Keep the grilling hopes alive!
Though this is an extremely potent El Nino season in the continental U.S. (meaning many of us are still basking in unseasonably warm temperatures), the shadows of autumn creep ever-deeper and soon so too will winter temperatures. I know, I know - I've said it. I've jinxed it. Here comes all the bad weather. While these temperatures might be arriving later than usual, many of us can expect to have our wills tried with the coming of each blustery winter day. Typically, this means kissing a whole bunch of fun outdoor past times goodbye for a period of months: outdoor swimming, water-skiing, sun bathing and camping to name but a few. However, grilling doesn't have to be one of these activities that gets relegated to May-September. After all, winter doesn't mean that you have to give up entirely on some of the things that we take for granted about the spring and summer months.
While the days of lounging outside in the sand or sipping cocktails on a rooftop bar may not exactly be in-the-cards - at least not for us up here in the Northeast* - one sacred and delicious component of the warm months can surely be preserved: Grilling.
*For those folks that are lucky enough to be in the more southerly states and get to dodge the worst of winter, we salute you!
Top Five Winter Grilling Tips
Tip #1: Be sensible!
Regardless of however tempting it might be, don't EVER be tempted to grill inside your garage or under an overhang. Be sure to keep 5-10 feet away from any combustible materials and at least that from your home in a well-ventilated area.
Tip #2: Prep work
If you're using a gas grill, be sure that you've carefully inspected the hoses for any cracks as well as ensured that all connections are tight and secure. It may seem simple, but no grilling should take place until these safety tips have been checked!
Tip #3: Bonus briquettes
Cooking with charcoal? Well, grilling for you in winter will be a bit of an art since maintaining temperature is a bit more difficult with charcoal briquettes. All is not lost, though - just keep an extra stash of briquettes nearby since the grilling time and temperature might require a bit more fuel than you're used to in summer months (go figure!) Also, be sure to allow more time for preheating the charcoal grill. And sure, gas grills might be a bit easier to manage in winter; but, just remember that you've got that irreplaceable flavor to savor once you're done!
Tip #4: Making the cut
Grilling in winter temperatures is a different kind of beast. The warm-up will take longer, the cooking of the meat will take longer and even the temperatures might have to be adjusted up by ~25 degrees Fahrenheit to compensate (and also ensure that you're not out there cooking the 4-hour hamburger!) One way to help with this is to be selective in the types of cuts that you're looking to grill. Thinner, smaller cuts understandably will cook faster and keep your extremities from freezing. This steaks, burger patties, loins and kabobs will be on your plate in no time compared to a chuck roast or thick T-bone.
Tip #5: Make clean-up easy
Tempted as you may be to run in and enjoy the meal you've just prepared - don't do it before clean-up. I know, all you want to do is dive into that mid-rare filet. Well, not-to-worry, the clean-up won't take long. At the very least, be sure to wipe down the grill surface itself with a grill brush (and a pair of protective gloves) while it remains a bit warm. Once the fats and juices cool, especially in the winter cold, it's much harder to clean. So keep that meat warm inside for a few and get the cleanup done - that way you can kick-back and relax after a delicious meal!
In addition to these great tips, we've also included one of our favorite barbecue planning graphics from John Thomas (author of Grilling 24x7) and the folks at Fix.com. While you may just be trying to take a few of our winter grilling tips to heart, you may not be planning for 30-100 people to join you. Not to worry! This graphic and checklist is great once the warmer temperatures roll-around as well.
So, there you have it! There's no reason to fear Old Man Winter. Sure, he can be grumpy and a bit intolerable, but gearing-up with some basics for grilling in winter is a sure-fire way to make you think of the impending (eventually) warm weather and also a bit more in control. After all, nobody tells a grill-master when to cook! Grill on!