In its simplest form, a heat zone is an area of your fire pit or BBQ that is cooler or hotter than the rest of the fire. It’s essential to have varying degrees of heat – so that you are in control of how quickly your ingredients cook.
Imagine if you fully load your pit with logs and let it burn down to a bed of coals. Your pit would be generating enough heat to power a steam train – all in one go, too hot for most things to cook evenly.
Generally, when cooking on the BBQ and using charcoal we use a two zone fire, this gives us plenty of cooking options from high heat all the way down to a radiant heat to finish cooking large cuts of meat. It also helps us to control flare up when cooking fattier cuts on the fire.
Setting up your BBQ for two zones using charcoal is relatively easy. Light your charcoal in a chimney starter and allow them to get nice and hot. Then either pile the coals up to one side, raking out a few of the embers towards the middle – or lay two piles either side of the bbq to create a trench in the middle without coals, which is good for roasting chickens or smaller joints without having to rotate them during cooking.
As we cook predominantly using wood and live fire, we are going to aim at all times for a three zone cooking set up. This means we have a fire burning at all times in the back third of the pit (zone 1) – which will be responsible for creating a bed of glowing embers for zone 2. Zone 2 will be to the side of the fire, and then we rake the embers out further to create a gentler heat creating zone 3 in the centre of the pit. Zone 3 takes us almost to the front third of the pit, we like to think of this as our safe place. This is just a space on the grill where if we start getting a lot of flare up, or the heat is hard to control, then we can place our ingredients here safely – whilst we adjust our set up in the fire bowl.
Always remember to keep that fire well stoked so that it can generate lots of embers throughout those longer cooks, allowing you to rake out the embers to exactly where you need them. This will turn your fire pit into a fully functioning cooking range, allowing you to boil pots of water or boil kettles, whilst grilling or frying a little further away from the main fire source.
Generates hot embers that can be raked to make our other heat zones.
These flames are perfect for boiling kettles and water for blanching ingredients.
Cooking grains, rice and pulses.
Grilling, browning, searing
Quick/direct – fish, burgers, steaks, skewers
Spit roasting/asado cross (higher above the coals – generally a minimum distance of 60 cm)
Any indirect cooking – big joints, bone-in poultry
Technically we could call this zone 4 – but this is just a small area of the fire pit where everything has a little time to calm down and relax if things get a little too much!
Really gentle simmering or dutch oven cooking