Cold Weather Cooking on the BGE - Summary
Now that the days are getting longer and winter is turning to spring, I figured I would write a follow up to my earlier blog COLD WEATHER COOKING ON THE BIG GREEN EGG. I have now had a full winters worth of cooking on the Big Green Egg and I will admit to being rather surprised at how similar the experience is to using it in the summer. I shouldn’t be surprised though. People I trusted told me there was little difference, but after years using other gear this claim seemed to good to be true. I joked in the first blog that the only difference between cooking in the summer and cooking in the winter is the cook (you) has to dress more warmly in the winter. Basically with one exception I will discuss in a minute, I was able to cook whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I have written before about achieving some degree of weather independence. But the Big Green Egg has allowed me to pretty much totally achieve it.
Lighting: My gas grill sometimes took longer to light because the gas pressure was lower and the strength of the batteries were affected by the cold. It would take longer for the gas to make it through the gas line and at a lower pressure, plus the clicking noise of the igniter firing was noticeably slower. In the extreme cold I needed to resort to hand lighting it a couple times.
My smoker was also affected by the cold weather because the coals took longer to ash over and be ready in the charcoal chimney. Depending on the brand of charcoal, it would take anywhere from 5 minutes longer to nearly double the time. Stubbs was the brand that took nearly double the time and it also took the longest time to light in the warm weather too.
The BGE lights identically in the cold weather. The only thing that affected lighting the Egg was the wind and this is a year round issue with the Egg and my other grills. It wasn’t the grill wouldn’t light, but the wind blows out the flame on the lighter. When it was windy and cold I would have trouble lighting the lighter I used-once again this was not a problem with the Egg, but the lighter. It was also true when I used the lighter when trying to light a charcoal chimney. The lighter would be hard to light and the flame would blow out almost immediately. I thought this might be less of a problem with the Egg where you were lighting the lighter inside the cooking chamber. The flame would blow out here on a windy day too, so I guess there was enough of a “drafty” draft getting into the cooking chamber to still cause problems. But in general trying to light charcoal on a windy day is more problematic in any weather on any grill. As long as you get a good steady flame the Egg has no other issues lighting in the cold weather, whereas my other grills did have additional issues in the cold weather.
Warmup: Here is an area where I was pleasantly surprised and a bit shocked. So far the coldest weather I’ve cooked in was 3 F (-16C) . The Egg apparently takes no longer to warmup in the cold weather than the warm weather. The reason I say apparently is I didn’t stand outside with a stop watch to time this to the second. From my observations the warm up time was the same. This rule of thumb was permanently etched into my brain when I made my first pizza on my second BGE. I ASSumed the cold weather and the cold platesetter and pizza stone would make the Egg take longer. I gave the Egg an extra 5 minutes before checking on it and I found the thermometer had wrapped around over 360 degrees to over 775 degrees (415 C) and climbing. So you need to watch the egg while it is warming up just the same as you do in the warm weather. This is a big difference from my gas grill or smoker.
In warm weather I used to give the the gas grill 10-15 minutes to warm up, in the cold weather this needed to be extended to 20-25 minutes.
The smoker would take anywhere from a little longer to a lot longer depending on the thermal mass of what else was in the smoker such as a water pan, roast etc.It could sometimes take double the amount of time.
Thermal Mass: By this I mean the thermal mass of cold items that are placed on the grill when the grill is warming up or when you add the item to a pre-heated grill. A typical item for all three grills would be a roast in a cast iron roast pan. For the smoker it could also be a water pan. For the BGE it would be one of the ceramic Eggcessories such as the plate setter or the pizza stone.
On a cold day a large roast on the gas grill might take 15-30 minutes extra to start having it’s temperature rise vs the same roast on a warm day.
On the smoker you are dealing with a lower cooking temperature than a gas grill - 225 vs. 350 (110-175 C) so it takes longer to get the meat’s temperature rising, more like 30-45 minutes.
I’ve only made two large roasts on the Egg - a 13 pound (6 Kg) turkey and a 10 pound (4.5 Kg) standing rib roast, so I don’t have enough information to have a valid opinion. I would guess if there is any difference, it is relatively minor one, if at all. The reason I say this is the Egg takes no longer to warm up with a 1” (2.5 cm) thick ceramic platesetter or pizza stone inside it that are also at air temperature. And remember ceramics are a good insulator, and so they are not easy to warmed up.
Recovery: Recovery is the one area where the BGE has some (to be expected) problems in the cold weather. But first lets define two different types of recovery. There is one time recovery - such as when you lift the lid to add food and reoccurring recovery where you need to lift the lid multiple times to say mop the meat.
