The trick is to smoke the meat and not make the meat smoke

Coldest Yet

First Image
Last Saturday while enjoying grilled hamburgers with my parents, I decided hotdogs would be a good way to test my grill in the coldest weather yet. They were predicting single digits for the next Saturday. My mother asked if I’d even be able to use the grill for our weekly get together. I figured if the gas grill wasn’t up to the task I could always cook them on the stove using my grill pan. So this blog will be a little bit about attempt two at the hot dog rolls and grilling in the coldest weather yet for me.


One thing I needed to figure out was how to make these rolls brown better. I was going to try butter next time.

One of the things I’d said is I wouldn’t attempt baking my own hot dog rolls until I had hamburger rolls down. This happy situation occurred last Saturday and that was why I thought of hotdogs when my mom asked if I’d even be able to cook in single digits. I usually try to test something new out once before I victimize others. I made a test batch of hotdog rolls (see
HOT DOG blog entry) last weekend as a dry run for doing them for my parents this weekend. The rolls turned out successfully but they were a bit of an adventure. They behaved very strangely during the kneading process, had an odd consistency and also didn’t brown as fast as I expected. I had no idea what caused the latter, but I was convinced that the potato flakes caused the kneading problem and.odd consistency. I figured it was their larger volume which caused the odd behavior while kneading. It absorbed the water more slowly than a flour and also made the dough more sticky and tacky like mashed potatoes. The potato flakes were a substitute if you couldn’t get potato flour.


It turned out using the potato starch vs. the potato flakes solved the browning problem. The rise was better with the potato starch too. The browning occurred in 6 minutes sooner than the other picture above.

My mission during the week was locate potato flour. Or if I couldn’t find the potato flour, my approach was going to be to grinding the potato flakes in a spice grinder. During the week I found some at my supermarket, just not with the flours where I had looked the first time around. A friend who bakes, suggested the area in the market where they have bulk grains. Sure enough there were additional types of flour here. It turns out the potato flour has been renamed as potato starch but the description on the back of the package showed it being used as flour for breads. Just in case there was a problem, I would leave enough time to pop around the corner to grab some store bought rolls at the Quickie Mart.


The first batch of rolls had less of a second rise and didn’t rise at all while baking.

As it turns out the potato starch made a huge difference in the kneading process and the doughs consistency. It behaved like the other doughs I have played with and seemed to be ready sooner that the 10 minutes in the recipe. The dough wasn’t what I might call shiny like the recipe mentioned but it seemed okay. After 8 minutes the dough seemed good to go and I added it to a greased bowl for it’s first rise. I covered the bowl and popped it into my oven and turned the oven light on to add a small amount of heat. It had doubled its volume in an hour so things were looking good. Things turned a bit dicey when I tried to fit the dough in the hot dog pan. It didn’t want to fill the pan and kept springing back away from the edges. I had to press it down a little thin towards the middle to give me more dough to work with on the outside. This worked and I put a sheet pan on top of the hot dog pan and added both to the oven for a second rise of between 1 to 1 1/2 hours. I lifted the top pan after 45 minutes and found the dough in the middle had risen to the underside of the pan. After one hour it had risen to pretty much fill the entire pan.


The second batch of rolls using potato starch rose more during the second rise and even further while baking.

The surprise of the day was during the baking process. Last weekend the rolls didn’t seem to want to brown. The recipe called for an 18 minute bake with the pan covered plus a few additional minutes to brown if required. When I pulled the pan off last time the dough hadn’t risen and the even more surprising hadn’t browned at all. I pulled the rolls last time after an additional 9 minutes. They never really did brown totally evenly on the bottom, but I was afraid I’d burn the other sides in contact with the pan. When the dough pulled back from the edges of the pan I pulled the dough from the oven. the upper part of the dough was a nice golden brown. The reason the top didn’t brown was a mystery that I figured would remain unsolved. this time around when I pulled the pan off the dough had risen to pretty much fill the pan except at one end and the color was already a golden brown. I gave it another 3 minutes uncovered but the dough pulled away from the pan meaning it was time.


