8 Essential Grilling Rules to Follow for Winter 2021

Winter 2021 is bringing a lot of challenges with it, especially as stay-at-home guidelines are coming back in effect. Grilling is one of our favorite ways to indulge in healthy, delicious food while having a lot of fun— and keeping us sane! If you love grilling as much as we do, you don’t have to give it up just because temperatures start to drop. If you follow a few easy grilling rules, you can continue cooking up scrumptious meats and veggies all winter long.

In this article, we’ll give you tips about how to stay safe while grilling in low temperatures, how to cook on a charcoal grill in the winter, and how to whip up scrumptious food with ease, safety, and lot’s of flavor.

1. Move Your Grill to the Best Winter-Ready Location.

In the summer, you may not care as much where your grill is located in the yard. A lot of people place their grills based on aesthetic or to be in the “middle of the action” during a party.

Here are some things to consider when choosing a spot for your grill:

Consider the travel time

In the winter, the location of your grill is less about décor and more about minimizing your time spent outside. First, you want to find a spot where your grill will be close enough to the house to lessen the steps from kitchen to grill, so that you can go in and out quickly (and avoid frostbite). You should also make sure you pave and salt the path between your house and grill so you don’t slip or fall—especially with coveted meat in your hands.

Consider the hazards

You also don’t want to grill too close to the house, which can be a fire hazard. So make sure you take safety into account. When thinking about placement, avoid overhangs, porches, and other fire hazards. Keep your smoke fire grill at least 30 feet away from your home’s siding, especially if you have vinyl or wood housing materials.

Consider the wind

When picking placement of your grill, you should identify the direction that the wind most often blows around your house. You can then set up your grill in such a way that it is sheltered against harsh winds, since winds can cool down your grill and make grilling a lot colder, longer, and harder.

Note: Never ever cook in an enclosed area, like a garage or shed. Carbon monoxide and smoke can collect in the area, which can cause serious and even fatal toxicity. Worse comes to worse, if grilling outside isn’t an option, you may want to invest in an indoor grill or grill pan.

tasty grill sandwich

Photo by Kovah on Unsplash

2. Learn How to Cook on a Charcoal Grill in Cold Weather.

One of the many reasons we love charcoal is because of that blazing fire. Not only does it give a smoky, fire-grilled flavor, but charcoal fire is also more consistent and enduring, even in lower temperatures. Gas and propane can’t fight against chilly weather, so you may need double the amount of gas as you normally would to keep your grill hot.

When selecting charcoal for your grill, we recommend Rockwood charcoal. It’s a high-quality hardwood charcoal that’s one of the longer-lasting fuel sources. For winter cooks, you want your heat to last as long as possible to fight against the cold weather and let you stay indoors as much as possible. You may still need to add more charcoal throughout the cook, but you’ll get a longer lifespan out of each burn than you might with other fuel sources.

Lighting a charcoal grill can be a challenge during the winter, particularly if it’s windy outside. Chimney starters are one of the easiest methods in cold weather, since the starter itself acts as a shield against wind. Check out these other methods for lighting a charcoal grill to see which you might prefer in your winter cookouts.

Learn about charcoal grilling in windy, winter conditions here.

3. Keep the Grill Lid Closed Whenever Possible.

Your grill needs to be hot in order to get the job done. Charcoal keeps the fire burning hotter than gas or electric, but you’ll still need to be mindful of blustery winds or freezing temperatures.

The best way to preserve heat on your grill is by keeping the lid closed with the vents open. Every time you open the grill, the cooking chamber will lose heat, which means it needs to reheat in order to cook your food. As we say in the grilling world, “if you’re lookin’, you’re not cookin’!” Repeatedly opening the grill could result in long cook times or an inconsistent cook. We typically recommend using convection-style recipes for winter grilling so you can keep the lid closed to ensure the meat cooks all the way through. Then, you can quickly reverse sear your meat with an open lid once the meat is done to perfection.

4. Heat the Grill in Advance.

When you were learning how to cook on a charcoal grill, one of the first things that was probably imprinted on your brain was that you’ll need to burn the charcoal first and let the grill heat up before you start cooking. This practice ensures you hit the right temperature to cook your meat, otherwise you could end up with a tough, dry cut or, even worse, your meat won’t be cooked all the way through. Plus, if you throw the food on before the grill is hot, the food could end up sticking to the grates, which leaves half your meal on the grill instead of on your plate. Check out more reasons to preheat your grill before using here.

In cold winter temperatures, your grill may take longer to heat up than in the summer. Give it a few extra minutes than you normally would to make sure it reaches its ideal temperature. You may need more charcoal and time to get the same results as during the summer, but getting just as good a grill job is possible!

The same is also true for cook times. It usually takes longer to cook in the winter because the heat of the grill is battling the cold external temperatures. You may even need to add 20 minutes of cook time per pound for every 5 degrees that it drops below 45 or 40 degrees F (as a general rule, not a hard-and-fast one).

