The Snow Must Go On
Yes this is a BBQ blog, but for the last couple weeks we have been just bombarded by snow. Many areas have broken 30 day total snowfall records in about half that amount of time. Two of these storms were Top 10 storms of all time. This winter is less than half over and it is already the second snowiest Winter ever. With my Big Green Eggs I can grill or smoke in any weather. I have been getting some cooks in during and between some of the storms. But the weather has impacted my cooking in unexpected ways. Now I can pretty much cook in any weather if I chose, the problem is people being able to get there and eat it . This blog is snow/weather related to start. At the end I will mention some things I learned or re-learned using the BGE in this weather.
The end of January, which was cold but dry, marked big changes. We switched to a new weather pattern featuring a continuous series of storms every 2-3 days. The first such storm was “only” 6” (15cm).
“Blizzard of 2015” - 01-26-15 thru 01-27-15A blizzard is defined by the National Weather Service as a severe snowstorm with blowing and drifting snow with sustained wind gusts of 35MPH (56km/h) which reduces visibility to 1/4 mi (400m) or less which lasts for 3 hours or more. One of the “highlights” of this storm was blizzard conditions in some areas that lasted for nearly 20 hours. At my house the storm started around 6 PM when I went to bed we appeared to have maybe 2” (5cm) of snow. I woke up at 3:00AM and looked out and it really didn’t too impressive. We had picked up maybe an inch (2.5cm) or so overnight and I was wondering if the storm had somehow missed us. When I got up for good at 5:00 AM, any illusions the storm had missed us were gone. We had doubled the amount of snow in 2 hours, 3” (7.5cm) had become 6” (15cm). The snow continued piling up at an amazingly fast clip. Between the amount of snow and the wind there were times when it was hard to see the houses 250’ (76m) across the street. The storm featured bands of heavy snow that pinwheeled in off the ocean from the center of the storm. My town had a band stuck over it for nearly 5 hours where the snow fall rates from 2 - 4” (5-10dm) per hour. As a result we finished with a total of 34” (86 cm) one of the higher totals in the state.
- Snow falling faster than I have ever seen.
- 34” (86cm) of snow at my location.
- Hurricane Force Wind Gusts measured at several locations along the Massachusetts coast.
- State-wide driving ban for about 24 hours.
- State of Emergency declared and the National Guard called up to assist in the cleanup.
- Multi-day street parking bands in most communities.
- Mail delivery cancelled.
Groundhog Day Storm 2015 - 02-02-15This storm produced “only” 18” (46cm) of snow. You can say “only” after just getting 34” (86cm) of snow the week before. We also had another 3” (7.5cm) storm midway in between. This storm started around midnight and there were 6” (15cm) of snow on the ground by rush hour. Fortunately many people had the day off work as a snow day. The problem with this storm was when the snow ended, the bottom dropped out of the thermometer. The temps dropped in several hours to below zero (-18C). If you didn’t have the snow removed at this point, it was semi-permanent until the temperatures warmed up later in the week.
4 Day Storm - 02-07-15 thru 02-10-15We had several smaller storms in the week between the Groundhog Day Storm of 2” (5cm) and 4” (10cm). Having a place to put this snow was starting to become a problem and the roads were getting narrower and narrower as the snow mounds piled up. Most of the roads have typical snow banks that are higher than the roof of cars. At major intersections the snow mounds approach 10’ (3m). This was before this 4 day storm. Then starting on Saturday afternoon it began to snow and though it didn’t snow hard, the progress of the storm slowed down and didn’t stop until after midnight on Tuesday. The total amount where I live was 17” (43cm)
- Snow falling across 4 days over 72 hours. The intensity was not as strong as the other storms, but it was nearly continuous once it started.
- The MBTA mass transit system for greater Boston & Eastern MA was shut down totally except for limited bus service. The announcement came out of the blue. It was announced late Monday afternoon there would be no service starting 7PM Monday night through Tuesday. No trolleys, subways or commuter rail service.
- There were several subway trains that broke down and people had to be evacuated from the trains. They had to be steered safely around the third rail and had to walk somewhat long distances to shuttle busses.
- Buildings with flat roofs are beginning to fail. We have been lucky in that these storms have been light fluffy snow.
- State of Emergency declared and the National Guard called up to assist in the cleanup.
- Lack of places to dump the plowed snow has caused government agencies to relax the rules on dumping plowed snow in the ocean. Communities can apply for permission to do this and it will be reviewed on a case by case basis.
BGE Lessons Learned:
- Having a Big Green Egg certainly adds to the old grillers dilemma: Which do you do first, clear a path to the grill or clear the driveway. In my case it takes care of it self. I run the snow blower through the aisle of my grill gazebo on the way out to the driveway. The BGE is pretty much oblivious to the weather with the few exceptions I will note below. With all of this bad weather, driving bans, parking bans etc. I had more trouble getting guests who could make the trip than I did trouble cooking on the Egg. I got in several long term cooks during this time period. Some were in in the cold, some in single digit temps. Here are some of things I learned or re-learned.
- The Bic Surestart Lighters and other similar models do not appear to function well at all when the temps drop below the mid-teens (-9C). If you get a flame at all, it is tiny and goes out quickly.
- I even bought a lighter advertised as all-weather and wind resistant. It cost a dollar more and I can’t tell you how it works in the wind. The reason I can’t tell you is it worked no better in the cold than any of my other lighters.
- Have a supply of long (2” / 5cm) wooden matches around. It seems to take a while longer for the flame to “stabilize” under these conditions. With shorter book matches by the time the flame is ready to use, the match is almost burned out.
- If there is any wind at all, light the match down inside the lower half of the Egg. This will get you out of direct exposure to the wind.
