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How to Grill Like a Pitmaster: BBQ Tips from Chris Lilly

    How to Grill Like a Pitmaster BBQ Tips from Chris Lilly

    Chris Lilly, an award-winning pro who knows, shows how to grill like a pitmaster. His BBQ tips will earn you the title of neighborhood grill master.


    Mastering the skill of grilling requires discovering the “entry trick” from a pro who knows.

    The book Micromastery by Robert Twigger, defines an entry trick as 

    that one thing that elevates our performance to an impressive level quickly and easily, which can only be learned from a pro with experience.”

    Fortunately, we have a BBQ pit master who is willing to share with us.

    micromastery by robert Twigger
    pitmaster chris lilly

    Chris Lilly, head chef of the award-winning Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q Competition Cooking Team, says to achieve competition-level cuisine at home you must control temperature by using a two-zone fire.

    This is the “entry trick” we need to master.

    “While competing, I have specialized equipment that helps me achieve optimal heat levels,” said Lilly, who is the only one to win five Memphis in May Grand Championships as well as eight barbecue grand championships across the Southeast and six world championships.

    In our backyard, we can achieve the same temperature control by using the two-zone grilling surface.

    How to create a two zone grilling surface.

    2 zone grilling method using charcoal briquettes
    Pork chops cooked by indirect 2-zone grilling method

    It is exactly what it sounds like – a grilling surface that is separated into to areas:

    • one high-heat side with charcoal directly under the grates
    • one low-heat side with no charcoal under the grates, using indirect heat

    (This can be accomplished on electric & gas barbecues by having the burners on one side turned off.)

    full BBQ grill showing low heat high heat 2 zones with vegetables on top level

    Barbecuing on the low-heat side allows you to cook slowly without fear of burning. It’s like using a convection oven.

    Using a two-zone BBQ surface also allows you to cook one burger or steak medium on the low-heat side while BBQing a well-done version on the high-heat side.

    The two-zone grilling method also allows you the ability to barbecue your meat slowly on the low-heat side and then barbecue the side dishes and other quick-cooking meats on the high-heat side just before it’s done.

    After you sear your meat on the high-heat side, you can move it over to the low-heat side to finish cooking to perfection for the desired doneness. Same for your slow-cooked food: you can sear it at the end of cooking on the high-heat side for that grill-to-perfection appearance.

    Dealing with flare-ups is always a problem, but with two zones you can save your food by moving it to the low-heat side. No burnt surfaces or edges. You’re the grill master hero.

    You can keep food warm on the low-heat side if it takes longer than anticipated to get everyone organized at the table – you know it happens!

    The two-zone heating system is the “entry trick” to grilling everything to perfection. You can barbecue each recipe, each food, by its optimum heat and keep it warm until it’s time to eat.

    Here are some bonus BBQ tips from Chris Lilly:

    How to sear to perfection.

    When searing meat, place it over the hottest part of the grill. Cook for roughly one and a half minutes on each side, only flipping once, and remove from the grill. This method provides doneness on each side while maintaining the rich, red color and flavors in the center.

    How to BBQ chicken.

    spatchcocked turkey being Barbecued over 2 zones

    When applying a dry rub to chicken pieces, it’s hard to keep the rub affixed while keeping the chicken’s original, golden color. Try painting chicken pieces with yellow mustard prior to applying the rub. Not only will the rub stay in place, your final product will be visually appealing – without any trace of mustard flavor.

    To cook split chicken halves evenly, place the darker meat towards the hottest part of your two-zone grill. That way, the leaner white meat will not dry out and the chicken will cook consistently.

    Key to smoking meat.

    When smoking meat, pay special attention to controlling internal grill temperature. For an accurate reading, place a candy thermometer’s probe through the top grill vent. Maintain a temperature of about 225 to 250°F.

    If the temperature rises above this range, slide the vent directly under the charcoal nearly closed while wearing heat-protective gloves. Continue to monitor and open the vent again as the temperature drops.

    Want to see more of Chris Lilly’s recipes?

    Chris lilly recipes collage

    See all of Chris Lilly’s recipes in his cookbooks:

    Want to see our new  BBQ recipes?

    bbq and grilling tips and recipes

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