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Cooking in Cold Weather

Posted By: Stover E. Harger III NBBQA eNewsletter ,

Just like the Postal Service, “neither snow nor rain…” is enough to stop a dedicated live-fire cook.

A little over half of grill owners in America grill throughout the year, with 10 percent saying they continue to cook outdoors even when the temperature is below freezing, according to a Weber Grillwatch survey.

There are particular challenges to cooking outside in inclement weather. For one, you’ll be battling a lower-than-usual cooking temperature. Another difficulty in such conditions is wind, which can further throw your consistency off.

Despite the challenges, firing up a cooker in the cold doesn’t have to be difficult as long as you pay attention to the impacts the weather has on your temperatures, amount of fuel and cooking time. All of these factors will have an impact on your cook.

“Whether you are using gas, charcoal, or pellets, in inclement weather you need to be sure to preheat your cooker until the metal is too hot to touch and you need more fuel to heat the air and the walls of the cooking chamber initially and throughout the whole cook,” wrote Meathead Goldwyn on www.amazingribs.com. “Also, because the combustion process needs oxygen, it sucks in cold air and that can further reduce the oven temp. Meanwhile, moisture from the meat and water pans condenses on the interior like fog on the bathroom mirror further cooling the metal.”

On Amazing Ribs, Meathead explains how thin-walled metal cookers will need more fuel to get your food done by dinner. With insulation, whether purchased or made yourself, it’ll take more time to get the device up to the target temperature, however maintaining it will be much easier.

Along with cold weather grill “jackets” that are sold by Weber and other companies, cooks can create their own DIY insulation and wind shields. Welding blankets work for many, as does a wrap of hot water heater insulation around the cooking chamber.

“If there's room, try putting bricks in the cooking chamber to absorb and radiate heat,” Meathead wrote.

For “365 grillers,” Weber’s Kevin Kolman recommends a number of tips on Weber’s website, including some important safety concerns. Don’t be tempted to move your grill inside or under an overhang, for example. Keep the grill at least two feet away from all combustible materials and always in a well-ventilated area, he said.

Having some extra fuel handy is always a good idea, especially in the winter when it will surely take more than in warmer months. And though it’s a good idea always to keep the lid closed on your cooker unless it’s necessary to open, peeking inside too much when it’s cool outside will make your cooking time go up and up.

“One trick is to position the grill perpendicular to the wind. This will help control the temperature inside the grill even throughout gusty cooking hours,” Kevin Kolman wrote.

Sometimes winter weather has its advantages. Traeger Grills states on its website that cold smoking is easier when it’s colder outside because the low outside temperature helps keep the inside cool while still allowing smoke to flavor your food.

It was below freezing recently when The BBQ Central Show host Greg Rempe decided to smoke some food. He said the weather didn’t dissuade him from stepping outside to fire up some smoke-roasted wings – a favorite cold day meal for him. 

“It was a balmy 28 degrees in Cleveland that day,” Greg Rempe joked.

Over the years adapting and growing as a BBQ cook, Greg has learned to change his techniques depending on the weather.

“There were a number of times when I had originally started getting into the BBQ scene where in the colder months I was not accounting for (adding more fuel),” Greg Rempe said. “I would either run out of fuel or when I went to check the water pan, I would take the door off the Weber Smokey Mountain, look down at the coal bed and realize I better get some handfuls of charcoal in there or otherwise the fire was going to go out pretty quickly." 

Now, he’s ready no matter how low the temperature gets.

“If you make the appropriate plans, you can pretty much cook in any weather you want to as long as you want to suffer through it,” Greg said. “For us (BBQ aficionados) it’s always 24/7, 365 if we could.”