Continuing his Guest Blog Series, Char-Griller Ambassador James Llorens of Certified Creole BBQ gives you his tips for Winter Grilling!
Being from Illinois and having a deep passion and love for BBQ I have no choice but to embrace the winter elements Illinois provides during cold winter months. You have to be prepared for the freezing cold, cold winds, snow, rain and or freezing rain. I've experienced bbq'n through all of the various winter weather types over the last few years but one stands out and that was Super Bowl Sunday 2018, Eagles & Patriots.
I had a lot of catering orders to fill for Family, Friends, Neighbors, Colleagues and local Social Media Followers. I didn't want to let them down so I started at about 2:30 am. I had countless slabs of pork ribs, rib tips, pork butts, sausages and chicken wings galore to grill n’ smoke. I also made bbq baked beans and my Wife made her Famous pasta salad.
It was freezing cold, windy and a heavy winter snow storm rolled through that started the night prior. To get through these types of cooks when having to deal with extreme weather, you first have to embrace the wether and bundle up.
I wear two layers of clothes, the first layer consists of Under Armor Cold gear: compression shirt, leggings and socks. The top layer consists of sweat pants/jeans with a hooded sweatshirt and I always have a skull cap or Under Armor head gear that covers the face with a pair of gloves ready to go in my pockets. North Face slip on boots to keep my feet warm and dry and makes it easier to get in and out from the pit area to my kitchen.
Looking at the weather days prior leading up to your cook is always helpful, it gives you an idea of the elements you will be cooking through and what you will need to be prepared for. The Friday prior to Super Bowl Sunday in 2018 I monitored the forecast days prior leading up and knew I was going to deal with a cold windy winter snow storm.
I set up a large canopy and placed my grill/smokers under it with a large table, I did this to help protect the grill/smokers and table from the snow, it also provided coverage for myself while I was outside in the pit area and it also helped keep the ground clear from the snow accumulation. When the snow filled the top of the canopy, I brought out my leaf blower and easily blew it off and also had my snow shovel nearby to help keep my path clear.
When this cook took place I only had three large grills/smokers, they were all in use and rolled smoke up until kickoff. Each grill/smoker was filled to max capacity with meat pretty much at all times throughout the day, it was definitely one of my largest cooks up to that point.
I'm taking you back to this cook because it was one the first times I experienced bbq'n under extreme weather conditions for hours with having the added pressure of people depending on my bbq to be at their Super Bowl party. I learned a lot from this cook and one I'll never forget, it was a grind but a fun one. The food came out great and everyone was pleased and ultimately that's what's it's all about.
I later thawed out and had a plate and enjoyed the game with my Family.
When cooking in cold temperatures, you will burn more charcoal/wood versus when bbq'n in the summer, so prepare to have and use a little more fuel. For example, in the summer when I check on my fire and temperature when smoking ribs I normally check on it every hour or so, in the cold I will check on my fire and temperature every 35-40 mins. The key to any bbq is the fire, so paying close attention to the fire and temperature is important during cold bbq'n. When the fire gets low in the cold it goes out quick and then you have to start all over and the food stops cooking including getting cold and trust me, you don't want this to happen. But if it does happen, just keep on pushing and start your charcoal up again and get back to cooking.
I also allow my grill to throughly warm up when starting it up on a cold day, I add extra charcoal when warming to allow the inside and outside of the grill to get warm in all parts and to allow the cast iron grill grates to get warm.
The positive of cooking in the cold is you can leave your food outside a bit longer when filling up the grill/smoker or in my case taking pics/videos. In the summer, leaving any food out too long is a big no and I tend to work a bit quicker when my my food is out in the summer versus in the winter I can take my time a bit more. Negative part of grilling in the cold is the amount heat/smoke the grill releases when opening the grill hood. So I suggest strongly to only open the grill hood when it's when necessary. Before opening the hood have all your needed utensils and or spritz nearby, go in quick and do what needs to be done then close the lid as soon as possible.
Before opening your firebox have your charcoal/wood nearby and again go in quick and do what needs to be done then close the lid as soon as possible.
Remember to always check your vents when maintaining your grill/smoker temperature. I prefer to leave the top smoke stack vent all the way open at all times to allow the smoke to flow through the grill/smoker to smoke the meat evenly, having it cracked open can cause smoke to stay in the grill/smoker and suffocate the meat versus it being open and the smoke flows through. I use the vent on the side of firebox to maintain the heat of the charcoal/wood, the more the vent is open the hotter the charcoal/wood will get, the more it's shut the lower it it will get.
When removing food from the grill in the cold I have everything to place the food in nearby, covering the food immediately with a cover or foil and rushing it into the house.
Winter grilling takes dedication but if you take the proper steps you can make things easier for your self to get the bbq done. I truly enjoy embracing the winter months and cook through it all the time. At my house we love bbq so no matter what the weather is, I will bbq through it.