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Love outdoor cooking? Here's how to grill in the winter

Steak tips in the middle of January? Oh, yes

Outdoor grill in the wintertime with gloved hand using tongs to flip meat and vegetable skewers Credit: Getty Images / LauriPatterson

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When you think of grilling, you may associate it with hot summer days on the deck or even days spent by the pool with family and friends. That’s because grilling and barbecuing is a quintessential part of summertime, and the weather is just right for cooking your favorite dishes outdoors.

But when cold weather starts to creep in, don’t think you need to pack up your apron and spatula until warm weather returns. Plenty of grill enthusiasts cook outdoors year-round, even in the coldest winter months.

Yes, you can make your favorite seared burgers or sweet charred corn on the cob all year long.

With a little preparation and an extra layer of clothing, grilling in the winter is a sure thing, and it keeps delicious roasted meals coming year-round.

Why grill in the winter?

why winter
Credit: Getty Images / tab1962

Winter grilling is a great hobby when you're ready to spice up your recipes.

Grilling year-round, despite weather obstacles, has become a common practice for those who crave freshly roasted foods outside of typical summer months. When dark and dreary winter days roll in, grilling can be a great way to switch up your cooking routine when you get sick of winter stews and slow-cooker meals.

Especially in what may be a more socially-distant winter and holiday time than ever before, keeping home-cooked meals fresh is something that can be accomplished by incorporating the grill in new and old recipes alike. Plus, during colder months, you don’t have to worry about breaking a sweat while grilling up your favorite recipes.

Store your grill indoors when temperatures drop

Keep your grill safe during the winter by storing it in a garage or storage room if possible. But first, give it a good clean before rolling it indoors, especially if there’s any leftover charred food crumbs, as that may attract critters and bugs.

If your grill is on the rusty side, you can give the grates a good scrub then soak them in a mixture of 1 cup of dish soap, one-quarter cup of baking soda, and hot water in a bucket or garbage bag. Let soak for one hour, then rinse in cold water and dry immediately.

For liquid propane and natural gas grills, make sure to use the shut-off valve to close your gas line before disconnecting anything. Then, unscrew the gas nozzle from the grill—you may need pliers for this if it’s secured tightly. If you have a propane grill, make sure to leave the tank outdoors. You should never store it indoors, no matter the weather.

For charcoal grills, remove any leftover charcoal from the grill for safety and store the charcoal in an airtight container in a dry climate, as moisture and open air will affect its quality. Then, thoroughly clean the grill and the grates and dry completely.

For all seasons, you may also want to purchase a grill cover to keep dust and grime from building up when it’s not in use.

Create a safe grilling space

work station
Credit: Getty Images / haurashko_ksu

If possible, keep all your tools and ingredients near your grill workspace to keep cooking efficient (and, to minimize your time out in the cold).

While the first snowfall of winter always feels a little exciting, that excitement usually wears off when you realize the clean-up that comes with it. Lumps of snow and slick decks and patios will become a hazard to your grilling station, so make sure it’s completely cleared before an accident happens.

While we recommend storing any type of grill inside during colder temps, never, ever cook inside. While some electric grills are safely designed to be used inside, gas and propane are not—they produce a considerable amount of carbon monoxide, and improper ventilation indoors increases your chances for potential carbon monoxide poisoning.

Make sure to shovel out any snow around your grill and give yourself plenty of outdoor space to work. Use an ice melter to keep the ground from getting icy, as slipping around a hot grill is a disaster waiting to happen. Grab a pet- and plant-safe ice melter treatment to protect your fur babies and landscape.

If possible, keep the grill close to the house (while still maintaining at least 10 feet from the house and having plenty of space for aeration) to make walking in and outside the house for materials easier and safer.

Due to the sun setting much earlier in winter months, you may need more light sources to safely cook. You can adorn your patio with some easy LED outdoor string lights for an easy, distributed light source. While this extra light source will be helpful for lighting up the space, you’ll most likely need more directed light on your outdoor cooking station.

You can get your hands on a grill light that conveniently clips on or sticks by magnet for easy use and removal.

Make sure you have plenty of batteries on hand so your lights will always be ready to go.

Give some extra time and patience to your grill

When cooking outside in the winter, you’ll need just a little more patience—and most likely more materials— to make it happen. But, it can be worth it for freshly grilled foods year-round.

Because of the chillier temperature, both fuel-powered and charcoal grills take a little bit longer to cook since they won’t burn as efficiently as they would on a balmy summer day. Preheat your appliance to get the temperature just right and adjust as needed.

For this reason, make sure you have extra fuel via a propane tank so you won’t run out of fuel while cooking. Likewise, if you use a charcoal grill, have extra charcoal on hand—you’ll probably need to add more to the pile while grilling since it burns quicker in cooler temperatures.

Get comfortable with grilling with the lid closed

Keep lid closed
Credit: Getty Images / lgoodwin80107

Opening and closing the lid will significantly affect the temperature and cooking time—keep it closed when you can.

Heat can retain pretty well in a closed grill during the wintertime—the problem is, however, opening it up to check your food and letting precious heat out. While this is totally OK during warmer months, you’ll need to adjust your cooking habits to make sure the food gets cooked quickly and properly.

Instead of opening the lid and using visual cues to flip food or take it out, start relying on cooking gadgets and grill accessories to let you know when it's ready. Using a timer is one way to properly plan out when you’ll need to open the lid—note that the timing may vary depending on how cold it is outside. However, if the lid stays closed, you’ll be able to figure out some sort of consistent timing.

You can also use a grill thermometer to connect to your food cooking on the inside—you’ll be able to see the internal temperature of your food in real time, giving you an exact idea of where your food is at without having to open that lid.

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