The trick is to smoke the meat and not make the meat smoke
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More Winter Grilling

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I have been a bit fixated on direct Winter Grilling since discovering it was possible with my current gas grill. This blog entry will talk about my New Years grill & smoke where the air temps were in the teens and the winds were up in the 20’s (-4 C). It was a good thing I didn’t pay more attention to the weather or I would have been more nervous going into New Years. I was originally planning on making my beef tenderloin for late New Year’s Eve afternoon, but we ended up getting around 8” of snow during that same time. Rather than have my parents out trying to drive in the middle of that storm, I postponed dinner one day until New Year;s Day. Now even though it was bad driving, I was still able to make something. I did Chicken Breasts on the smoker.

“Second

The warmest part of New Years Day featured temps in the mid-teens (-9 C) and winds at around 20 MPH (32 kph). Not much sun is getting through the trees either.


When I ever heard on New years Eve that it was going to be single digits (-15 C) to teens (-9 C) for the air temps and winds in the 20 MPH (32 kph) range on New Years Day, I got nervous. The only good news to be had, was late afternoon when I would be attempting this was going to be the warmest (relatively speaking) part of the day. I had recently found my current gas grill is up to grilling in the cold. The one thing that seems to have the biggest affect is the pressure in the propane tank. When I was making my chicken wings earlier in the week, I found the tank ran out of punch at the 1/3 filled mark. This was with air temps in the 30’s and the big question was: what would air temperatures in the teens do to tank pressures and how much of the tank would be useful at that temp? This recipe had you start off by searing the meat under direct heat and then finishing the roast under indirect heat. I was concerned whether I’d get enough heat to sear the meat well at those air temps.

“Third

I’ve used the gas grill as a wind screen before but today I needed to cook the main dish on the gas grill.


The second concern was the wind, while winds in the 20’s (32 kph) were half what I faced for Christmas Day, they were still nothing to sneeze at. I planned to do things a little different with the smoker. I was also concerned about the indirect grilling part of the roast cook. Winds like that can blow out the burners and I like to have as many of the 6 burners lit as possible under those conditions. If one blows out there is always one on either side to reignite it. To cook this roast indirectly I needed to turn off the middle tow burners, leaving 1,2,5 & 6 lit. What if a strong gust blew out both burners on one side because I didn’t have the 3rd and 4th burners as backup. Fortunately I found a solution that served the needs of both the smoker and the gas grill nicely.

“Fourth

The gas grill made an expensive but quite effective wind screen. The temps started climbing much faster once I positioned the grill as shown. If you are going to be doing much smoking in the Winter, you should come up with a sturdy non-flammable wind screen.


I’d fired up the smoker in the early afternoon using about double the normal amount of charcoal briquettes. The smoker temps were rising somewhat faster than my last two cooks, but were still rising slower than I had hoped for. Every time the wind would whip up, it would knock the smoker temps down 15 or 20 degrees (8 or 11 C) and they would have to start climbing back up. I’ve sometimes used the gas grill as a wind screen for the smoker, but today I would be cooking on it and needed to stand in front of it where I usually move the smoker. Suddenly a win win solution presented itself. I ended up moving the gas grill so the front side was perpendicular to the wind direction and the back was facing the smoker. Normally I face the front towards the smoker, but today it was better to face the back that way. The back side of the grill has many vents and on a windy day these can let in gusts that blow out one or more burners. I now had these vents facing away from the wind direction. I also could turn the CG perpendicular to the wind direction and move it up real close to the gas grill which would act as a wind screen. The front of the gas grill was facing away from the smoker allowing me access to the grill to cook. It turned out the one solution solved two problems. With the wind screen in place, the temps in the smoker started rising more like they do in normal weather.

“Fifth

The only problem direct grilling the meat wasn’t due to cold weather, but it didn’t want to stand up on 2 of the 4 sides. The sear turned out well and in a reasonable amount of time.


With the smoker under control, I had to wait a few hours to see if the gas grill would work alright in these temps. I went about my prep tasks and went out extra early to see if the gas grill would light. At first the igniter would not make a spark and I was thinking I’d need to use a match, but suddenly the burner lit, albeit slowly. As I turned on adjacent burners one by one, they too took a while to light and did not seem to make as much flame as normal. I set the knobs for high and when the gauge on the lid said 400 (205 C) I turned them down to one notch above medium. I came back out after 30 minutes to hold my hand a couple inches over the grill grate and check the temps. I had been able to achieve Medium heat and better yet, it was uniform across the grill grate except for the very edges. I oiled the grill grate thoroughly so I didn’t have to waste time and heat prying a stuck piece of meat off the grill to turn it. The roast recipe had you spray the meat with olive oil which also would help keep it from sticking.

“Sixth

Once again no weather related problems during the indirect grill phase. The roast was so long I had trouble squeezing it in the space between the unlit burners. Using remote thermometers (probe seen in end of meat) allowed me to observe this phase from the warmth of the Kitchen.


At this point my potatoes had been on the smoker for two hours plus. I had intentionally put them on the colder end of the smoker and if anything I figured I’d have to take steps to slow down the cooking. I was trying out a dessert recipe for smoke roasted apples and when I went to put those on the smoker. I gave the potatoes a poke with a fork. They were not as far along as I expected, which was a surprise. I moved them down closer to the Side Firebox where the grill is hotter. The apples were an experiment that I really didn’t have much hope for on this, their first outing. The recipe I was using cooked them on a charcoal grill indirectly at a much higher heat than the 225 (110 C) of my smoker. The estimated time was 1-1/2 to 2 hours at 350 (175 C). I had an apple dessert recipe in a smoker cookbook that said 1 to 1-1/2 hours at 225 (110 C) . Now it would seem that more time at a higher temp and less time at a lower would be a contradiction. So I had no idea what the time would be. I figure longer at lower made the most sense and it would be at least 2 hours. They could also be 4 hours. So these apples were an experiment piggy-backing on top of the smoked potatoes’ run on the CG. I didn’t know what to expect and if they didn’t come out there was other dessert.

