Neither Sleet Nor Snow Nor…

Here’s a letter I received recently that introduces the topic of cold weather grilling even better than the barbecuers’ conundrum: When it snows, what do you shovel first? The path to your garage or the path to your grill?

Hi, Steven,

…I am a woman “grill master” and my family and I absolutely love grilled food…

I have tried grilling in the winter before but I find it is hard to keep the grill hot enough to get the same great results I get in the summer or in warmer weather.

On your show, BBQ U, I notice that it is always nice there….no rain or snow. I would love to see how you address grilling in cold winter conditions. What is the best wintertime grill and how would you set it up? Are some foods better to cook in the winter on a grill than others?

I am sure that you have some cool tips that could make winter grilling more successful…

Jean Klinedinst
Red Lion, Pennsylvania

Grilling a pesto-marinated spatchcock chicken after a December snowstorm in Martha’s Vineyard. (Recipe on page 224 in How to Grill).

Was the pun, “cool tips,” intended? As a matter of fact, Jean, I do have some tips for winter grilling I’d like to share with you and the subscribers of Up in Smoke. But before I do, I have to tell you the weather on the set of BBQ U has not always been “nice,” despite appearances. The first season, we had to film around three major rainstorms. The second season, wintry weather came early to the Alleghenies. During filming, the crew stayed comfy in down jackets and fur-lined boots while I stayed in “uniform,” a denim shirt. Between takes, I’d rush to The Greenbrier’s magnificent fireplace to warm up.

According to the National Pork Board, 61 per cent of Americans claim to be “extreme grillers,” i.e., they grill in the wintertime. Sounds a bit high. Somewhat more believable numbers come from the NPD Group, a market researching firm: They report that about 25 per cent of American households grill at least once every two weeks between the months of December and February—up from just 18 per cent in 2000.

Mastery of winter grilling has three major benefits:

  1. You and your family and friends can conceivably enjoy the incomparable flavors of grilled and barbecued food year-round, and not just for three to four months
  2. You’ll appear courageous and daring—a breed apart from “fair weather” grillers
  3. The primeval connection to our distant cave-dwelling ancestors is intensified in challenging weather, i.e., even if your kitchen stove is in perfect working order, you can pretend, while braving the elements, that were it not for you and the power of the fire you built, your family would be gnawing on a frozen joint of raw meat.
Snowy grilling on the set of BBQ U

A general word about safety: Grilling anytime of the year, of course, is a potentially dangerous activity, but some hazards are specific to cold weather. Winter clothing, for example, is not only bulky, but highly flammable. Be mindful of where you are in relation to the grill at all times. If you wear a long scarf, tuck the loose ends safely in your jacket. Wear grilling gloves, such as the Best of Barbecue extra-long suede gloves. Make sure footing is secure around the grill and free of slick or icy patches. (Sidewalk salt can help here.) Always have a working fire extinguisher at the ready.

Below are some other cold weather grilling tips (followed by a new recipe) to get you started on the path to winter grilling glory:

  • Position your grill in a wind-protected outside area (wind really reduces your grill’s efficiency) that is well-ventilated. Never grill in a garage, under a porch overhang, or other enclosed area. Not only is the potential for a fire great, but deadly carbon monoxide can build up. Clear any accumulation of snow off the grill.
  • If grilling with gas, check all lines and connections for leaks. In cold weather, parts become brittle or cracked. Make sure the control knobs are not frozen and turn freely.
  • Once you’ve started your gas grill or built your fire, replace the grill lid and preheat the grill for at least 20 minutes.
  • Line charcoal grills with heavy duty aluminum foil, shiny side up, to help retain and reflect heat; poke holes through the foil corresponding to the bottom vents.
  • Have plenty of extra fuel on hand. When charcoal grilling, I like to have a second kettle grill for lighting and holding live coals. Or have extra chimney starters at the ready on a heat-proof surface. (Not on your wooden deck!) Add coals every half hour, or as needed.
  • Heat escapes rapidly each time the grill lid is lifted; resist the urge to “peek.” A digital temperature probe can keep you apprised of what’s going on under the lid. Some charcoal grills come equipped with a built-in thermometer—very useful in the wintertime.
  • Allow extra time. Food will take longer to cook in cold weather—anywhere from 30 to 100 per cent longer.
  • Remember, winter days are short. If lighting around the grill is dim, supplement it with a Clip-On Grill Headlight or food-illuminating Lumatongs. At the very least, have a flashlight on hand.
  • Save the ambitious menus for friendlier grilling conditions. Select foods that can be cooked quickly—in 30 minutes or less— over direct heat. Steaks, chops, burgers, chicken breasts, shrimp, fish steaks or filets, kebabs, etc., are all good bets.
  • In my experience, smoking is very difficult to do in cold weather as many smokers are constructed of thin-gauge metal and do not retain heat well. You can smoke in a kettle grill if you maintain temperatures of 250 to 275 degrees by periodically adding fresh coals.
  • Rather than throwing soaked wood chips directly on the coals, which will immediately cool them, make a smoker pouch (see how on page 17 of How to Grill) and put it directly on the grill grate.
  • Gas grills with double-walled construction are better at holding in heat. Kamodo-type cookers, such as the Big Green Egg ( are extraordinarily heat-retentive, too.
  • My assistant, Nancy, has winter camping experience, and reports people unthinkingly touch hot surfaces when they themselves are cold. Don’t let your guard down. Don’t touch your hot grill without grilling gloves or other protection.

