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Grilling Techniques

Embrace the Cold-Weather Griller in You

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Quick, when it snows, what do you shovel first: the path to your car or the path to your grill?

Believe it or not, when I was growing up, people routinely retired their grills after Labor Day. Times have changed. Whether it’s due to a protracted appetite for the smoky flavors of summer or the continued need for barbecue bragging rights all year long, live-fire cooking outdoors has become a four-season obsession.

You might wonder why you’d take winter grilling advice from a guy who lives in Miami. Well, prior to moving to Florida, I lived in Boston for 20 years, and I’ve grilled in snowstorms in Montreal and Calgary. (Never mind that it was May in Montreal and October in Calgary.) I’ve chipped the ice off my kettle grill and swaddled my smoker with a blanket to hold in the heat.

According to a Hearth, Patio, and Barbecue Association survey, 56 percent of the respondents claim to grill during the winter months. If you’re one of them, you probably know some of the following advice already. If not, listen up—these tips will improve your chances for success no matter how low the temperature plummets.

  • For maximum efficiency, position your grill out of the wind and at least 10 feet away from walls, eves, and flammable surfaces.
  • If snow is a factor, clear the accumulation around your grill. For better traction, sprinkle the area with sidewalk salt. You don’t even want to think about losing your footing while carrying a chimney-full of red-hot charcoal.
  • Dress warmly, but avoid ultra-puffy coats, scarves, or dangling drawstrings. Replace mittens or nylon gloves with grilling gloves. Dashing out to the grill in jeans and your team t-shirt during the game’s commercial breaks isn’t heroic or macho. It shows a lack of respect for your grill.
  • Replace your grill grates with cast iron, which retain heat more efficiently than stainless steel or porcelain-coated grates. Or overlay your grill grate with my cast iron Tuscan Grill. (As a bonus, you’ll get killer grill marks!)
  • If you have more than one kettle grill, use the second one to hold lit coals in reserve. Then, you can add them as needed (use a shovel or second chimney) to maintain heat in the grill you’re using for cooking.
  • Encourage convective heat circulation by not overcrowding the grill grate.
  • Do not, I repeat, do not, position your grill directly under a snow-laden tree branch.
  • Tempting as it might be, do not pull your grill into the garage, covered patio, or other outbuilding, even if you leave the door open. This not only creates a fire hazard, but noxious and potentially fatal carbon monoxide fumes can accumulate.
  • If using a propane grill, make sure the tank is topped off before you start your grilling session and preheat for 10 minutes more than usual. If using charcoal, preheat your grill using 25 percent more charcoal than you would on a summer day. I like to have a second chimney of hot coals standing by for extra heat in case it’s needed.
  • Add 20 to 30 percent to the cooking times when temperatures fall below freezing.
  • When indirect grilling, do not lift the grill lid unnecessarily as precious heat will escape.
  • To avoid protracted exposure to the elements, choose foods that can be direct grilled in 30 minutes or less—burgers, steaks, chicken breasts, pork chops, tri-tip, fish fillets, shrimp, oysters, kebabs, etc.
  • Have a deep-seated desire for brisket or pulled pork? Help your low-temperature smoker retain heat by throwing a welder’s blanket over it during long cooks. (Avoid blankets insulated with fiberglass.)

Do you have a cold weather barbecue story? Outrageous photos? Winter grilling advice to share with our barbecue community? Details, please! Post it all on the Barbecue Board.


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