When I brought the roast out to the grill and placed it on the hot grates I heard the gratifying sound of meat searing and could smell some of the rub being cooked. The grate seemed to be hot enough to perform as hoped for. I checked at the 5 minutes recommended by the recipe and the first side looked great. Turning it to the second side presented a bit of a problem. The roast was not perfectly cylindrical but more oval in shape. It would not stand upright on that side, so I had to prop it up with some tongs. Not a biggie but it meant I couldn’t close the lid completely. I let this side sear and extra minute and did the same for the 4th side. The roast looked great after all four side were done and it didn’t stick at all.

“Seventh

When I put on the apples I moved the potatoes to the warmer side of the grill. Knowing you grill allows you to speed up or slow down the cooking process.


It was time to turn off the two center burners and start the indirect phase of the cook. I had brought out two temperature probes for my remote read thermometers and put one well into each end of the roast. The roast was too long to run side to side, as the two ends would then fall over lit burners 2 and 5. Turning it 90 degrees it would be too long to physically fit on the grill. So I had to lay it on the grill at a diagonal. While I was searing the meat I had to stay at the grill, but the nice part about the indirect thermometers is I could monitor things from the warmth of the Kitchen and enjoy some of the home made onion soup my mother brought. One of the things I like about big roasts you cook to 140 (60 C) or so, is once the temperatures start rising, they generally rise in a very linear fashion. So it makes it fairly straight forward to predict your end time. In my case I had to know when there was 10 minutes to go so I could apply the grade. I started a timer on my iPhone when the temp changed and timed how long it took to go up a degree. It was rising a degree every 45 seconds. I left the timer running to insure this was consistent over a few readings Then I did a little math and figured that at 1 degree every 45 seconds, that would be about 13 degrees in 10 minutes. The iPhone has a calculator too.

“Eighth

The roast had a wonderful sear and basically cooked up almost like it was the summer time. The snow on the ground was a clue it wasn't.


So when the meat was in the low 120’s (49 C) that meant it had 10 minutes to go and it was tie to apply the glaze. With these frigid temps make sure to keep the glaze and the brush you plan to use inside and warm until you are actually ready to use it. I went over and checked on the potatoes in the smoker and they were getting close to done as well. The fork was penetrating the skin fairly easily now. I could potentially leave them in the extra 10 minutes while the meat rested too. As for the apples they were getting soft when I squeezed them, but Steven Raichlen called it the Charmin test and they were not yet squeezably soft like a roll of Charmin. I figured I’d check in another half hour when dinner was over and they should be perfect.

I also checked the propane tank level and I could tell by the condensation it was still over half full. Despite the cold I was happy to note that the grill took longer to warm up, but was able to hold the right temps once it had done so. Friday at around 30 degrees (-1 C) the propane in the tank didn’t have enough pressure to do a warm flame when the tank was 1/3 full. At this temperature I don’t know if the tank would have lasted even to the 1/3 level. But I had a full spare tank at the ready. In the Winter I may not get as much bang for my buck out of the tank of propane, but being able to grill throughout the winter is worth it.

“Ninth

My latest grill is making year round direct grilling a new reality.


Back to the roast it finished up right on time in the 10 minutes calculated and came in for a 10 minute rest before carving. It was cooked to 135 (57 C) and where this is on the rare side I double checked the readings with an instant read thermometer once I was inside the house. The potatoes came in off the smoker when I was finished carving the meat and they were all set. As for the roast this was the best tenderloin recipe I’ve made to date. These roasts are good but pricy so I tend to make them for Christmas or New Years. For several years I made the Holiday Pink Peppercorn Roast which was indirect grilled the entire time. I never tried one of the recipes that called for a direct grill sear, first because I didn’t think I could do that in the winter. Recent discoveries (as can be seen from the blog links below) have shown otherwise. This roast was cut with fork tender and had a wonderful blend of sweet & hot. This was one of the most tender roasts I have made and I think that the 24 hour marinade didn’t hurt.

The apples were squeezably soft and passed the Charmin test at the two hour mark. This was one of the best dessert that I have ever tasted. It had a great blend of sweet, tart, & smokey. The best part is it’s easy to throw together and apples don’t take up much room so you can slip them on the smoker most anytime you are cooking something else.

“Tenth

These smoke roasted apples are a great ending to a wonderful meal. They are so easy to make you can do them any time.


After al the grilling and smoking I’ve done and documented here in the last couple weeks, I am looking at winter differently. No longer do I feel like I have to cut the menu choices way down for the winter. Being able to use the grill for direct grilling all winter is H-U-G-E for me. I am sure at some point I will run into some low temperature mark under which this gas grill won’t work, but I am going to keep experimenting (and writing about it here) until I do. At this point my direct grilling low limit has gone from below about 50 degrees (10 C) to the mid teens (-9 C). That opens up a lot more days that I can grill whatever I’d like, Much colder than 15 degrees (-9 C) and it may not be the grill that is the limit. I may decide it is too cold for me, not the grill. I hope not, but you never know.


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