Grilling Outdoors in Winter?

by Elizabeth Skipper | November 27th, 2013 | Ask the Chef

burgers n flameIs it possible to continue to grill outdoors in the winter?  I’ve been told that the colder temperatures will make it harder to cook on a grill.  However, I figure that the heat produced by the charcoal, if contained by the lid, should make grilling a burger possible.  Am I correct?

Lots of people grill outdoors all year long. I think most of the ones I know use propane grills, but there’s no reason why you can’t do this with a charcoal grill, too. It will be a bit trickier than using a propane grill, which requires less tending, but with a few tips you should be fine.

The colder the weather, the longer it will take the grill to heat up and the faster it will cool off. So making something like a burger or a steak, which will cook quickly, is your best bet. Without getting too close to a building (like your house – and I hope I don’t need to remind you to never, ever grill in an enclosed space), set up the grill in a sheltered spot, away from the wind, but easily accessible. You may want to create a windbreak with a tarp or devise some other kind of screen if your grill is in a particularly open spot. Or move it to a better location.

Consider the weather conditions on any particular day. It might actually be easier to grill on a snowy day than a windy one. The wind chill factor is substantial, and will exacerbate the heat-up and cool-down problem. You’ll need to use more charcoal, so be sure there’s plenty on hand.

Use lump charcoal vs. briquettes; it burns hotter. You’ll also need more time, so factor that in as well. If you’re accustomed to using time estimates provided by recipes, adjust them upwards.

Then there’s how dark it gets in the winter months, especially in the northern latitudes. Is your grilling area well lit? You don’t want to be fumbling around with a hot grill in the dark. There are grill-mounted lamps available, or you can use a headlamp, which will take up no room on your workspace. Neither is required if your outdoor lighting is adequate, but task lighting is important.

Do you have more than one grill? If you only want to grill little items like burgers, consider buying a second, smaller one. It will take less time to heat up, use less charcoal, and take less time to cook your food. Even a small one, though, should be heavy so as to minimize heat loss. As with its big brother, keep the lid on as much as possible; every time you lift the lid, you’re losing both heat and time.

And even if the weather’s dreadful, you can still enjoy a grilled burger. I wrote about this in June, when asked whether grill pans are worth it or not. Check out that article for my thoughts on using a grill pan when the weather isn’t cooperating.

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