Winter Grilling

Hi! I’m Mike Vrobel from DadCooksDinner.com. I’m thrilled to be guest posting on ThreeManyCooks. Pam’s How to Cook Without a Book taught me the difference between following recipes and knowing how to cook, and was a major step on the journey to my own food writing. And so, without further ado…

I’m a grill fanatic. I will not let minor inconveniences (like a foot of snow and single digit temperatures) stop me from grilling. Here’s how I deal with the icy issues of winter grilling.

Cold: This is the most obvious—and also the easiest to deal with. I use my grill all the time on cold, calm winter days, where the temperature is below freezing. Sometimes well below freezing. I remember one low and slow barbecue where the sun was out, but the temperature never got above single digits. Like I said, I’m a fanatic.

Any good grill can hold its heat in cold weather. The key is to keep the lid closed unless absolutely necessary. It takes longer for the grill to recover 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.

Cold is probably more of an inconvenience for the cook than for the cooking. To keep warm, I stay inside as much as possible. (This also helps with keeping the lid closed). When I do go out, I just shrug my coat on, put on some welding gloves to keep my fingers warm and protect them from the flames, 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

If possible, put the grill where it is screened from the wind. My gas grill is on the deck, where the house blocks our westerly winter wind. My charcoal grill is on the patio, somewhat screened by the deck, but is more exposed to the wind. If it is really, really windy, I resign myself to using the gas grill. Or (shudder) cooking indoors.

When using a gas grill on a windy day, the flame can blow out. If this happens, because the burners are still turned on, gas can 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. This happened to someone I know. 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 of her head.

Snow: Snow doesn’t affect your cooking; I’d much rather grill in the snow than in the rain. Snow only makes it hard to get to the grill. My gas grill is on my 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.

Darkness: This is another problem: it gets dark early. You need some way of lighting the grill while you work. My gas grill 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. Unfortunately, using my kettle grill usually involves juggling my tongs, instant-read thermometer, and a flashlight. I want to get one of those camping or miner’s headlights, so I can have hands-free light wherever I want it. Yes, I’ll look silly. I already look silly running in and out of the house to grill in the middle of the winter, so how much worse could it be?

Notes:
*Never, and I mean NEVER, use a grill in a 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 a Bad Idea. One good grease fire, and the whole garage (or carport, or whatever is above you) can 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. Burning charcoal produces carbon monoxide, and it can build up to poisonous levels 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 there is a leak in the propane tank or the grill, an enclosed area can trap 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.

Safe grilling resources:

CPSC Advises Consumers to Avoid Deadly Grilling Dangers
Carbon Monoxide (CO) and Propane
Propane Grill Do’s and Dont’s

*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, 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 extra variables (wind, cold, darkness) to the mix. Sometimes it can take an extra hour for that roast to finish grilling. Don’t trust cooking times published in recipes; use them as a rough guideline, and check to make sure the food is done cooking. I use some combination of taste testing, poke testing and an instant-read thermometer. If your family gets cranky when dinner is late, like mine does, make sure to leave a cushion when answering the question: “When’s Dinner?”

*I have a backup plan in case the weather gets really nasty. Winter grilling is a challenge, but it should be a fun challenge. I won’t try to grill in a driving snowstorm, with the wind blowing ice in my face and the deck covering with snow faster than I can shovel. Sometimes, discretion is the better part of valor, and it’s time to roast the chicken in the oven.

*Finally, when I go through the extra effort of grilling in the winter, I make sure to grill as much of the meal as possible. I don’t just grill the meat, I grill the vegetables, maybe the starch, and occasionally the bread. (Grilled flat bread is wonderful.) If I have extra space, I’ll throw peppers and onions on the grill; they make a great addition to salads later in the week.

What do you think? Questions? Other ideas? Leave them in the comments section below.

*Enjoyed this post? Stop by and visit me at DadCooksDinner.com Thank you!

30 Comments

  1. Maggy says

    Hey Mike! Great post. Now, how does a person who live in a NYC apartment grill in the winter ;) Haha, just kidding. We always use my parents’ grill in the summer and winter. Having to test recipes for summer magazine articles or looming book deadlines, my mother is no stranger to grilling in the snow – and we are always the willing guinea pigs :) I completely agree with you – just because there’s a little snow or wind doesn’t mean you can’t grill!

  2. Pam says

    Yes to all that Maggy has said, Mike. A good writer says things we all suspect are true, so thank you for affirming what many of us may have thought about winter grilling but just needed confirming. Also, was it just coincidence that you chose grilled lamb chops or did you remember how much we three cooks love lamb?

  3. says

    Pam,

    Thank you again for the chance to guest post! As you can probably tell from my article, I love grilling, and will talk about it at the drop of a hat.

    You’re right – the lamb was not a lucky accident. I thought I’d have better odds of getting the guest posting spot if I sweetened the deal with a lamb recipe. :)

    PS: I love the drawing of me grilling in the snow!

  4. Paige says

    I was out there grilling when we had our last snowstorm! Granted it was just hot dogs and sausages, it made me think of summer as i stood in my kitchen watching the snow fly! I have ribs planned for Wednesday! Thanks for all the great info!

  5. says

    I love it…my grill is on the edge of a covered patio so as far as I’m concerned, there is no excuse for not using it all year unless it’s blizzard conditions and I honestly think I’ve done that once!

    I guess the first step is in the admitting so yes, I will – I’m a grillaholic. And I do sort of love that I can grill most anything and don’t need a man helping me; at this house it’s my domain!

