*Thanks to Chantal for asking about grilling in the winter - it got me rolling…
I'm a grill fanatic. I'm not going to let minor inconveniences, like a foot of snow and temperatures in the single digits, stop me from grilling. Of course, it's a lot easier to want to grill when it looks like this:
than when it looks like this:
Here is how I deal with the issues that come up in winter grilling.
Cold: This is the obvious problem, and the easiest to deal with. Any good grill can hold the heat in cold weather; it just takes a little longer to come up to temperature, and a little more heat to make up for the cold.
When I'm charcoal grilling in the winter, I make sure I use a little more charcoal than normal. I add an extra quarter of a chimney, or about 25 coals. When I'm gas grilling, I just give my grill an extra five minutes to heat up - fifteen minutes instead of ten.
Keep the lid of the grill closed, unless it's absolutely necessary to have it open. It takes longer for the grill to recover to its full temperature in the cold, because it has to reheat the cold air trapped under the lid. The fewer times the lid is opened, the better.
To keep warm, I stay inside as much as possible. When I do go out, I just shrug my coat on, and trust the heat of the grill to take care of the rest.
Wind: Windchill isn't just for people; it also happens to grills. A grill heats the surrounding air; in the winter, the cold air takes longer to heat up, but eventually the grill creates a protective coating of warm air around itself. If wind is blowing that heated air away, the grill has to heat the new air, and will constantly lose heat to the wind.
In other words: "Wind is the enemy...it sucks the heat out of the cooker." Chris Allingham, VirtualWeberBullet.com
*Windy winter days are one of the times I wish I was a Big Green Egg fanatic instead of a Weber fanatic. The Egg's thick, ceramic walls hold the heat in no matter how hard the wind blows. Insulation is also one of the reasons I love my Weber Summit gas grill - it is really well insulated for a gas grill.
The best trick is, if possible, to put your grill where it is screened from the wind. My gas grill is on my deck, and the house is between it and the prevailing wind we get in the winter. My charcoal grill is somewhat screened by my deck itself, but is more exposed to the wind. If it's really, really windy, I just resign myself to using the gas grill. Or (shudder) cooking indoors.
*Also, if using a gas grill on a windy day, be careful that the flame doesn't blow out. This can cause gas to build up in the grill. When the lid is opened, if the gas happens to connect with a lit burner, the result is a fireball shooting out of the grill. This happened to someone I know, and we were lucky she wasn't seriously hurt. But her hairstylist did have to come up with an interesting "flip" style until the hair grew back on one side...
Snow: Snow doesn't affect your cooking; it only causes a problem in getting to the grill. I keep my gas grill on the deck, near the house, and I keep a shovel right next to the door. My charcoal grill, which lives on a patio next to the deck, is much farther away. If we have a lot of snow I have to be really enthusiastic about charcoal grilling to dig out a path to that grill.
*However, I live in Northeastern Ohio - we get a lot of snow and cold in the winter, but we also get a fair share of days above freezing. It goes in cycles: snow, which sticks around for a week or two, then melt, then snow again.
Darkness: This is another problem with winter grilling - it gets dark early. You need some way of lighting the grill while you work. My Weber Summit has good LED lights built into the handle, and is close enough to my porch light that I don't need anything else when I'm using it. Using my Weber kettle usually involves juggling my tongs, instant read thermometer, and a flashlight. I want to get is one of those camping or miner's LED headlights, so I can have hands-free light wherever I want it.
*Yes, I'll look silly. I already look silly by running in and out of the house to grill in the middle of the winter, so how much worse could it be?
*Never, and I mean NEVER, use a grill in the garage, or other enclosed area! Why? I'm breaking out the bullet points for this one:
- Using a grill under something that can catch fire is, in general, a bad idea. One good grease fire, and the whole garage (or carport, or whatever is above you) may go up in flames. And, if that something going up in flames is attached to your house…
- Charcoal grills: Never, ever, burn charcoal in an enclosed space, or indoors. Charcoal produces carbon monoxide when it burns, and it can build up to poisonous levels when burned in an enclosed space.
- Gas grills can also produce carbon monoxide, due to incomplete combustion, if they are not adjusted properly. On top of that, gas grills have the additional danger of propane buildup. If your grill doesn't light right away, or your propane tank or grill have a leak, then an enclosed area can build up enough propane for an explosion. This is why the propane association recommends that propane tanks not be kept in enclosed areas like garages or sheds.
*Winter grilling is why I own a gas grill. The gas grill convenience of "light it and forget it" lets me get back in the house where it is warm, and keeps the heat going no matter how cold it is. Because of how easy it is, I grill once a week, on average, throughout the winter. I do use my charcoal grill during the winter, but only a handful of times after Christmas. As I said above, I really have to be in the grip of grilling mania to do the extra shoveling to get to my charcoal grill.
*Grilling always has more variables than cooking indoors; winter grilling adds a few more (wind, cold, darkness) to the mix. I take this into account when determining my cooking times; sometimes it takes an extra hour to get that roast to finish cooking. Leave yourself some extra time when you're grilling in the winter.
What do you think? Questions? Other ideas? Leave them in the comments section below.
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