Winter Grilling 101

Don't let the cold air scare you away from your grill. Get out there and light that fire. See more grilling steak pictures.
Don't let the cold air scare you away from your grill. Get out there and light that fire. See more grilling steak pictures.
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Ah, the joy of grilling. Food just seems to taste better when you put a fire under it, and who could complain about the mouthwatering aroma or the slanting char marks that announce that a primo meal is in the offing? But wait, the delicious prospect of grilling dinner outdoors is at the whim of the weather and the seasons. Or is it?

Winter grilling has caught on in a big way, and part of the fun, or challenge, may be just braving the elements -- or at least the frosty back patio.


Is This a Guy Thing?

From summer weekend entertainment to an all-season obsession, grilling is breaking into new territory. The grilling business, fueled by $2 billion plus in annual sales, is leveraging new trends and technologies, like outdoor kitchens and infrared grills, into a year-round industry. The can-do attitude of its key customers -- men -- is helping to make grilling in harsh winter conditions a mark of male distinction and a growing suburban pastime.

Where did all this start? Some argue that the development of the gas grill made grilling easier when temperatures plummet, but the burgeoning popularity of barbecued fare probably made its own contribution to the trend [source: Fletcher].

The advantages of grilling don't end after Labor Day. What better way to get the best use from that expensive grill setup than to use it all year? Budget-friendly meats, like burgers and brats, as well as pricier cuts benefit from this cooking method. And with just a few tools and a little judicious experimentation, you can create a culinary masterpiece in minutes without a sink full of dishes. For the dedicated grilling enthusiast, turning to the broiler or skillet, even when there's snow on the ground, just isn't an option.

Winter Grilling Tips

Winter grilling can be more challenging than just throwing a few hot dogs on the coals. Beyond having a warm coat ready by the door, keep a few things in mind:

  • Invest in a quality grill. Where the old-fashioned brazier grill piled high with briquets might have worked on the fourth of July, a winter grill should be made of sterner stuff. Opt for a gas grill with a cast-iron grate and the highest British thermal unit (or BTU, the heating value) rating that you can afford. You want a grill that will heat up fast and retain as much heat as possible throughout the cooking process.
  • Don't expect the grill to do all the work. If your grilling area has a coating of snow, clear it away before you start cooking. This will help you preheat the grill efficiently and may help avoid slips when all that melted snow freezes into ice later.
  • Dress for the job. Wear a warm jacket, but be careful of any dangling fabric that could catch fire. Leave the scarf indoors, and select a cover-up with an elastic band around the wrist or a button closure.

Do You Have to Go Outdoors to Grill?

The short answer is no. Many newer range setups have onboard grills, and the huge popularity of small, indoor, electric grills, like the George Foreman grill, have successfully expanded the geography of grilling to the kitchen countertop. Although purists scoff at these pale indoor attempts to grill meat, fat- and calorie-conscious Americans looking for a healthier way to prep protein are finding this approach almost irresistible.

Regardless of what the calendar says, grilling is an American favorite, and whether you're cooking a whole turkey for Christmas or planning on skewering a few cocktail wieners to enjoy during the big game, a clean grate, even heat and some sizzle are all you need to make a memorable meal.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Barbecued Pulled Pork
  • Barbecued Meatballs
  • Barbecued Ribs
  • Barbecue Sauce
  • Zesty Barbecued Shrimp
  • Tips for Building a Backyard Barbecue


  • Christensen, Emma. "Winter Grilling in the Fireplace." The Kitchen. 1/15/09. 9/29/09.
  • Davidson. "The Oxford Companion to Food." Oxford University Press. 1999.
  • Fein, Ronnie. The Complete Idiot's Guide to Cooking Basics." Alpha Books. 1997.
  • Fletcher, June. " Pricey New Gadgets Heat Up Winter Grilling." The Wall Street Journal Online. Undated. 9/30/09.
  • Gill, Brian H. " Easy Griller. 2005. 9/26/09.
  • Home Basics. "Fire & Ice: The Winter Grilling Guide." Undated. 9/30/09.
  • Sunset Books. "The Ultimate Grill Book." Lane Publishing. 1989.