, imprecise medium like charcoal. Getting perfectly grilled meat means balancing the flavorful sear you get from high heat with the juicy, tender results of lower-heat cooking. To solve that problem many people use the two-zone setup, which pushes the charcoal to one side, so you can control the speed your food is cooking with an intense, direct heat on the side with the coal and lower, indirect heat on the other. But sometimes, like with small roasts, the ideal temperature is actually somewhere in the middle, and the three-zone fire setup gives you that option.

To make a three-zone fire setup in your grill, just split up your hot coals into two evenly divided piles. Spread out each pile along the left and right sides of the grill, leaving the middle empty. This will create two zones of hot direct heat on either side, with a strip of indirect heat in the middle. The indirect heat section should be big enough that you can place your roast over it without the edges hanging over into the direct heat, so you can still maintain temperature control.

The 3-zone fire setup cooks small roasts more evenly

Small roasts represent a distinct grilling challenge because they don't need the long roasting times from indirect heat that something like a brisket does, but the high heat section is still too intense to do the majority of the cooking. The three-zone method solves this by creating a more even, moderate heat, both in the indirect zone and over the coals that are intense enough to cook your roast through without drying it out. With the shorter cooking times, it's also important to get a more well-distributed heat because the sections of your game hen or pork that are getting less heat have less time to cook evenly. By pushing the hot coals all around the outside, the three-zone method surrounds your roast with heat, creating an oven-like effect with no need to rotate your meat.

Three zones also have the benefit of more moderate, even heat while still being able to cycle between direct and indirect areas. So you can cook your roast more slowly over the indirect heat, then finish it over the coals for nice kisses of blackened charring that will add flavor and look delectable. The three-zone method also gives you the option of placing a foil pan in the indirect heat zone that can catch juices and drippings, which is perfect for a roast. By simply rearranging your coals into three zones, you really can completely transform the way you grill.