While my second batch of rolls still needs a little bit of fine tuning, I now feel confident I can do them reliably. This means I may move on to learning to make sub rolls for steak and cheese or whole grain bread for paninis-both meals cooked on the grill of course.

While the dough was cooling, I fired up the grill. The temps had risen a little higher than originally forecast: It was a warm 12 degrees (-11 C) instead of 6-8 (-14 to -13 C) as predicted. So while it wasn't as cold as I had hoped for this little experiment it was still 6 degrees colder than I had cooked in before. One sidebar here is to mention that I was very careful last week when covering my grill. It was snowing when I made the hotdogs. I let the storm end before I recovered the grill and I was very careful to brush the snow off the grill completely so the dampness wouldn’t freeze and seal the cover to the grill. Don’t ask me how I know this, but it is key to successful winter grilling. I went through the procedures I have found to work well for my grill in the cold weather:

  • Preheat the grill a little longer, so far 5 minutes seems to do it.
  • Set the temperatures knobs slightly higher, but not much higher than you would during warm weather.
  • Light more burners to make up for the temperature drops around the edges. This way the area you want to cook on will be uniform temperature.
  • Be prepared to add a slight amount of time to cook. So far this actually hasn’t been more than you might run into on a regular day where something just seems to take a little more time.
  • Lately I have been opening the valve on the propane tank an extra half turn to make it easier for the propane to escape. I don’t know yet if this actually helps.

I discovered something interesting with this short cook. Whenever possible I had been trying to keep the lid closed, but I found out yesterday it isn’t 100 percent necessary for direct grilling small items. I had spread my food out so it was in from all the edges and so I had less room than normal. As a result I was browning the buns 3 at a time. One of the things I like about the so called New England style hot dog roll is they are baked as one unit and cut apart. This leaves you with nice soft white sides instead of crust on all sides. You can add some melted butter and toast up these sides on the grill. In warm weather I usually toast them up for about 30 seconds on the grill grate or 2 minutes or so on the bun rack. I figured the bun rack was out in the cold weather due to it’s distance from the grill grate and honestly I like the wider grill marks I get from the main grill grate. Because I had to be flipping or swapping out the buns every 30 seconds, and turning the dogs every 2 minutes; the lid was not down very long. Finally I gave up putting the lid down and the food still cooked up just fine. The dogs continued to sizzle and sear up nicely and the rolls still took 30 seconds or so to toast. I was also seeing this when I made chicken wings but then low tank pressure changed the dynamics of that cook. But today I found the grill was still up to searing small thin items just fine with the lid up. While I will cover up whenever possible, I now know it is not 100 percent essential.


The great thing about New England style hotdog rolls is being able to toast the sides of the rolls on the grill.

A couple of other things I do in this cold weather has to do with handling the food. For example when the buns are toasted I bring them right in instead of letting them sit out in the cold. When my food is cooked I grab a warm plate from inside the house to plate the hot food off the grill. If the recipe calls for a mop or a glaze it stays in the Kitchen until I need it, then it goes right back inside. So a few extra trips into the house but not a biggie.


Even at 12 degrees (-11 C) the hotdogs still took around 2 minutes a side. In fact I could have dialed the temps down just a bit.

So how were the dogs? In a word great. Just like the 4th of July. I’d dialed up the temperature knobs one mark (of three total) higher than medium. This may have even been slightly high, because the dogs seared up a little faster than I am used to. The rolls toasted up nicely in their usual 30 seconds. So other than my standing out in the cold and taking a few extra steps it was business as usual. This weather we just had was supposed to be the coldest weather of the year. Since we don’t have that much more time left where it gets real cold, I may have to wait till next winter to try grilling in even colder temps. I think I don’t mind waiting. If it does get colder, I’ll try something on the grill and report success or failure here. Meanwhile if you are reading this you should runs some tests with your grill and see how low you can go. I feel rather liberated knowing most days I can now make what I’m in the mood for, not what the weather dictates.

Here are some links for some of my recent blogs which describe what became my on going winter grilling experiment.
  HOT DOG Blog Entry


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