How to grill in Winter

The majority of households in the US own a grill, but how many use it all year?  Sure, if you live in Miami, Houston, or San Diego, it’s no big deal.  Many Northerners choose to pack up the grill in the fall.  I’m not one of them.  Here’s how you can grill successfully even when the temperature approaches zero.

    • Use a gas grill — [I’m cringing a little as I type this.]  Gas grills heat up quicker and sustain their heat in cold weather better than a charcoal grill.  There are workarounds for this, though.


    • Avoid the windBernoulli’s Principle states that a fluid (in this case, air around your grill) moving horizontally past another fluid (the air inside your grill) causes a decrease in pressure on the moving fluid.  Basically, what this means is that the more wind there is, the faster that wind is sucking the heated air out of your grill vents.  The heated air that is now gone needs to be replaced to maintain cooking temp.  in order to do this, your grill needs to burn more fuel — either gas or charcoal.  Especially in the case of charcoal, you’ll see a dramatic decrease in the life of your coals.  If you can, place your grill behind a wall or fence to block the wind.  Many winter barbecuers make wind screens from sheets of rigid foam insulation and tape.  It is lightweight, easy to set up and take down, and relatively small to store.


    • Plan for extra time — The lower temperatures that come with Winter also mean that your fuel has to produce more heat to reach cooking temperature.  On a 90 degree day, your grill will only have to increase the air temperature  260 degrees to hit 350.  On a zero degree day, of course, the temp has to raise 350 degrees.  That’s a pretty big obstacle to overcome.  Your grill will take extra time to heat up and it will have to work harder to maintain temp.  Most direct grilling is done somewhere between 400 and 600 degrees.  In colder temperatures, your grill isn’t going to get as hot.  This also makes it take longer to cook.


    • For charcoal grillers only — Use lump charcoal instead of briquettes.  Lump charcoal burns hotter than briquettes, which will help you get your grill up to temp fast and stay there.  You may need to replenish your coals once or twice because it also burns faster.  This is easy to do — just add more lumps of charcoal to your burning coals and they’ll light in a few minutes.


    • Keep the lid on —  Every time you lift the lid, you’re losing the heated air inside.  As I stated earlier, this air needs to be replaced with more hot air.  That takes time and fuel so keep the lid closed unless you absolutely need to open it.


    • Small is good — This goes for both your grill and your food.  The smaller your grill, the less air it needs to heat.  Also, the smaller your food items, the faster they’ll cook through.


    • Put a coat on — This goes for your and your grill.  You’re going to be out there in the cold for a while — put a coat on.  Make yourself a hot beverage.  If you have a fire pit, light that bad boy up.  Now for the grill.  If you regularly have difficulty maintaining temp in the Winter, go to the hardware store and buy a water heater thermal blanket.  It looks like insulation with a foil covering.  Wrap your grill in this blanket, making sure not to impede airflow and also to keep the edges from getting into the grill itself.


    • Light it up — In the Winter, the sun sets early, so chances are pretty good you’ll be grilling in the dark.  Make sure you have a good light source so you can see what you are doing.  There are several ways to do this.  Get a light that mounts to your gas grill’s handle.  Get a headlamp — they’re small and stylish.  Add some outdoor lighting to your home so you can stay hands-free.


    • Have a plan — If you’re going to fire up the grill, make the most of it.  See how much of your meal you can prepare on the grill.  Make some appetizers, side dishes, or even dessert.


    • Winter grilling does have one thing on Summer — Rain sucks the heat out of a grill faster than wind and cold.  If it’s snowing, you don’t have to worry about that major heat sink.  This is especially valuable for smoking because of the extended cooking times.


Winter Grilling, with proper planning and a few modifications can truly be an enjoyable experience.  Give it a try.  Make it an event.  Go all out!  What tips do you have to add to the list?  What challenges have you faced in cold weather outdoor cooking?  Leave your comments below.

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About Raun Lauterbach

Optimistic realist, life enthusiast, outdoor cook, Midwest traveler, husband, father... Follow me: Twitter | Facebook | Get updates in your email
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