Cold Weather Grilling: Fire Up the Grill, Beat the Chill

Hungry? Cold weather? Use these techniques and it won’t be that much of a problem.

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It’s cold, and chances are you’ve seen better weather. And yet you miss firing up the grill and sitting in solitude out in the backyard while a couple of thick-cut steaks or juicy burgers sizzle peacefully on the grill, don’t you?

The prudent griller that you are, before you preheat your gas grill or light up the charcoal, you found yourself pondering a simple but mission-critical question: Is cold-weather grilling even a good idea?

You can grill in cold weather, but you will have to make a few adjustments. On a gas grill, preheating will take twice as long. On a charcoal or wood pellet grill, you will need 1½ to 2 times the fuel.

If so, you’ve come to the right place. We’re about to give you some solid information so you can find that out.

When is Cold Too Cold?

Since the discovery of fire, mankind has made fires and cooked food in cold weather. But, today, you shouldn’t do that anymore?

Long story short, if the weather just doesn’t allow it, like in a blizzard or freezing rain. You wouldn’t want to barbecue in the middle of a hurricane either, that’s for sure. So it depends on the elements, not necessarily how cold it’s.

What’s important is knowing how to grill in cold weather. This means understanding how different grills behave in cold weather, how the cold affects the cooking temperature, and how much fuel you are likely to need—along with some basic safety tips.

How You Store Your Grill in the Cold is Vital

Storing your grill in the cold of winter is important for several reasons.

First, when the time comes to get grilling again, the unit should already be located in an area protected by the elements.

So store your grill where it can stay covered and protected from snow and ice. If you store it in a garage or shed, no problem. If you store it outside, use a grill cover and try to place it under some form of cover, such as a carport, if available.

If you do store it inside, don’t try to grill inside. Safety first, after all. 

Second, grill in an area shielded by cold or high winds as much as possible. This helps with temperature control but also minimizes using too much fuel to keep up with heat loss the winds will impact. Besides, it will help you keep smoke from blowing in your face mercilessly.

Third, store the grill in mint condition and clean it after every use before returning it to storage. A clean grill will come to temperature easier and help eliminate unnecessary use of fuel trying to burn off the remains of last week’s chicken.

Plus, you’re not out there cleaning in the cold when you’re ready to grill, an experience of its own in bad weather.

Using Gas Grills in Cold Weather

Gas grills are good for use in cold weather if you understand some things to keep from bashing your head against the wall in frustration.

One of the biggest things to do is preheat the grill. Keep the cover closed to minimize fluctuations in temperature by opening and closing repeatedly. This way, all you have to do is monitor the temperature using an exterior thermometer, if you have one. If not, a handy-dandy heat gun can be used quickly without opening the cover for long.

On sultry summer days, it takes your grill 10-15 minutes to get up to temperature. So expect to double that in fall and winter. Also, plan to have an extra propane bottle on hand as a backup (especially if the one you’re hooking up is close to running out).

Using Charcoal Grills When It’s Cold

Charcoal grills are very effective for cold-weather grilling. Their biggest drawback is temperature regulation.

Unlike a gas grill, charcoal grills require more constant temperature monitoring and management. Additional coal briquets will be necessary depending on the type and amount of food being grilled.

However, it is much easier to get up to temperature. To do this, use a chimney starter to heat the coals quicker. Also, we recommend lining the inside of the grill with aluminum foil. Doing so will help reflect heat toward the charcoal. Again, keep your lid closed as often—and as much—as possible.

Your vents don’t need to be wide open on the bottom or on the top. Resist keeping them closed, though, in the hopes the heat will be trapped easily. Heat needs that air flowing through it to feed it, which means a hotter grill (and a fire that won’t go out).

You’ll probably need to use 1½ times the normal amount of charcoal you normally would use, so prepare yourself. And keep that chimney starter handy to get replacement coals hot a good 15-20 minutes before you need to throw them in the pit, as they will take a while to ash over.

Wood Pellet Grills in Cold Weather

Wood pellet grills can be used in the cold, but their success really depends on the make and model that you have.

A grill with a single-walled combustion box will be much harder to get up to temperature, and more preparation is required prior to lighting it off. An insulated blanket will help—but these types of grills are simply not as effective as a grill with a double-walled combustion box.

Also, the double-walled grill will consume fewer pellets than a single-walled grill. As always, plan to use 1½ to 2 times more fuel than the amount you would normally use as a precaution.

Lastly, the type of controller you have makes a big difference. Time-based controllers have a harder time in cold weather compared to a PID (Proportional, Integral, Derivative) controller, basically a whizz of a controller that regulates the fan speed to maintain temperature.

Cold-Weather Grilling Over Electricity

Why would you want to use an electric grill in the cold?

If you want to grill—but not be cold—an electric grill is a good alternative because it can be used indoors. Since the most common electric grills are smokeless, they are safe for indoor use and are effective when that’s your only real alternative.

That being said, do keep in mind that a smokeless grill doesn’t necessarily mean smokeless cooking. Anything you put on that grill will start to smoke and sizzle, so ensure you’re grilling in a room with good ventilation (and in clothing you can easily change once you’re done).

Foods to Cook

Because it’s cold and because maintaining the temperature can be a chore, grill foods that can cook quickly. Foods like chicken breast, pork chops, and thin-cut steaks. Go for meats of up to 1½ inches thick and try to avoid anything that’s thicker.

Clearly, grilling a tomahawk ribeye in December isn’t the best idea.

Safety Tips

Remember, just because it’s cold doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be safe.

As mentioned before, don’t grill indoors. Even if you have your garage doors open, grilling inside is a bad idea. Not just because of the fire hazard. You also have to remember ventilation for your own sake.

Another thing is, don’t think winter gloves are a substitute for grilling gloves. The last thing you want to do is set your hands on fire or melt the gloves because they’re not heat resistant. Losing your hands to injury is a good way to end your winter grilling season.

Don’t place your grill close to the house, just as you wouldn’t in warmer months. A good rule of thumb is to position the grill 10-15 feet away from any nearby walls, especially if made from lumber or covered in vinyl.

Suit up. Make sure you’re dressed as if you’re going for a long walk in the snow. Instead, you’re standing around waiting for your food to finish cooking. So, hats, coats, boots, all that good stuff.

And if your hands get cold from having to constantly take your gloves off, resist touching the grill covers to warm them up. You can place your hands within a few inches to feel the warmth, but don’t go crazy.

In Summary

Grilling in the cold is more than possible. Just remember preparation, getting up to temperature and temperature management, storage and cleanliness, and extra fuel are all keys to success.

Now you should be good to go. Time to get grilling!

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