Overall, give yourself more time to get the cooking done than you normally would for your summer BBQ.

guidelines on essential grilling rules to follow

5. Choose Either Long-and-Slow Recipes or Quick-Cook Cuts.

Should you cook fast, quick cuts, or low-and-slow when it comes to winter grilling? There are differing opinions on this, so go with what feels right to you.

Some people recommend using cuts of meat with a shorter cook time, so you don’t have to be out in the cold as long. This includes thinner and smaller cuts of meat like pork loins, pork medallions, kabobs, chicken breasts, New York strips, and ribeye steaks. However, with faster cook times, you’ll usually need to stand outside for most of the cook to ensure it doesn’t overcook; as a result, you might actually end up spending more time in the cold. Still, if you want to get in, out, and get back to delicious food, keeping cook times under 10 minutes is a good option.

However, we often recommend doing a long and slow cook if possible. You can throw the meat on the smoke fire grill, let it cook for a while, and then just take it off the grill and back inside when done. That means you’ll have less time in the cold and more time with your family in the warmth of your house. Low and slow cooks that we like include pork butts, beef brisket, and tri-tips.

Note: With a low and slow cook, you’re battling the harsh cold weather, so your heat source (like charcoal) has to work twice as hard. You may need to periodically check on your charcoal or other source throughout the cook to make sure it’s still going strong. Adding charcoal may also be required to keep the fire blazing.

grilling bacon

Photo by Thomas Park on Unsplash

6. Invest in a Cast Iron Pan.

It’s hard to keep food warm after it’s been cooked, especially when you’re moving through frigid temperatures to get back into the kitchen. You don’t want to overcook your meat, but even the quick walk from the grill to the house can quickly cool down the meal you’ve toiled for. If you’re then also waiting for other dishes to finish or have to throw more on the grill, you’re at risk of a cold dinner—which is the last thing you want on a cold winter’s night.

This is exactly why we use cast iron pans to retain heat from the grill a little longer. Right after you remove the food from the grill, put it in your cast iron dish with a lid on top. Bring it inside and keep it insulated while you prep the rest of your meal. Some recipes even call for you to grill the meat and veggies right in the cast iron! Check out some of the best cast iron pans of 2020 here.

7. Get Your Gear in Order.

Not only do you want all your grilling gear at-the-ready so you don’t have to waste any time outdoors, but you may also want a few other tools specific to winter weather grilling.

  • Put blocks in front of your grill’s wheels to prevent it from moving in wintry winds. Some grills also have wheel locks, but it never hurts to take additional precautions.
  • Use bungee cords to keep the grill anchored to the ground if it’s really windy or stormy.
  • Purchase an insulated grill cover to protect your grill from the elements and help retain heat. Some covers can even be used while grilling (as long as they have vent holes), which can help keep the fire and food hot.
  • Use your Kick Ash heat-resistant gloves that keep your fingers protected against the cold and the heat, while also giving you the dexterity to cook like a pro.
  • Don’t forget your winter coat and boots. Even a few minutes in the cold can be dangerous; for example, it can make your body numb enough that you don’t realize when you’re too close to the flame. Stay warm and stay safe!

Learn more about gear for windy, cold grilling here.

8. Make Cleanup a Whole Lot Easier and Faster.

You can wait until the next cook to clean out your charcoal and ashes, especially if you’re trying to escape the cold quickly and get back inside to enjoy your food. However, if you’re in freezing temperatures, you want to clean your grill grates as fast as possible so food won’t freeze on it. This will be a huge pain the next time you try to clean your grill.

Leave the vents on your grill open for a “clean burn.” Burning at around 500 degrees (without any food on the grates) will help burn off any left-on food and gunk. This method is especially useful for getting rid of strong fish flavor and debris on the grates. Use your Juniper Scraper to scrape off the grates for a clean grill that’s ready for your next cook. Then, close the vents to extinguish the charcoal.

Since it’s cold outside, you will probably wait until the next cook to clean out your charcoal and ash. Thankfully, using a Kick Ash Basket and Can in the previous cook means that getting ready for your next grilling session only takes a few extra seconds. Our Kick Ash Cans get all the credit here. These cans collect the ashes from your Kick Ash Basket so you can quickly remove the can and get rid of the charcoal in about 30 seconds. No more fighting frozen ashes or getting soot everywhere. It’s easy, clean, and super-duper fast.

Oh, and Have Fun!

Winter grilling is a new challenge, and a lot of grillers aren’t up to the task because it takes extra caution, care, and finesse. If you’re willing to try it out, you’ll be paid back in spades with delectable grilled food all year long. Your grilling hobby doesn’t have to take time off, and you can keep supplying your family with healthy meals throughout even the coldest months.