These Cold-Weather Grilling Tips Will Save Your Winter Cooks
Plus, a grilled pizza recipe to get you through the snowy weather
To me, grilling is a year-round passion. Tailgates, barbecues or just because it’s Thursday, there’s no bad time to turn on the burners, light the coals and get to work. If you share the same passion for the ‘cue but live in the north, there are a few extra steps you should keep in mind when firing up some brats as fall comes to a close.
The first and most painfully obvious point about cold-weather grilling is that the grill may not get as hot. Generally, the heat source will get to its temperature regardless of the temps outside (propane burns at more than 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit, charcoal more than 2,000 degrees), so this is largely unchanged. What is affected is the grill itself, as cold weather and whipping winds will lower the lid temperature a considerable amount. This means that the smoke that would normally circulate around in a closed grill (providing both convection cooking and smoke basting) could condensate on the dome of the grill. This will microscopically rain moisture back onto the grates, turning a typically dry method of cooking into a wet one. This will suck heat out of the air space inside the grill, lowering the dome temperature by 100 degrees or more.
The simplest remedy to a lower grilling dome temperature is to crank the burners and add more coals, right? Not so fast my friends. Recall that the heat source is largely unaffected by cold weather, meaning that the grill grates themselves will operate much the same. Adding more heat will make the burners much hotter, requiring more constant flipping and attention. Every time the grill is opened, what little you’ve gained by turning the dial to 11 is now lost, and grilling will paradoxically take longer.
In fact, the best tip for cold weather grilling is to actually grill a bit slower than usual. The goal is to open the lid as few times as possible to trap the heat inside, encouraging that convection action that makes grilling different from stovetop cooking. Help yourself out and invest in a quality grill thermometer to cut down on guesswork and be your thermal eyes throughout the process.
Another lifeline for cold weather grilling is a thermal blanket. These grill insulators cost $80 – $100 and cover the grill lid during cooking, acting as a barrier from the environment. They work wonderfully and are a sound investment year-round for more precise grilling, especially on windy days. If you want a more rustic solution, grab a few gardening bricks, wrap them in aluminum foil, and line the back and sides of your grill with them. Preheat your grill a few minutes longer than usual to heat up the bricks, then proceed as normal. The bricks will help the internal temperature of the grill rebound from inrushes of cold air and provide some insulation from the environment.
There are a few food combinations to be conscious of when grilling in colder conditions. Because moisture becomes more of an issue, vegetables will steam more than sear. The use of a grill basket or foil packet will aid in wicking away that moisture. Also note that when grilling with veggies in the mix, the overall grilling environment will be damper. Foods like steak that crave a hard sear will be most affected by the higher humidity, as the non-grate side will potentially lose some of that char.
There is one grilled food, however, that I prefer in the winter: pizza. Pizza cooks quickly and requires minimal flipping, meaning fewer lid lifts. It also doesn’t depend on a hard sear and thrives in both moist and dry cooking atmospheres. The recipe below has been optimized for pizza grilling and is a crowd-pleaser. Toppings are up to the chef, but this is not the time to load up the pie with the entire garden. Instead, choose 1-3 quality cheeses and toppings to enjoy a classic Neapolitan-style pizza.
*Note: When making the below recipe, we’re referring to this Brooklyn-Style Pizza Dough.
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes (and 24 hours rest time)
- ½ batch Brooklyn Style Pizza Dough (recipe linked above)
- 4 oz. fresh mozzarella
- 1 oz. grated Parmesan
- 4 slices prosciutto (1 oz.)
- 4 dates, chopped
Prepare dough per recipe. Remove from refrigeration 1-2 hours before grilling.
Preheat your gas grill on high for 10 minutes or build a medium-large fire with charcoal (500 degrees is the goal.) Remove any upper racks and ensure the grates are spotless (any little bit will make your pizza stick).
As the grill heats, roll out your pizza dough using a rolling pin to about 12 inches wide (or smaller if your grill can’t take it) and as thin as you can. (I use two stacked quarters as a thickness guide.) Place the dough on your peel/pan, and make sure the dough can slide off easily, using flour on the pan/peel as needed.
Stage all of your toppings grill side. Lift the grill lid, dip a few paper towels in the oil and brush the oil directly onto the grates. Close the lid and let heat for two minutes.
After the two minutes are up, gently slide the dough onto the grates. Let the dough cook for one minute, then open the lid and check the underside of the pizza. It should be a little dark, but not fully burnt. Depending on the thickness of your dough, cook for another 30 seconds, then remove the dough from the grill using a spatula. Close grill.
Flip the dough, place back onto the pan/peel, top the grilled side with toppings and slide back onto the grates. The second cook will take 3-4 minutes, as the grill has cooled (which is good for melting cheese). If the pizza needs more time (but the crust is done), turn off the grill, place the pizza on a pan and set in the grill to coast through. Cut pizza immediately and enjoy.
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