    Makes me want a burger just thinking about it..great info Mike and heading over to your site now!

  6. Kate says

    If only my husband cooked too…

    But I too, am a wee obsessed with cooking/baking/making up recipes/trying new recipes and don’t know how much I’d like it if he was always cooking!

    Great Post, I’ve perused your site before and it’s evolved since I saw it last! It’s bookmarked now and I look forward to reading more.

  7. susan says

    Hey Mike –

    Loved your enthusiastic post! I have a question for you. My gas grill died, and we need to get another one, but I’m wondering which brand you would suggest. Thanks!

    Susan

  8. says

    Susan,

    I’m a Weber fanatic; I recommend them often. They’re a little more expensive than other grills with the same features, but they work well and have excellent customer support when it’s needed.

    Look at their Genesis line; I owned a Weber Genesis for years before I traded up to their monster sized Summit grill. My old Genesis is still going strong ten years later in my sister-in-law’s back yard.

  9. Shirlene says

    Might I suggest to all of you that have read and commented on this, The Big Green Egg, is one of the greatest grilling, smoking, baking and what ever else you might want to do…. invention.. the idea only a few thousand years old. Pull up their website..

  10. Lisa A. says

    What fun to read your post! Love your positive attitude, too. I’ve been reading the post aloud to my hubby, who also loves to cook but is too busy just now with work. Your blog is fun and interesting, too. You make me want to get out and grill! Keep up the good work!

  11. says

    @Shirlene:
    I’ve heard good things about the BGE, just never used one. I’m happy enough with my Webers that I’ve never strayed. If I wanted to do all my winter grilling with charcoal, I would look into the BGE – its thick ceramic walls are excellent insulation.

    @Lisa A:
    Thank you! I appreciate the comment – “Fun and interesting” is what I hope for when I sit down to write.

    @annie@butterybooks:
    Thanks! Your hubby sounds like my kind of guy.

  12. says

    Hey Mike! At Lowes or Home Depot you can buy a baseball cap that has 3 led lights in the brim! Great for tasks in the dark! My hubby uses his when he has to crawl in the attic or under the house, or when we are setting up our sound equipment for the band in a dark bar! Works great! And you won’t look dorky either!
    Great article by the way!
    PamJ

  13. Grillin in Germany says

    Love the article and we are now winter grillers’ too! We came from South FLA and have been living abroad for 3 years now. Just can not give up grilling even in sub 0 degree weather! I love it my husband loves it!

    However, in my humble opinion, the best grilling genius in the world is my dad! A tip of his that I thought you would like is that he uses one of those snake lights (you can buy at Home Depot or any tool store, it has a flexible handle so it can wrap around things) to grill with during the sorter days of winter. He wraps it around his neck and this way he can point the light where he needs it and have both hands free for cooking!

  14. says

    Hi Mike
    Have you noticed in the winter it seems easier to grill with sauces…. i think they stick a bit better due to the cold? Can you tell the difference? I just started to add honey to my sauces, I am using the raw honey in the honeycome…maybe its the wax? (I do take the wax off as much as possible… you can see on my blog what it looks like…
    let me know what you think
    thank you ! OBTW GREAT article!

  15. says

    @Grillin in Germany:

    The snake light around the neck is a great idea – I’ll have to look into that.

    @Joni:
    No, I hadn’t noticed any difference with sauces in the winter. Like you, I add honey when I want a sweet sauce – it helps thicken the sauce while sweetening it up.

    Thanks, guys!

  16. Myles says

    Hey on the hands free lighing, They make LED grill lights that hook on to the side, I have one on both my gas grill and charcoal grills. It works great all year round. I cook on my charcoal all the time, I like using it better then anything else :-)

  17. says

    AJ:

    Sure!

    As I mentioned in an earlier comment, I’m a Weber fanatic.

    I own one of their Summit gas grills, and it does a great job of holding the heat. I had a Genesis gas grill for years, and it also does a good job in cold weather.

    For charcoal, if you really need to worry about cold temperatures, you should look into ceramic grills. Big Green Egg is the brand I hear the most about, and they make some nice looking grills. I use my trusty weber kettle, and add some more charcoal when things look bad.

  18. says

    Hey Pam,

    I remember grilling in a garage with a group of friends in the middle of winter with the doors closed but one window left open. Well, the heat generated from the grill was good but what we didn’t expect is all of us gradually got more and more tired after all that eating and grilling.

    On hindsight, I reckon all the fumes and Carbon Monoxide is a contributory factor to that. Thankfully all my friends were alright after that incident.

  19. chad says

    I live in Michigan and am planning on grilling beef tenderloin for Christmas dinner. Have you ever tried this and if so do you have any recommendations? I have a charcoal grill and was planning on about a 5 Lb tenderloin. would you still grill this whole or cut it into portion sized pieces to help with the winter conditions and cooking times?

    thanks, Chad

    • says

      Hey Chad, I would totally cook the beef tenderloin whole. The deal is to get the roast’s internal temperature up to a solid 125 for medium-rare. (Medium-rare is actually 135, but because of the high temperature the roast will continue to rise 10 degrees after it comes off the grill.) As far as cooking times, it all depends on how cold it is and how hot you can get and sustain your grill temperature. If all else fails and it’s not getting done on the grill, you can always pop it in the oven to finish it off. Good luck and Merry Christmas!

Share Your Comments & Feedback: