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

Winter Direct Grilling - 2011

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This blog entry will describe some recent cooks where I pushed the envelope a bit and did some direct grilling with the lid up in the cold weather. I had learned back in 2008 that my grill was up to doing more than just indirect grilling in the cold weather. But to be honest I never imagined I’d be able to grill food AND keep the lid open for long periods of time. The last 3 cooks I have done have actually shown me it is possible, at least under certain conditions. I will still need to see exactly what the limits are, but that is a blog entry for another day.
To be honest I sort of backed in to my recent discovery about open lid direct grilling in the Winter. I was looking for what to make this past weekend and I found two great sounding recipes from SERIOUS BARBECUE. The first was PEACH GLAZED TENDERLOIN and the second was MASHED SWEET POTATOES. I found them early in the week and told folks what we were having. It wasn’t until later in the week, while typing the recipes into my recipe software, that the light bulb went off. I realized with the amount of turning, brushing, basting and stirring I’d need to do for both recipes, that the grill lid would be open most of the time. I was thinking of changing my plans, but I decided to go for. After all It might be a good learning experience for me. I jokingly thought I’d better write down the number for Domino’ s. I could always call them from the grill if it turned out it was a bad learning experience. Before buying the meat, I’d look to see that it wasn’t going to be too cold or at all windy. I would be grilling right at sunset and the temps would be in the low 30’s (0 C) going down to high 20’s (-2 C) during that time period. It would be calm with no winds.



Finishing the Mashed Sweet Potatoes in a Dutch Oven on the grill with the lid open proved to be no problem at all.

The sweet potatoes required about a 50 minute stay in the grill using 375 degree indirect heat. This was the only part of the cook I knew I could pull off without any difficulty. Indirect grilling was the only way I used to use my grill in the winter. Once the sweet potatoes were done, I needed to direct grill a banana for 15 minutes. There was no problem here either since this was done with the lid down too. The next step was to increase the grill temp to high and heat up a pan on the grill for 5 minutes. Once the pan was heated all of the ingredients would be added to finish off the MASHED SWEET POTATOES.. This is when my secret weapon came into play: a combination Infra Red / Instant read thermometer. I’ve written several blog entries about this device and I will provide links to those two blog entries and some of my other Winter Grilling blog entries at the end of this blog entry. My gas grill has 6 powerful burners which can reach over 900 degrees (482 C) in the summer when they are al set to high. In the winter with the cold weather lowering the gas pressure, 500-600 degrees (260-316 C) is the best I can do. The settings on the knob are totally arbitrary no matter what the time of year. Some cookbooks will have you do the hand test, where you see how many seconds you can hold your hand above the grill before having to pull it away. From this they derive the heat. In the Winter I was always afraid the cold air would increase the time you could hold your hand over the grate and give a less than accurate reading. Fortunately for me, Adam Perry Lang gives you a temperature he is looking for when he calls out low, medium or high heat. With my infra red thermometer, I can shoot the temperature right at the grill grate and tweak until I match the desired reading. Also while cooking I can reshoot the grate temperature to insure the open lid hasn’t affected it too much. To hit the 525 degree (274 C) heat I was looking for, the knobs were 1 notch below high. In the summer this would have been 850 degrees (454 C), so you can see why I needed to use the infra red thermometer.


The pork tenderloins grilled without a hitch with the lid open. I kept the foil pan with glaze the glaze off to the side over an unlit burner to help keep it warm without bringing it to a boil.

Once the sweet potatoes were mashed it was time to grill the pork loin. For this I was shooting for Medium High or around 487 degrees (253 C). On this particular day with these outdoor air temps, this actually equally the Medium High setting on the knob. The pork tenderloins were to be direct grilled for about 2 minutes a side x 4 sides and they get basted with butter after turning. Throw in my taking some photos and for all intents and purposes this meant the lid was up just about the whole time. I did shoot the grate temps and they seemed to be holding steady at the grate level even with the lid up, so it looked like I’d be able to pull this cook off. One thing that helped with the grate temps is that there are high backs and sides on my grill and even at the front there is some protection since the grates are recessed 1 1/2” (3.75 cm). After marking all the sides the tenderloins are dredged in a glaze and then grilled for another 8 minutes or so. After cooking one side for 2 minutes the pork got pulled and dredged in the glaze again before turning. I’d lit the 4 middle burners to cook the pork and I put the foil pan with the glazing liquid over the outer most unlit burner to help keep the glaze warm. Putting cold liquid on the pork would have slowed things down considerably. I was pleased to see when the 8 minutes was up that the tenderloins were just hitting 145 degrees. The infra red thermometer also has a very fast instant read temperature probe, which was the original reason I bought it. This pays off in the cold weather or if you don’t want to overcook something while waiting for a reading. The food was excellent and it wasn’t a big deal to cook it so I’d learned that at least on a calm day cold day I could keep the lid open for thin foods that stay close to grate level.


