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.

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