Colorado is known for its blistery cold winters with sub-zero temperatures and wind-chill. That doesn’t mean it’s time to put the grill away. In fact, grilling all year round – sun, rain, wind, sleet, or snow – is what we locals enjoy doing best, especially here in our mountain resort communities, where summer is so short anyway. I, myself, have shared outdoor grilling experiences on many a cold winter’s night with my brother, who loves to grill despite the elements. Here are some of our tips and tricks to winter grilling.
Tips & Tricks for Winter Grilling
During the summer, prepping and cooking outside on the grill is reasonable. Many people choose to prep food outdoors, but while this can be a challenge in the winter, it’s not impossible. Whether it’s warm or cold outside, it still gets darker earlier. So, take a few minutes to prep food ahead of time and during the week if possible. This preparation gives you an opportunity to make any food indoors in advance, making it easier on the whole family once you get home and start making the meal. Otherwise, you can always use a flashlight that fits onto the handle of the grill, or an LED headstrap flashlight, or rely on any patio or porch lighting you may have.
If you keep all your grilling tools outside, it is a good idea to make room and store them indoors during the fall and winter months. Having these items stored indoors and accessible will keep things easier, limiting time outside. This also avoids the dreaded shoveling of a path out to the shed or garage just to search for utensils or any other accessories you may need – including oven mitts.
While the grill may be warm, the air and outside temperature are not. Even if you hail from the coldest parts of the country and love cold weather like my brother, still bundle up and wear a warm jacket, hat, and often times, snow boots. Be mindful though, and avoid wearing scarves, hats with tassels, or other clothing items that can come in contact with fire. Also note, gloves are not barbecue mitts, so make sure you are wearing heat-resistant gloves while operating your grill, as most poly-blend fabrics may either melt or catch fire.
Staging – Make the Outdoors Comfortable
Knowing you may cook outside is not enough to be prepared, so again, planning a meal ahead of time is definitely a good idea. This also allows time to “stage” your grilling area. Depending on where you live and your grilling situation –a condo or townhome with an overlooking deck, large open patio area, or small enclosed porch – some staging will be necessary. Brush any snow or ice off the grill and side shelves, or brush snow off grill cover and remove cover. It’s hard enough to light a grill in cold weather, and any snow on the surface will just make it more difficult. Pre-heating the grill may take up to twice the time when grilling in winter, so be prepared – and patient.
You may also need to shovel a path to your grill and grilling area. Be sure to throw down salt (snowmelt, not cooking salt) if necessary to avoid slipping and falling when the ground becomes icy. Carrying food and slipping on ice are not recommended!! The grill can also be moved closer to your door to make it easier to reach from inside.
Keep extra fuel on hand – Grilling with gas is certainly easier than charcoal when it comes to winter grilling, but always make sure you have at least one full tank of LP gas or propane; a second tank on reserve never hurts. If you do use charcoal, be prepared with extra fresh, dry briquettes. Grilling in cold weather may require more cooking time, or you may find you need more fuel to reach the right temperature. On gas grills, adjust the temperature dial as necessary, higher to heat the grill faster. For charcoal grills especially, to control the temperature inside the grill, remember to tilt it at a 90-degree angle to compensate for any wind.
Use a meat thermometer & timer – Even if you’ve created one of the coziest, warmest outdoor kitchens, the cold weather may still cause your grilling time to increase, especially in frigid temperatures and / or extreme winds. That’s why it is important to keep the grill lid closed and minimize manually checking on food. Each time the lid is lifted, the grill loses heat quickly and extends cooking time. It’s better to use a meat thermometer to ensure meat is cooked properly. Set a timer – this can be a stovetop / oven timer or even your cell phone – to avoid over checking the food and letting cold air into the grill. You can also set the grill in a place where you can see it from the door or a window and be able to keep an eye on things from a distance.
While you may be tempted to bring your grill into the warmth of your garage or shed during cold weather, this is an extreme fire hazard. Regardless of the weather, NEVER grill inside or even under an overhang. If you move your grill closer to a door or window for better access from inside, make sure you do not move it too close and keep anything flammable away from the grill and grilling area. Always keep water or a fire extinguisher or both nearby. Grilling safely is always a must whether you’re grilling in cold weather or on the sunniest summer day.
With the right equipment and proper attire, grilling outdoors in the winter months doesn’t have to be a nightmare. For those who prefer the warmth of being inside, but love the taste of your favorite foods on the grill, using an outdoor cooking area in the cold is possible – and enjoyable. So as you get out there and break out your snow shovels, put on your winter gear, and dig out after a big snow storm, don’t forget to dust off your grill! After all, what’s better than a nicely grilled steak or some baby backs smothered in smoked BBQ after a day on the slopes!