If you love outdoor grilling like I do, don’t let the chill of winter prevent you from enjoying all those savory meats and vegetables you crave. In fact, I find hot and spicy barbecue and hearty cuts of grilled meat to be more satisfying to eat on a cold winter’s night than they are when the weather is warm. Winter grilling can be just as fun and delicious as it is in the summertime, as long as you prepare well and follow some helpful guidelines.
Never pull your charcoal or gas grills into a garage or other outbuilding in an effort to escape the cold. Not only is it a fire hazard, but you could choke on smoke or gas fumes and become sick or disoriented, possibly to a serious or even fatal level.
I always start my outdoor meal by clearing a safe path to the grill. Never risk walking on an icy or obstructed path, especially while carrying a plate of steaks, a bowl of barbecue sauce, a set of tongs and a stabby meat thermometer.
Another important element of safety to consider is proper lighting. Grilling in the dark can be dangerous for you and your food. Since my patio lights usually aren’t sufficient, I like to attach a flexible flashlight to the grill and leave it on as I go back and forth into the house. A hands-free headlight would also do the trick. It provides optimal function without asking Hubs or the kids to stand outside and hold a flashlight.
Reposition the Grill
Winter grilling requires you to reassess the position of your grill. Those leafy branches may not be an issue during the winter, but cold winds can dramatically affect your culinary results. I usually move my grill into a sheltered corner of the yard or patio where it will be protected from strong wind and position the grill at 90 degrees to oncoming winds.
It’s best to readjust your cooking methods and even your recipes when grilling in the winter. Opening and closing the lid too often dramatically lowers the cooking temperature in both charcoal and gas grills. Experience tells me to choose to cook items that do best when the lid is kept close – things I don’t have to check on too often. If you haven’t yet learned exactly how many minutes your favorite cut of meat needs to cook before turning, now is the time. Keep recipes simple, without a lot of basting or fancy techniques that require you to stay near the grill and babysit.
Check Your Fuel
Due to lower outdoor temperatures, it will take more gas and more charcoal to maintain normal cooking temps inside the grill. Make sure your propane tanks are full for gas grills and that you have plenty of briquettes on hand before you start cooking. Last February I was cooking on my new gas grill for the Super Bowl and learned the hard way how quickly it runs out of propane; I had to leave in the middle of the game, and in the middle of cooking my steaks, to head to the nearest gad station for a refill. How embarrassing.
This seems like a no-brainer, but you may be tempted to scoot outside quickly in your stocking feet or shirt sleeves just to give the grill a quick peek. Don’t! Without warm clothes and proper footgear, you’re more likely to skimp on proper cooking methods, and your meal will suffer. Dress in non-bulky layers that are easy to take on and off, and don’t hamper your ability to see or operate a set of tongs.
Maybe it will never be included in the Olympics, but think of winter grilling as a sport of its own.. Snowboarding and skiing may share a lot of crossover skills, but you can’t expect to excel in one just because you’re experienced in the other. Your summertime grilling skills will most certainly help you master winter grilling, but you still have to learn a few new tricks. Every athlete performs better with the right equipment and training, and with a little practice, you’ll soon master winter grilling, too.