The gas grill would lose most of the stored heat inside the lid. It seemed to have about a 10-15 minute recovery time and with this kind of recovery time, you certainly didn’t want this to be a reoccurring event.
My smoker lost most of the heat under the lid and had about a 15-20 minute recovery time, so once again you din’t want this to be a reoccurring event. In the winter I would switch to cooks that required little to no mopping. The only time I would open the lid was to rotate the meat to even out the cooking temperature. My smoker was a horizontal offset smoker, which means the heat source was a side fire box on one end of the smoker. As a result the temperatures within the smoker varied from side to side by 75 degrees (42 C). So it was usually necessary during every cook to rotate the food 180 degrees midway through the total cooking time to even out the cooking. The smoker also usually needed in-flight refueling one or more times during the cook. Depending on how well I pulled this off, it would take as little as 10 minutes to 20 or 30 minutes to get back to 225 (110 C). The Egg is a totally different animal. Lifting the lid to add food causes a 100-150 degree (56-83 C) temperature drop, as opposed to loosing almost all of the heat on my other grills. I think this is due to the heat held inside the ceramic dome, which can be given back to the cooking chamber to speed the recovery. The recovery time is between 5-7 minutes and is not particularly significant. For something like a pizza, where the Egg was stabilized for 30 minutes at it’s 650 degree (345 C) cooking temperature the cooking time was identical to the warm weather time.Yes I did say IDENTICAL. The Egg can go for 10’s of hours on the same load of charcoal, so I should never run into an in-flight refueling temperature loss. As for reoccurring recovery this is the one area that can cause issues for the Egg depending on how often you need to open the lid. I made a pork loin roast, APRICOT CRANBERRY STUFFED PORK LOIN ROAST, which required mopping every 10 minutes. This just wasn’t practical and I was probably silly to even try it in 20 degree (-7 C) weather. In my defense this was the first time I’d tried something like this in cold weather, so I didn’t know exactly what to expect. I ended up mopping every 20 minutes to keep things moving along. So I would never again try something in the cold weather that requires mopping every 10 minutes, but I wouldn’t think twice about doing a cook requiring a mop every 30 minutes or more. So yes I do need to selectively choose the cooks I do in the cold weather, but I am guessing I can make 99 percent of the recipes out there.
Open Lid Grilling: We’ll keep my smoker out of the equation. Although I could direct grill on it, I never chose to do so.
As for the gas grill this would not be practical or possible in the winter. While I would direct grill on the gas grill in the winter, it was NEVER with the lid up. As soon as I got the food on the grill I would close the lid. Otherwise you would be limited to using a small area in the center of the grill.
There is no problem doing open lid grilling on the Egg. Actually for things like burgers or steaks you actually want to close the lid to take advantage of the tight seal on the Egg, which helps hold in the moisture. But on the Egg I am also able to do high temperature cooks like paellas at 400 (205 C) degrees and stir-fries at 650 degrees (345 C) with the lid up the entire time. In fact as I found with my first paella cook, there actually was a heta problem: too much heat. I need to adjust the way I do paella cooks, because this first one was about 50-75 degrees (28-42 C) too HIGH and it was tough getting the temps down. But if you are going to have a “problem” too much heat is better than too little. I can easily adjust for the 50-75 degree (28-42 C) higher temperatures during warmup. I must tell you: it was rather surreal the first time I was standing outside with the air temperature at 3 degrees (-16C) cooking a stir-fry at 650 degrees (345 C) ) with the lid open the entire time.
Hot Spots: During the summer months my gas grill had the most even temperatures of any grill I’ve ever used. I would keep the food in about 1” (2.5 cm) from the front, back and sides of the grill. In the winter I needed to stay in around 6” ( cm) from the edge.
The smoker was a bit different in that I was using it indirectly, but I would still try to keep the food in (6” cm) from the edges in the winter.
Once again the Big Green Egg is a different animal. There are no limitations of the grill itself that prevent you from getting even temperatures across the grill grate in the cold weather. The only limitation has to do with the person lighting the live fire. The temperatures on the BGE are as even as the person lighting the fire achieves - you get an evenly lit bed of charcoals you will have even temps from edge to edge.
High Temperature Cooks: On the gas grill your maximum temperature was a function of the air temperature which affected the pressure of the propane. In the summer on a hot day I could reach 900 (480 C) or more degrees. On cold winter days I was looking at 500-550 (260-290) max - still enough for most cooks, just don’t open the lid very often.
