My name is Dean, I live in Traverse City, Michigan and I grill 5-6 nights a week, 52 weeks a year. I typically go through 1,600-2,400 pounds of charcoal annually.
Living in Northern Michigan and grilling year-round means you’re outside in the summer when it's muggy and 100*F+ to the other extreme of grilling in the winter when it's snowing and -15*F.
I used to ask myself “why grill in the winter” but then one day I asked myself, "why NOT grill in the winter?” I finally decided to give it a try and have never looked back since. I began to validate this notion of “why not” by saying to myself, "the charcoal doesn't care that it's snowing and the grill doesn't care either.”
So I got out my shovel and parka and made a path to the Weber Performer, brushed off the grill and lit it up. To my surprise it only took a few minutes longer to warm up than during the summer. I added a few chunks of cherry wood and once the smoke was rolling I started my brats.
When I went out to check on the brats after a few moments, I realized my timing wasn't affected much by the temps outside either. I brought the brats in like trophies, quickly plated them and we ate a wonderful summer time tradition in the middle of the winter. I was then hooked on year-round grilling.
I would like to share some of the important tips and lessons I have learned from my experiences of grilling in the winter.
1. Prepare yourself first! If you are uncomfortable or unprepared for the conditions outdoors, the experience is surely not going to be pleasant. Wear enough clothing to stand outside with your grill as it cooks. Running in and out doesn’t work for me because I don’t want to track snow all through my house. I typically wear my winter coat, gloves, thick hat and sometimes if snow conditions are deep enough I wear my winter boots and wool socks. I would recommend not using the nicest gloves you own however because through repeated use they won’t be so nice anymore.
2. Use new charcoal. I try to keep my charcoal baskets empty and only heat up enough coals to cook what is being grilled that night. I generally use briquettes due to its low cost and it burns for quite a long time, however, I do use lump charcoal as well. Lump charcoal burns much hotter and faster so occasionally I mix the two to make the fire hotter at a faster rate. This is particularly helpful when its frightful outside and you want to grill as fast as you can!
3. Prepare your grill. The shovel is by far the most important grilling tool I own for winter grilling. A car brush is helpful with clearing off the snow from the dome and the tabletop of the Performer.
4. Have an indoor staging place. It’s a place I can “land” hot plates and stage food coming in or going out to the grill. Ours is just inside the door so that I don’t track snow all over the house. This also helps keep the food and plates at room temperature and easily accessible, rather than frozen and stuck in ice if taken outside. You really do not want to introduce a “hot off the grill” steak to a -15*F plate! In the summertime the table of the Performer serves this purpose.
5. Keep the lid closed as much as possible. When I smoke things on the Performer I always use probe thermometers with long wires that go inside the grill. I do this regardless of season, but in the winter this is critical because you do not want to lift the lid any more than required. IF you do lift the lid for a peek or a quick flip I would highly recommend that you try to lift the lid straight up without tilting it. This helps ever so slightly trap the hot air that is under the lid so that when you close it up again you have a smaller temp climb to get back to what you started at.
6. Have some patience and allow a little more time. It takes time to gear up in the winter clothing and a little more time to cook in the winter. While you are outside, take a moment to enjoy the crisp, fresh air and the beauty that a peaceful winter night can bring. For me, it’s definitely the quietest time in my neighborhood, and I have the great outdoors all to myself.
Grilled food can be enjoyed year round no matter where you live if you want to make an effort to get out there and grill. Gear up in winter clothes and give it a shot! While you are at it, add some veggies to the grill and make the whole meal outside, I see no logic in firing up the grill for just the meats! Give the kitchen a vacation!