Wednesday, January 06, 2010
It has been COLD here, and this is North Carolina. I shouldn't complain, because I know a lot of other folks are snowed totally under. We've only had three or so inches of snow and then freezing temperatures but hovering around that 30 F mark.
I really love to grill, or I would not take my thin blooded self out there with the weather experts saying this is expected to be the coldest winter in 25 years. But, I've got charcoal smoke in my veins too, so when I go a day or two without barbecue or grilled food, I start to get cabin fever.
Some of my barbecue buddies have been emailing asking for suggestions for grilling in the cold or snow, so I figured other folks might be needing some help on that too. Since I ordered in Pizza Hut on the $10 deal this evening, I have some extra time to share some cold weather barbecue tips besides the obvious like bundle up.
Barbecue Master Cold Weather Barbecue and Grill Tips
1. Finding a Good Spot for Cold Temp Grilling
If possible, place your grill or smoker where there's some protection from the wind. I take our grills or smokers up close to the house on the non windy side or hit the corner of the back porch with two sides providing some wind blockage.
Do be safe though. Never grill or smoke in an enclosed porch area or in the house. If you don't burn down the house, the fumes might do you in.
2. Extra Charcoal or Other Fuel for Cold Temperature Outdoor Cooking
Cold temperatures will make an impact on the heat in the grill especially the thinner metals. Ceramics like the Big Green Egg and cast like the PK outdoor cooker have more insulation so fewer issues with keeping the temperatures up.
My general rule of thumb is to consider the amount of fuel I'd use in the summer and add about half again for cold weather. For instance, if I'd go about 30 chunks of charcoal usually, I'd go 45 in cold weather. On gas, it's harder to measure, but be sure to have plenty as grill warm up times are longer in cold weather. One good thing about cold temps is that you can see how much gas you have. The lower part with gas will cover with a thin coat of ice, clearly marking the level.
3. Warm Up Times for Grills in Cold Temperatures
It stands to reason that it will take longer to warm up a grill or barbecue smoker when it's cold outside. And, the grill warm up is important. Foods stick on cold grates. Also, if you like a sear, you won't get that if your grates are not hot.
With charcoal, fire up the coals (a chimney starter is a huge help) and then put the lid on the grill with the vents open. This keeps the fire going but allows the grill to get hot. With gas, turn it on and put down the lid and watch the temperature guage. Or, plan on approximately 15 to 20 minutes of perheating rather than the warmer weather rule of thumb 10 minutes.
4. Really Quick or Really Slow Dishes Work Best for Cold Days Grilling
If I'm grilling in cold weather, I tend to go for foods that grill up quick. Fish, brats, and hot dogs are real quick. I will do hamburgers and steaks but go thinner than usual if doing them while standing out in the cold, and grilling does require close attention.
Barbecue (or smoking), on the other hand, is low and slow. It may get a bit cold on the set up - getting the fire right and the smoker up to temperature. But, after that, if you have a good quality smoker like the Weber Smokey Mountain Bullet, then maintenance is low. You just run in and out every couple or few hours and make sure everything is cranking along.
5. Offsetting on Charcoal or Low Heat on a Gas Grill
When I grill in cold weather, I offset the charcoal which is simply having hot coals on only one side of the charcoal grill or heat one side or portion of the gas grill to high and the other side to low.
What this does is allow for some variation in cooking times on the food. If one steak gets done quicker, I shift it to the cooler area to rest and stay warm while I finish off other steaks or vegetables. If doing this, then slightly undercook items, since they will continue to cook along a bit on the cooler side.
7. Cast Iron Pan for Finished Grilled Foods
Anothr tip is that I will have a cast iron pan with a lid warmed up - either on the grill or inside. Cast iron really holds the heat well, although I do recommend a good grill glove if working with cast iron.
As foods are coming off the grill, like hamburgers for example, I just put them in the warmed cast iron pan and put the lid back on. Again, I cook a little less done than I want in the end as the burgers or other foods will continue to cook a bit more in the warm cast iron holding pan.
Those are the cold weather grilling and smoking tips that come to mind. Feel free to add your own. I'm sure I didn't think of everything, but those ideas will hopefully get you out in the cold and grilling up some good dinners while you look out the window at the snow or just that winter wind.