Depending on the charcoal I was using in my smoker I could reach 275-350 degrees (135-180 C) in the warm weather for indirect smoking. In the cold weather it was more like 250-300 degrees (120-150 C). The maximum temps I am listing there were often short term, and it would be work to hold those for extended periods of time.
With the BGE there is no difference due to the insulating properties of the ceramics. None. The limitation would be the maximum burning temperature of the charcoal - around 1,400 degrees (760 C) for lump. I wouldn’t even want to go that high because even a high temperature lid gasket wouldn’t like those temps. The bottom line here is with the gas grill and smoker I had some limits regarding the maximum temperatures I could use in cold weather. There are no such limitations with the Egg.
Consumables: Because the gas grill was uninsulated it took longer to warm up, used more propane to hold a given temperature and got less heat out of the propane due to the lower temperature. The other propane limitation is that you can’t really let the cylinder get below 50 percent full. At that point there is not enough pressure to get useful heat out of the remaining fuel. So you end up having to refill the tank when it is still half full, plus you are using more propane while cooking in that weather.
It was similar with the smoker. It was a real charcoal hog in the Winter. The welder’s blanket was helping with that, but I don’t have enough uses to say how much. I mean even if it got it close to the summer time consumption (which I doubt it would) the Egg still uses far less charcoal than my smoker ever did.
The Egg shows no difference as far as I can tell in it’s winter charcoal usage. This makes sense because it takes the same time to warm up the Egg and cook the food.
Precipitation: For the gas grill I used to add 10 or 20 degrees (6-12 C) to the cooking temperature if I knew rain or snow was about to break out. If it was already raining or snowing I’d have to set the knobs higher to make up for the temperature loss from the cold rain or snow. The temperature loss wasn’t as severe as the smoker since I was working with a higher cooking temperature 350 (175 C) or above vs. 225 (110 C) for the smoker.
For the smoker I would kick up the temps 20-25 degrees (12-14C) in advance of the rain or snow. If it was already raining or snowing I would have to open the dampers more. I couldn’t use the welders blanket for wet weather. In order for it to be a good insulator it needs to be dry. Also who knows how long it would take to dry out?
The Big Green Egg is easy - zero difference. None. Just go about your normal business.
Wind: The wind could cause some real problems with the gas grill. A little wind was an inconvenience and might have added a little to the cooking time. A strong cold wind was a real problem. The only way I could use the grill was to turn it so the handle side of the grill was facing into the wind. This faced the hinge side of the grill away from the wind. The hinge side of the grill had a fixed back wall with vents (in the event of a gas leak I think) and these vents caused two problems. In very strong winds one or more burners could be blown out. Also the wind reduced the useable cooking area to a rather small area in the center of the grill. Turning the grill so the handle side was facing into the wind would usually help, but not always cure the problem.
The wind was a big problem for the smoker, particularly before the welders blanket days, It would take forever to hit even 225 (110 C) and the wind gusts would drive the temperatures up and down. You really didn’t want to raise the lid at all on a cold, windy day. In my limited time with the welders blanket, it did seem to help on moderately windy days. I never had to use it on a real windy day. I would have had to think about whether to even use the welders blankets. While the blanket was rated up to 1,000 degrees (538 C) it would burn above that temperature. I would have been faced with trying to figure out a way to tie the blanket down so it wouldn’t blow loose and come in contact with the side fire box which did get hotter than 1,000 (538 C) degrees. Once I got the Egg lit without my lighter blowing out the wind has no effect on Egg if the lid is closed. I have done some wok cooks with the lid open on a windy day and the flames will get blown around but it is doable. The flames go higher around the perimeter of the wok, meaning you should wear long gloves and stand back a bit more, but it si still doable.
Conclusion: I am so thrilled about my first winter grilling season on the Egg. No longer do I have to plan differently because I am going to have a difficult, longer lasting, more fussy cook on my hands. I don’t need to have more consumables around than other times of the year. The air temperature doesn’t matter. Other than lighting the Egg, the wind doesn’t matter. Snow or rain don’t matter. I get mad when people just dismiss the Egg out of hand as a way too expensive novelty that a bunch of raving weirdos worship. First of all, as I’ve mentioned many times, it makes the best food I’ve ever grilled or smoked. Also the Egg will outlast cheaper grills or smokers by a factor of 2X, 3X or more. But more importantly, once you’ve learned to use this tool it is easy and pleasurable to use year round. It uses less fuel, particularly in the winter. The cost of that less fuel will quickly erase the cost differential between the Egg and a conventional grill or smoker. I have almost no limitations as to what I can cook on the Egg even in the most severe weather. I really couldn’t be happier, because it just doesn’t get much better than this.
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