Well it’s here isn’t it.
The cold, windy, snowy days. The idiot drivers. The bell ringers. The 4:30pm sunsets.
Don’t let the 6 months of that crap depress you though – get outside and grill!
Grilling in the winter isn’t really THAT much different than grilling in the summer. Lets break down the cold weather grilling obstacles and how to tackle them.
The low temps aren’t really a high hurdle until the temps drop to zero and below. When temps are 35 or below and you’re grilling something that is going to take super high heat or more than an hour of cooking time, let your coals completely ignite before spreading into the grill. When you spread your hot coals, spread them over a layer of fresh unlit charcoal. Close your grill and leave all the vents open to let it heat up. The fresh unlit fuel will ignite and help maintain temps. Don’t open your grill unless you absolutely have to. The ‘if you’re looking, it ain’t cooking’ rule is multiplied significantly in the winter.
Snow looks pretty on its first day. It provides ample supply for snowball fights and inappropriate snowmen and snow-women and it turns parking lots into playgrounds of fishtails and donuts. It’s also really good at sucking the heat out of your grill. With every flake of winter wonderland that lands on the exterior surface of your grill, heat energy is spent melting it and evaporating it. Multiply this by the millions of flakes in a zero percent visibility flurry of fluff that always seems to dump itself when you’re grilling and you end up with a lot of lost heat. If you can grill under a cover, do so (just not INSIDE.) Most don’t have that luxury. You’ll need to start with more lit fuel and add fresh unlit (either from the start, or during your cook) to compensate for the heat loss. If you have a problem with flakes falling into the top vent holes, make a little umbrella with some aluminum foil. I like to crimp it onto the handle and let it drap over the vents.
The wind is typically the biggest pain in the ass when it comes to winter grilling. It multiplies the cooling effects that that snow and cold temps are already causing. Worse yet, it makes the internal temps of your cooker inconsistent. I believe one-touch webers and bar-b-q-kettles will behave differently in the wind. I’ve observed wind coming from the north causing the charcoal on the south side of my kettle to burn significantly faster; However, I’ve witnessed the exact opposite behavior with my smoker. The key to grilling in the cold winter winds is to pay attention. Use your hand to figure out where the hot spots are and cook accordingly. Add fresh unlit charcoal if it’s causing problems. If you can move the grill out of the wind, or block the wind with something – do so.
Extra heat while grilling in the winter is always a plus. It’s a great time to use hardwood lump charcoal in place of your regular briquettes.
No matter what your winter grilling challenge – it’s important to stay warm and stay agile. Be prepared with fresh charcoal and a method to add it. Be ready to move food around, and give yourself extra time in case there are delays. It’s hard enough dealing with the freezing layers of bullshit snow outside, no reason to piss off the wife over a dinner delay 😉