- Also be prepared to shield the match with your free hand as there will be some draft coming up through the coals from the wide open lower draft door.
- Leave a little extra time for lighting the Egg due to the difficulties described above.
- Go out early to set up your Egg for winter cooking. It is cold and you are wearing bulky gear, so everything takes longer. You may have to spend some time brushing snow off off things. Certain tasks can’t be done while you are wearing gloves and exposed cold fingers take longer to do things right.
- Having a cover for your Egg is a good thing, Don’t just think of it as protecting the mostly ceramic Egg from the elements. Think of it as keeping moisture away from direct contact with the cold surfaces of the Egg. Otherwise you may find items frozen or stuck and you may need some time to free them. This is why even though my Eggs are partially protected via my grill gazebo, I use the mushroom style cap for all of them. Knock on wood, I have yet to have any issues firing up my Eggs even at temps below 0 (-18C). Friends I know, who live nearby and don’t cover their Eggs weren’t so lucky. They had frozen lids or top caps to deal with.
- One of the things I have been doing is getting my Egg set up the day or night before my cook. This way I can take my time and not worry about making my cook start time run late. I brush my work surfaces & covers off. Next I uncover the Egg(s) I am going to be using, clean the ash drops out, top them off with lump as required. Then I place my fire starters in the lump if that is the way I am going to light the Egg. Last I setup the grill for the configuration I will be using with the Platesetter or AR and all the shelves drip pans etc I will need. If my food is bulky or long I test it out (wrapped in foil or a plastic bag) to make sure it will fit and allow the lid to close. Same thing if I am going to be using a disposable foil pan, I check to make sure the lid will close correctly. When I am done I recover the Egg(s) and the only thing left for the day of my cook is to light the Egg. And for the reasons discussed above I go out early to do that.
- If I am going to be doing a high temperature pizza or wok cook I give my Egg a more thorough cleaning. I put on some rubber gloves and remove the lump into a large disposable foil pan, sorting through it and disposing of the small pieces and removing all of the ash at the bottom of the fire box.
- If I intend to use the CyberQ WiFi I uncoil the electrical cables for the blower unit and AC adaptor in the warmth of the Kitchen. They feel somewhat stiff but fragile in the cold air. So I try to get them straightened out in the Kitchen. I also dab a paper towel with some Canola oil and run the paper towel around the gasket for the blower unit just before going outside to setup the CyberQ.
- The Adjustable Rig has a great benefit year round that is particularly great in the cold weather. That benefit is you can set it up with all of the shelves, pizza stone, drip pan etc and remove it in one piece. You can also do this when the food is in place. This beats trying to remove the food, a hot grill grid and a hot platesetter in three separate operations. Using the AR allows you to quickly open the lid, remove the AR and all associated gear and get the lid closed quickly. You can re-open the lid and add wood chips or chunks and close it again quickly. Lastly you can quickly open the lid and get the AR and gear back on quickly again.
- Setup the AR ahead of time and check that your food and roast pans will fit correctly and allow you to close the lid. You do not want to find this out when you have lit the Egg and are ready to start. This is true in any weather but you do not want to find this out in the really cold weather.
- I tend to let the Egg stabilize longer at the desired cooking temperature in the cold weather. This gives the dome a chance to absorb the heat so it isn’t just the air inside the Egg that is at the given temperature, but also the ceramics. This helps later with recovery times.
- The Egg is fairly oblivious to the cold weather or snow. Cooks that I manually controlled took maybe an extra 5 minutes to warm up to cooking temperature. Cooks controlled with the CyberQ took the normal amount of time to come to temp. I think the CyberQ is simply better than me controlling the Egg and can be a little more “aggressive” raising the temps. This is because it is constantly monitoring the temps and doesn’t “mind” being left out in the cold.
- Opening the lid any time of year can have a major effect on your cooking temperatures. Opening the lid for less than a minute can drop the temps 100 degrees (55C) or more and you must recover from this, Strange as it may sound you also run the risk of a temperature spike because cold air is also cold combustion air, You may find you recover and shoot right past by 100 degrees or more. Don’t ask how I know this.
- Have a helper to open and close the Egg more quickly. One person can remove the food (and possibly the entire AR plus the food) while the other closes the lid as soon as the food is out of the way. This is ofter much faster than one person removing and safely landing the food, then closing the lid.
- If you will be removing the food to baste it or mop it, you should not do it with the lid open,
- In the Winter, particularly in the ever cold, I tend to favor recipes that require a minimum of fussing with the food once it is on the grill.
- One last item was a bit of a surprise to me. If your grill is in a covered grill gazebo with open side like mine, it WILL get snow inside it. If it is windy you may get almost as much as out in the yard. So if your are planning a grill gazebo with a roof and open sides plan ahead for snow. Pick tables or cabinets that are easy to clean off. I used a 3’ (90cm) aisle in mine between my two rows of grills and tables, for ease of circulation and safety. As it turns out this 3’ (90cm) aisle allows me to drive my 32” (81cm) snow blower in one end of the aisle and out the other with a little margin for error. I am able to throw the snow out the back side of the gazebo, over the Eggs and out into the yard. What little snow is left is easy to clean up. So when planning an open sided grill gazebo plan for your snow cleanup too.
Bottom line: The cold weather impacts the cook (you) far more than the Egg. You simply need to do a few things a little differently and you will be fine. You can’t really use the weather as an excuse not to cook on your Egg. The ceramic construction of the Egg pretty much takes the grill out of the equation. Then it becomes a matter of if YOU want to cook on the Egg in this weather. While you may pass on a really bad day, isn’t it nice not having it be the grill that
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