If you have any cold weather grilling tricks or tips you’d like to share, post them on the Barbecue Board. Thanks in advance from all of us.

Grilled Swordfish Steaks with Garlic Parmesan Butter
Serves 4

4 swordfish steaks (each about 3/4 inch thick and 6 to 8 ounces)
Coarse salt (kosher or sea) and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Garlic Parmesan Butter (recipe follows)

1. Rinse the swordfish steaks under cold running water, then blot dry with paper towels. Place the swordfish in a nonreactive baking dish and season generously on both sides with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the lemon juice over the fish, turning to coat both sides. Drizzle the olive oil over both sides of the swordfish. Let the swordfish marinate in the refrigerator for 15 to 30 minutes.

2. Set up the grill for direct grilling.

3. When ready to cook, brush and oil the grill grate. Arrange the swordfish steaks on the hot grate, placing them on a diagonal to the bars. Grill the steaks for 2 minutes, then rotate a quarter turn to create an attractive crosshatch of grill marks. Continue grilling the swordfish until the undersides are nicely browned, about 2 minutes longer. Repeat on the second side. To test for doneness, press one of the swordfish steaks with your finger; it will break into clean flakes when fully cooked. Another test is to insert a metal skewer through the side of one of the steaks for 20 seconds: It should come out very hot to the touch.

4. Transfer the grilled swordfish to a warm platter or plates. Top each steak with a pat of Garlic Parmesan Butter.

Garlic Parmesan Butter
Leftover butter is great on grilled bread, potatoes, or vegetables.

Makes about 2/3 cup

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh curly parsley
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1 teaspoon finely minced lemon zest
Coarse salt (kosher or sea) and freshly ground black pepper

Place the butter in a medium-size bowl and cream it using a whisk or wooden spoon. Add the garlic, parsley, cheese, lemon zest, and salt and pepper to taste and beat until the butter is light and fluffy. Transfer the butter to a square of plastic wrap or waxed paper, and form into a log-like shape. Tightly twist the ends of the plastic wrap or waxed paper to completely enclose the butter. Refrigerate or freeze until hardened. To use, unwrap, let warm slightly, and slice into pats.

On Super Bowl Monday, I received the following e-mail from intrepid winter griller Steve Hoch. I’m sure you’ll join me, once you read it, in saluting his winter grilling accomplishments and philosophical acceptance of his team’s loss.


You would have been proud of me this weekend, brother. I’m in Wheaton, Illinois, about 20 miles outside of Chicago, where it was -5 to -11 degrees below “0” all weekend. I’m pretty sure I was the only guy grilling in the area all weekend. On Saturday, I successfully pulled off 4 racks of baby back ribs using your brown sugar, salt, pepper, and paprika rub* (couldn’t go wrong there), along with some soaked hickory chips. I was concerned about the cooking time increasing due to the frigid weather; but to my surprise they were done in the usual hour to hour fifteen minutes on the old Weber 22.5” gas lit kettle! I haven’t used the gas igniter since I purchased your chimney starter. I just don’t need it; and besides, the regulators in the line usually freeze up in the extreme cold.

On Super Bowl Sunday in the same climate, I pulled off your Bratwurst Hot Tub to perfection right down to the grilled peppers I saved frozen from my vegetable garden last summer. It would have been a perfect day if our Bears had showed up. Maybe next year, as they say. Thank you for all you pass along. It is put to good use!

Steve Hoch
Wheaton, Illinois

* For information on rubs like this one, go to the December 2006 issue of Up in Smoke.

Yours in righteous grilling,
Steven Raichlen, Grill Master and Editor-in-Chief
Nancy Loseke, Features Editor

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