Can You Use a Grill for Slow Cooking?
Yes, you absolutely can slow cook on a grill.
Grilling isn’t always about slapping chops or steak on a roaring fire and charring them as quickly as possible.
Sometimes, you want a slow-roasted, divine flavor all the way through.
It’s nothing like using a stoneware Crock-Pot or countertop slow cooker, but it’s possible, and it actually makes food taste better than a kitchen slow cooker, if you ask me.(*)
It’s possible, but it’s going to require some patience and diligence.
I’ve got the scoop on how to make some of the best slow-coked grilled food ever, so let’s jump right into it.
Why Would You Want to Slow Cook on a Grill?
The same reason people enjoy slow-cooked food from the kitchen: it’s tender as can be, and it meshes well with whatever additives or toppings you put on it.
The same goes for BBQ with sauces, vegetables that need to absorb flavors, or rather tough meat that you want to get a nice tender feel on.
Slow cooking on a grill definitely costs more, since you have to keep charcoal burning or the gas lit for a while, but I’m willing to bet that you found this post because you care more about flavor and quality than just making food quickly.
There are casual grillers that get together on holiday weekends, and then there’s us, the guys who want to get some serious grilled flavor regardless of the wait.
Slow cooking on the grill is also pretty relaxing. You don’t have to constantly monitor char marks or grill marks, the rising flames, and you aren’t making the same food five different ways for your picky guests. It’s a good time all around.
How do You Slow Cook on a Grill?
There are a few ways to do it.
If you’re slow cooking your food on the grill, ideally you’ll want it to be in a cast iron pot/pan, or in some heavy duty tin foil.
The reason for this is because it’s super easy to dry out meats by slow cooking, even if they have a high fat content.
You need some sort of liquid or sauce to keep them moist during cooking, and an appropriate container to house it.
Slow cooking requires a specific temperature range.
You want 200° F up to 225° F, but no more than that. At this range, you can slow cook for hours without drying out your food. There are some resources that suggest up to 250° F is okay, but with poultry and some cuts of pork, it will dry it out.
At this point, I would also like to note that the best way to slow cook on a grill is with charcoal briquettes, or gas burners.
Pellet grills can be used as well, but the temperature range they offer is usually a bit higher than what we want.
Using the Cast Iron Pot Method
- Whether they’re seasoned or not, your cast iron pans can be used to slow cook meat and vegetables on the grill. It’s a way of getting both direct and indirect heat to cook your food. Start by selecting the size of your cast iron cookware and putting your food in it.
- Put it on the grill after it’s been pre-heated and resides in the 200° F to 225° F range. The pan can take about ten minutes to heat up, which is when indirect heat will take over. You can close the lid during this process.
- Monitor the heat inside of your grill. Check on the temperature after fifteen minutes, then after another fifteen minutes. At this point, it’s safe to assume that it’s stable. Check every half-hour to ensure the temperature range stays the same.
- If the temperature drops, consider adding more charcoal. Manipulate your vents on the basin to add more oxygen and fan the flames a bit, just be wary of getting it up too high. If the temperature climbs too high, use the ventilation slat at the top of your lid to release some of that heat. Do not open the entire grill to remove heat, as you can lose about 12° F per second right off the bat.
- Set timers so you won’t forget when to check on your food. If you’re cooking ribs or BBQ chicken, I would suggest checking on the sauce levels remaining after every ninety minutes. If that dries up, it’s going to leave a charred taste on your food, and not in an intentional, pleasant sort of way. It will just come across as burnt.
- Slow cooked foods don’t need to rest for as long as grilled foods. On average, steak and pork needs to rest for 5-7 minutes, while poultry needs about 15. Slow cooked foods can be eaten right off the grill; they’re at a good internal temperature.
Using the Aluminum Foil Method
- While cast iron pans obviously make things easier, you have to kill the heat and let them rest on the grate for a while until you can put it somewhere to be cleaned. Heavy duty aluminum foil is a good bet if you want to minimize cleanup time or dishes. Do make sure that it’s heavy duty, otherwise this might not work.
- If you’re cooking individual pieces of meat that average under three pounds, you can go with standard length rolls of heavy duty aluminum foil. Otherwise, you might need longer rolls so you don’t create channels for sauces to leak out of.
- Put a square of tin foil down on the counter. Put your meat in the center of it, and evenly raise the level of the aluminum foil around the edges of the meat. I say evenly because if you just grab four corners or points and pull those up, it’s going to create conduits for sauces and moisture to leak out. At the end of the day, you want this to look like the meat was falling in mid air, and was caught by a piece of foil, like it evenly fell into it.
- Once you have the foil up a bit, you can pour in whatever sauce you plan on using. Make a small moat of it around the meat, and just let it sit there, so long as it’s secure.
- At the top of the tin foil, you’ll be able to pinch it together to create a thin passage for steam to escape from. Place this on the grate of your grill after you get the fire going.
- Since aluminum foil tends to mostly reflect rather than actually retain heat, the cooking times may be increased from what we listed in the cast iron pan method. There’s less air exposure as well, but since you have this tin foil food guard, it’s going to help prevent that sauce from evaporating and burning.
- Check back after the first fifteen minutes once your grill reaches a temperature between 200° F and 225° F, and from that point onward, just check back every half-hour to maintain the temperature range.
Electric Grills Aren’t so Good for Slow Cooking
Most electric grills have a minimum temperature range of around 275° F.
Now, this isn’t every electric grill, but they usually don’t go down too low.
The idea of slow cooking on a grill is usually met with the argument, “Why don’t you just buy a smoker?” which is somewhat similar. It’s why many electric grill manufacturers don’t support really low temperature ranges.
As we mentioned before, you want 200° F to 225° F for an effective slow cooking process, and it’s actually better when the heat fluctuates a bit.
Electric grills are great, don’t get me wrong, but they don’t offer the same effects as a charcoal grill or gas grill.
A Little Tip for Gas Grill Slow Cooking
While most of the information was listed for charcoal grill users, you can still use a gas grill effectively.
If you have a three burner unit, turn on two of them. If you have a five burner unit, only put on three.
Keep them in separate heat zones (skip every other burner, for example) and you’ll have a much easier time ascending to, and retaining a heat within the temperature range.
Since you don’t have oxygen vents on the basin, be sure to use that lid vent and latch as often as possible for temperature control.
Light it Up, Cook it Slow
Burn some charcoal, periodically check in on your slow-cooking food, and just keep your eyes peeled to ensure nothing goes wrong.
If you’re using a tin foil; wrap, pop it open every now and again to see how it’s coming along. Just be sure that you don’t let the sauce out.