Watching meat sizzle on the grill can be a unique joy for a cook… grilling tool in one hand and beer in the other. So why relegate the grill to the summer months? Don’t put your grill into hibernation when the weather turns chilly. Instead, fire it up and let winter know that it can’t deter you from the pleasure of food over the open flame.
According to online source Abby’s Guide, over 60 percent of Americans grill year round, with approximately 20 percent of all grilling done during the winter. For Door County residents, summer may be too fleeting (or just too busy) to fully satisfy their grilling inclinations.
Grilling can be an option at any temperature, allowing adjustments for several weather-related variables. According to Kevin Nordahl, beloved husband and avid winter griller, “Anything goes. You just have to consider that you will be using more fuel and cooking at a lower temperature.”
First step: bundle up. It will take a bit longer for a grill to come up to temperature, so you need to be patient. Also, you are likely to be working in the dark, so ensure proper outdoor lighting or don a headlamp.
Next step: fuel your fire. If using charcoal, add a bit more charcoal than normal. If gas grilling, make sure your tanks are kept full and allow an extra five minutes to heat up, since you are working from a lower starting temperature.
Once prepped, a good grill can hold heat even in the cold. Still, cooking tends to take longer since the temperatures outside are colder, making the temperature inside your grill lower as well. Compensate by cooking food longer than would be necessary in warmer temperatures, and always check the internal temperature of the food with a thermometer before taking it off the grill.
With respect to grilling technique, the only change is to keep the lid closed as much as possible. It takes much longer for the grill to recover its full temperature in the cold, so the less the lid is open, the better.
An additional variable is the wind and associated wind chill factors. Wind can suck the heat right out of a grill, unless it is very well insulated. The best approach is to place your grill where it is screened from the wind, or create your own wind block – for example, stick a sled into a nearby snow bank.
As a safety precaution, when using a gas grill on a windy day, monitor the grill to ensure the flame doesn’t blow out. This could lead to gas build up in the grill and result in a fireball were it to connect with a lit burner. Under no circumstances should an active grill be moved to an enclosed space. Charcoal produces carbon monoxide when it burns, which can build up to poisonous levels. Gas grills can also produce carbon monoxide and have the additional danger of propane buildup that could lead to an explosion.
Is anything off-limits? “Searing can be a challenge because it is more difficult to get the temperature really high,” Kevin explains, “but you can always sear on the range inside before transferring the meat to the outdoor grill.” Due to the lower cooking temperatures, slow-cook options can be ideal. A temperature gauge on the grill is especially helpful, allowing the grill chef to adjust cooking times according to the temperature maintained. To combat lower humidity, a marinade is essential; soaked grilling boards are also a good option for adding flavor.
With a note of wistfulness, Kevin describes the winter barbeque as “a real art form. The meal takes a little longer to prepare, but you savor the experience,” he explains. “It is dark by dinner time and in Door County it is very quiet, so you feel serene and peaceful looking at the stars and enjoying the sensation of it. I like to find a place where I’m protected from the wind, but still can see the snow falling.” An added bonus to finding a protected enclave: “The backdraft tends to bring the grilling aromas into the house,” reminding you of summertime even in the middle of winter.
But winter grilling isn’t all about thinking of summer. Winter grilling is a culinary adventure to be relished, even better when shared with friends and family. Best of all: there are no mosquitoes or flies to contend with, and your beer never gets warm.