Old Lessons, New Benefits
12/06/09 - 20:45 Filed in: Weather | Cold Weather | Grilling
Yesterday, during our first significant snow storm of the year, I made a meal for my parents, that could have gone seriously off track. I am happy to say it didn’t go of track and the reason was because of some lessons learned in practice cooks when little was at stake. This blog will describe a relatively simple thing that could have gone badly wrong and why it didn’t.
In many of my past blogs, I have mentioned you should go ahead and cook in all kinds of weather even if you don’t have to. It will give you a body of experience that will come in handy when you are forced to cook in this weather. Yesterday was a case in point. I was making a roast recipe: DEVILED PORK LOIN WITH GRILLED POTATOES & ONIONS which was really best suited to outdoor cooking. Earlier in the week when I picked the recipe, I was aware that there was a chance of snow in the evening on Saturday. The snow wasn’t supposed to start until night so I’d be facing some cold weather. By now though I am comfortable grilling in all kinds of weather. At this point unless it was a full out blizzard I was unconcerned. I’d found my grill is able to work well down into the teens.
Saturday arrived and it turned out the weather predictions of snow starting around 7:00 PM were off by about 5 hours. But things were going good: The grill was easily holding 375 degrees (190 C) for medium high, the meat was rising about one degree (0.5 C) a minute once I switched it to medium indirect heat. At 3:30 which was the midpoint of the 90 minute cook, I had to go out and flip the meat. This went well too and I didn’t have to keep the lid open very long at all. Though I expected the meat temps to stop rising for a while after the lid was opened, they began their steady rise rather quickly. Then around 4:00 the temps stopped rising so it was out to the grill to check that the remote read thermometer hadn’t lost it’s signal. For some reason around dusk and dawn, the remote read thermometer tends to lose it’s signal. But the unit at the grill read the same temperature as the remote unit in the Kitchen. It turned out the grill had lost 25 degrees (14 C) which would explain the slower rise. I turned the temperature control knobs up a bit figuring maybe the air temps had dropped a bit now that it was dark. The meat temps finally rose a degree but it took 5 minutes not the one minute I’d had earlier.
A second trip out to the grill showed that turning up the temps had not worked. The temps had actually dropped an additional 25 degrees (14 C). Opening the lid I could see the burners had NOT gone out. Now this cook could have gone downhill fast, or more accurately gone downhill slowly from this point on. I mean this was a bit of a mystery. I had a propane tank that was over half full when I started. I looked and the condensation on the propane tank told me it was just below half full. At this point I could have tried to keep going with a slowly diminishing amount of heat and an elongated cooking time. However prior experience had taught me exactly what was wrong. In warm weather a half full propane tank is fine, you have plenty of pressure to work with. But as I found out last winter when I started experimenting with direct grilling in cold weather, on my grill at least I must have more than a half full tank to get good heat. A quick tanks swap had me back up and running again with quickly rising temperatures. This little bump in the road took less than 15 minutes to find and correct. The roast finished in the predicted amount of time plus the 15 minutes lost with the variable temps.
I was quite happy about not loosing much time to this problem. I have mentioned many times in many blogs that you should: a) get to know your grill, b) grill in all kinds of weather even if you don’t have to-the experience will come in handy someday and c) I like to practice with dry run cooks, before making something for guests. This day reinforced all three of these messages. I already knew my grill could hold these kind of temps even down to 20 degrees below where things were this day. My practice grilling in several snow storms when I could have called Domino’s instead had taught me some useful lessons. I learned the grill could easily hold temps even in heavy snow. In wet weather my biggest problem was housing my thermometer’s base station in a waterproof container to keep it dry. As for this days problem: I’d discovered last December during a recreational grilling of some chicken breasts that the propane tank looses pressure once it gets to the 50 percent mark. I was having no problem searing some chicken breasts in 25 degree temps and suddenly the sounds and the smells stopped coming from the grill. It reminded me of the summer when you are trying to grill with a propane tank running on fumes. The mystery here was this day the tank was half full. As a guess I swapped out the tank and was quickly back up and running. Doing a little research proved my theory to be right. Now I make sure to always have a full tank on hand because I can only use half a tank at a time.
So by learning about my grill from recreationally grilling in all kinds of good, and more importantly, bad weather I was able to quickly prevent a small problem from becoming a big one. This day really made all of my various experiments worth it. There is no way I would have figured this out without what came before. Happily we had a great dinner and it took only 15 minutes to diagnose and fix the problem. This is why you should just get out and grill whenever you can and take in all the valuable lessons that will inevitably come your way.
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