Saturday, July 23, 2022

How to Set Up a Two-Zone Fire in a Kamado Grill

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“I think this is the best chicken I've ever had,” my youngest son's girlfriend said as we finished eating this Bacon Caprese Chicken. 

Bacon Caprese Chicken on the Big Green Egg kamado grill
Bacon Caprese Chicken with Rice Pilaf

It is grilled chicken adorned with a thick, garlicky balsamic glaze and topped with double-smoked bacon, mozzarella, and an herbed slice of tomato.

This is just a variation of Eating Well's Tomato and Mozzarella Smothered Grilled Chicken (June 2021), so I won't post the recipe, just what we did adding double-smoked sweet bacon. Since I was grilling mine, I chose a two-zone fire to avoid burning the balsamic glaze.

Two-Zone Fires

So what is a Two-Zone Fire and when do you use it?

Renown grilling expert Steven Raichlen writes in The Barbecue Bible, “In a two-zone fire, you spread the coals out in a single layer over about two-thirds of the bottom grill grate, leaving one third of the grate coal free. The zone with the coals is your cooking area – use it for grilling simple foods for a small number of people. The coal-free zone is your cool or safety zone. To control the exposure to the heat, move the food closer to or farther away from the lit coals.” (Raichlen 18)

It is important to note that a two-zone fire involves a heat gradient; it's not an on/off type of direct and indirect heat. 

Setting up a Two-Zone Fire on a Kamado Grill

With a kettle grill, it's easy to set up a Two-Zone Fire as Raichlen describes. But the design of a kamado grill like a Big Green Egg or Kamado Joe presents unique challenges. Typically, the indirect setup of a kamado requires placing a heat deflector (heat stone, ConvEGGtor, etc.) between the fire and food. 

Option 1 – Inserting or removing a heat deflector

When I first started cooking on an Egg, this was our only option. To switch from direct to indirect, you'd have to glove up, remove hot metal components and insert a heat deflector. To change from indirect to direct, you'd do the opposite, having to handle and find a place to put a hot heat deflector. This requires a lot of handling and is a pain to switch back and forth, especially if doing it more than once. This method doesn't provide the transition area between direct and indirect - it's all or nothing.

Putting a cast iron plate setter onto a big green egg
Adding or removing a heat deflector isn't too bad to do once during a cook. A good example would be slow smoking a thick steak and then removing the deflector to sear the steak directly for a reverse flow. But you certainly wouldn't want to have to switch it back and forth several times.

Option 2 – Using a half-moon heat deflector

When multi-tier racks and half moon stones appeared on the scene, they changed the game. You can set up a rack with a half-moon heat deflector to shield just one side of the grill. So one side has direct heat, and the other side indirect heat.

Using a half-moon piece to set up a two-zone fire on a kamado grill Big Green Egg
Using a half-moon to set up a two-zone fire: direct grilling on the left, indirect on the right.

Option 3 – Using a fire-bowl divider

This is my preferred method because it more closely resembles doing what Raichlen says. In the first two options, the food is blocked from the direct heat. When using a fire-bowl divider, the “indirect” side is more of a heat gradient because the food isn't blocked from the direct heat; it is just moved away from it. 

Primo Grills was one of the first kamado grills that I recall seeing use a fire-bowl divider. Not saying they were the first, just the first that I noticed. 

Divider plate for the Primo ceramic grill.
Primo Fire Divider [Affiliate Link]

For my kamados, I like to use a Kick Ash Basket with a Coal Separator, which I used for this recipe.

Using a Kick Ash Basket and adjustable divider to create a two zone fire in a kamado grill.
Kick Ash Basket with an Adjustable Divider.

Speaking of this recipe, let's get back to that cook.

Bacon Caprese Chicken

After looking at the original recipe, I thought adding some bacon would be a good idea. I fired up the Oklahoma Joe's Rider DLX pellet grill to double-smoke some bacon I had dusted with brown sugar. I smoked them at 300f with cherry-oak-hickory pellets until the bacon was crispy.

I used Trevor's Oklahoma Joe's Rider to smoke the bacon. I used a light sprinkling of brown sugar, not the typical "candied bacon." I wanted the sweetness to be subtle.

Girl Carnivore's Over Easy Seasoning is amazing stuff. it rocks on eggs, chicken, homemade ranch, and more.
The tomatoes have been lackluster so far this summer. I seasoned them with Kita's Over Easy Seasoning to give them a flavor boost. It is fantastic on eggs, chicken, and in homemade ranch dressing. It takes tomatoes to another level.

Instead of just boneless skinless chicken breast halves, I like to get trimmed chicken breast fillets. The packer removes the side meat and tenderloin, so you get uniform-sized breasts.

The recipe didn't call for seasoning the chicken other than the glaze. I gave the breasts a good dose of Kinder's Garlic and Herb anyway. I believe we picked this up at Wally World.

The Chain of Lakes Eggfest in Winterhaven, Florida, is one of our favorites. I have had this engraved Rhinehardt knife for a year and a half and just now noticed that the logo is wearing a facemask 😆😆

Grilling chicken on a Big Green Egg
I started by searing the breast over the coals for 6 minutes...

Then I flipped the breast and gave them three more minutes.
Cast iron grate from Craycort

You can see how thick and sweet the glaze was.  I was concerned it would burn on the grill, which is why I waited to glaze, used a lower grilling temp of 400f, and used the two-zone fire.

glazing Bacon Caprese Chicken
After a total of 9 minutes, I applied the glaze...

Bacon caprese chicken on the Big Green Egg
Glazed and infused - alright, alright, alright.

After glazing 9 minutes in, I shifted the chicken to the indirect side and topped them with some mozzarella.

bacon caprese chicken on a kamado grill
In this picture, you can see how the chicken is over the void or indirect side. I purposely put the tapered end of the chicken breasts facing away from the hot coals. 

Of course, the lid is to be closed; I just had it open for the pictures.

Then more bacon and more cheese, because we need more good in the world.

I used my trusty Thermopen IR to check the internal temps. I would typically pull these about 160f, but tbh, I got distracted. It didn't make a lick of difference in this case.
Thermoworks IR [Affiliate Link]

I rained a little fresh basil over it all to finish.

Definitely a 10/10 chicken experience. The acidic, herby bite of the tomato, the gooey cheese, smoky bacon, and juicy chicken was amazing. The glaze was perfectly cooked on; it didn't burn at all.