by Ann Taylor Pittman
Fire & Flavor Brand Ambassador
Year-round grilling is a no-brainer for those of us living in the South, where mild winters don’t put a damper on our hunger for flame-kissed food. But temperatures elsewhere (and even down here on occasion) can certainly dip well below the comfort level. That shouldn’t decrease your desire to cook over fire. Follow these tips for better cold-weather grilling:
Keep your grill covered. Invest in a sturdy, well-fitted cover for your grill, one that straps or ties down so that it won’t blow off during wind gusts. If you’re grilling in the snow, you can just lift off the cover, removing the snow along with it. Your grill will be clean and ready to go.
Take shelter, safely. If possible, move your grill close to the house or a structure (such as a shed) to block any bone-chilling wind. But be sure to stay safely stay clear of overhangs or anything that might pose a hazard. Never grill in an enclosed area like a garage.
Light up. Remember that, with daylight saving time, it gets dark early in the winter. And it’s no fun trying to gauge the char level on your burgers when you have to squint and strain just to see them. Ideally, opt for hands-free lighting (not a flashlight) so that you have both hands free to maneuver the food or refuel quickly. A headlamp or battery-powered clamp-on lamp would be ideal.
Clear the area. Make sure you have a cleared, safe pathway from the door to the grill. Dodging obstacles such as fallen branches or ice patches is more than a nuisance when you’re carrying a tray of hot food. If there’s snow on the ground, make sure you’ve shoveled a clear path, and salt any icy patches to remove the risk of slipping. Also, clear yourself: Make sure that as you bundle up for outdoor cooking, you don’t have any loose clothing that might catch fire, such as floppy hats, hoodie strings, scarves, or attached mittens.
Have extra fuel on hand. High-quality grills are built to hold in and maintain heat well, but keep in mind that they’re battling against the colder exterior temperatures. Charcoal may burn more quickly, so make sure you have plenty nearby. If you have a lot of food to grill, or a longer grilling project, start a second chimney of fuel as soon as your pour the first load into the grill. Be sure to have a safe, heat-proof surface for the chimney (since your grill will be in use).
Keep the lid closed. Exercise patience. Quit futzing. Each time you open the lid to check on the food, you let out tons of heat and let in colder air, making it hard to maintain the cooking temperature you’re going for. Use a digital probe thermometer inserted into the food so that you can monitor what’s going on without peeking.
Have your oven or toaster oven warmed up. If you’re grilling batches of food or working on other components of the meal, you don’t want your grilled goodies to get cold. Set your oven to “keep warm” (or between 150°F and 170°F) to keep food at an optimal temperature as you prep out the rest of the meal.
Go for winter veggies. In the summertime, you no doubt grill zucchini, eggplant, summer squash, corn on the cob, tomatoes, and okra. But winter vegetables also perk up beautifully when given a turn on the grill—foods like Brussels sprouts, cabbage, fennel, sweet potatoes, winter squash, pearl onions, and more. These ingredients are typically denser than summer veggies, so you’ll just need to treat them a little differently. Either blanch them beforehand (cook in boiling water for a few minutes) and finish them on the grill, or cook them completely on the grill using both indirect and direct heat—you can either start them on direct heat to char and finish cooking them over indirect heat or vice versa (cook on indirect heat till almost then and then finish over direct heat for char).