With the onset of winter in the Northland, the fall of the season’s first snow typically puts the last nail in the coffin of the grilling season. Sure, there are folks who consider themselves “extreme grillers,” where neither sleet nor snow will keep them from their coals, but for the bulk of the households, the family grill remains undercover until we dawn our T-shirts once again when the temps reach 40 degrees next year.
There are too many missed opportunities for grilling fantastic meals outdoors in the winter that do not have to come to fruition, should you take a few simple steps to ensure your winter grilling experiences are as enjoyable as your summer ones. After all, if you can bear to bundle up and shovel the driveway, you should be able to keep warm enough to actually partake in an enjoyable experience with such a rewarding outcome as a meal infused with the smoke and flavors of the grill.
What you need to know about grilling in the winter is that it typically takes two to three times longer to cook food on the grill. Besides the cold (which one can certainly layer for), the length of time involved is usually hurdle number one that keeps people from cold weather grilling. The reason most people don’t do it (especially with a charcoal grill), is that they find it rather difficult to keep the fire hot enough to cook and achieve the proper internal temperature needed for most grilled meats. The lower temperatures are what lead to the extended cooking times. Unless you own a double-walled ceramic grill, most metal grills wick heat away quickly from the food in cold weather. If grilling when the temperature is 90° outdoors, your grill only has to work hard enough to perhaps increase another 200°, but when the temps are only at 10°, your fire has to be hot enough to increase another 280°. This can be a difficult task, especially with winter winds and the accelerated rate at which everything cools down from cold air drawing through your grill’s vents. It can be difficult, indeed, but it doesn’t have to be. There are two steps I recommend to guarantee effortless, year-long ability to keep the outdoor kitchen up and running.
With a $20 investment, you can take the following steps to ensure that your grill remains hot and takes no longer to cook in the winter than it does any other time of the year. First, for about $12, you can purchase ceramic fire bricks from any local home improvement store and line the bottom of your grill with them. Fire bricks designed to be used in fireplaces and wood burning stoves are designed to retain heat and minimize the transfer of heat to the outer surface. Four bricks simply placed in the bottom of your charcoal grill (as illustrated in the attached picture) or on the side walls of your gas grill will help significantly increase the grill’s ability to keep heat in the cooking chamber where it belongs.
Secondly, with an $8 purchase of an R-11 insulated hot water heater blanket, you can cut the insulation with a pair of scissors and fashion it to fit around the grill’s cover (see attached photo), again increasing the grill’s efficiency and providing for an effortless grilling endeavor. On an 18° day with snow flurries here in the Northland, as I grilled steak kabobs over lump hardwood charcoal, my grill’s temperature hovered at a constant 450-500°F. After removing the food and extinguishing the fire, the grill was still registering 150°F after an hour in the cold. If your grill can reach 500° (hotter than I usually cook at) on an 18° day, then you should have no problem cooking in a 300-350° zone when the temperatures drop below zero.
Keeping in mind that the more you lift the lid, the longer your cooking times may become, if you follow the methods I have outlined for preparing your grill for winter cooking, you should have no issues cooking all of the summertime fare in the middle of the winter. After a long winter of making stews, chili and pot roasts, the aromas and tastes of a summertime grill can be a captivating experience to all who eat the burgers, ribs, steaks and chickens you can prepare with snow on the ground. Half of our year is blanketed in ice and snow, but your grill and the flavors it exudes doesn’t have to be.
Keep on grillin’!