The only surprise during this cook was the quickness with which flareups occurred & their intensity.


Aside from the flareups there were no surprises. The grate & griddle temps were right on the mark & the burgers cooked up exactly as described in the recipe.

When I was looking through SERIOUS BARBECUE for the pork loin recipes I’d found Adam Perry Lang’s take on a perfect burger: BURGERS WITH GRIDDLED ONIONS . Like the pork tenderloins, it involved quick turns and basting often. So once again the lid would need to be open throughout most of the cook. After my success the day before with the pork tenderloins, I didn’t think twice about attempting this recipe. This time I was cooking 3 hours after sunset and the temps would be in the low to mid 20’s (-4 to -6 C), but no winds. The burgers were to be direct grilled on high for 2 minutes a side and then transferred to a griddle and finished for 4 to 6 minutes per side on high. There was a basting butter that got applied while the patties were on the griddle. Throw in some pictures and I knew the lid would be open most of the time. Unlike the pork tenderloin, I was confident I could do this, I just might need to extend the cooking time due to the cold. I shot the grill grates and griddle to make sure they were both at high. I went one notch below high and like the day before this got me the 525 degrees (274 C) I was shooting for. With one exception it was a by the book, uneventful cook. The exception was the massive flareups I got from the 73 percent lean ground beef used in the recipe. Actually the flareups weren’t unexpected, but they happened immediately and were bigger than expected. I didn’t sweat this because the burgers were over the open grate for only two minutes a side. I also thought that moving them would only increase the flareups. I just donned my longest pair of BBQ gloves when it came time to move them. This was wise because the flareups only increased when I slid the burgers onto the spatula to flip them. Once the burgers were on the griddle the drama was over. They cooked in exactly the amount of time the recipe called for which was to be expected. After all I had made the patties the same size and thickness, I used the exact same cooking temperature. I was quite happy because this exercise of the last two days has increased the possibilities of what I can cook in the winter.

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As you can see here, there was a big difference in temperature between the back of the grill and the middle & front.

The first full day of winter promised temps in the mid 50’s (13 C) and I knew I couldn’t let that pass without grilling something. I couldn’t even wait for lunch, I wanted breakfast. I had some extra Granny Smith apple left from another recipe and I’d found a recipe for GRILLED APPLE HOTCAKES that used green apples. I had everything else needed on hand, so it was kismet. When I went out to grill it was 53 degrees (12 C) and there were some gentle breezes. I figured after my last two cooks, this would be uneventful. I had higher air temps and I was cooking at only 350 degrees (177 C). This time I was in for a bit of a surprise. I poured out the batter for 6 hotcakes and found that the batter for the 2 hotcakes closest to the back wall of the grill were cooking much faster than the two in the middle and the front. I was able to cook everything, but it took twice as long for the two front rows. Right now I have two possible theories, both involve the wind. The first is the wind alone was causing the problem. I am discounting this theory until additional evidence shows me otherwise. I mean it was relatively warm out. The second theory is that I was running low on propane, the pressure in the tank was dropping and my cooking temperatures were dropping. When the pressure gets too low in the tank you get a flame but very little heat. The wind, though relatively light, was having an effect on the temps and the flame wasn’t hot enough to compensate. I was still getting some heat from the flame, but it was less and the wind had more effect than it normally would have. The back portion of the grill, with its high wall, would contain the heat better and there was less of a temperature loss. I didn’t have time to shoot the grates to get a better handle on what was going on. I really wish I’d had the time. I was able to increase the heat and speed things up a bit on the front burners, but I was a bit surprised at what had happened. But despite this little hiccup everything turned out great. I will need to do some more cooks to see what was behind this. If I had to guess right now I think it was the low propane plus wind theory.



It pays to do a little experimentation. Until this past weekend I wouldn’t have thought I’d be able to grill any of the great dishes in the winter. Now lots of possibilities present themselves.

So if you have a grill that puts out a decent amount of heat in the warmer weather, you should see if you can do some open lid direct grilling in the cold weather too. Just be sure your propane tank is more than half full, since this seems to be the point where you don’t get much heat due to the low pressure. Also I wouldn’t do this for an important family or holiday meal. Do some practice runs when it isn’t a big deal if you crash and burn, or in this case don’t burn may be more appropriate. I’m happy because my list of things I can’t grill in the winter just got a lot smaller. So a little experimentation on your part may broaden your horizons, which is never a bad thing.


Here are some links for earlier entries on winter grilling as well as the entry on the infra red / instant read thermometer.


  MEASURING UP 2010 Blog Entry
  HIGH TECH THERMO 2009 Blog Entry


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