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Archive for Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Sizzling in the snow

Grilling has become a year-round passion

February 14, 2007

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Kevin Taylor's grill gear includes all the basics - spatula, tongs, charcoal. And of course, snow shovel and snowmobile suit.

Taylor is unwilling to let inclement - even downright freezing - weather get between him and his grill. It's a year-round passion.

"Why would you want to be limited to grilling a couple months a year? I can't even fathom a steak or hamburger without a grill," says Taylor, a 51-year-old nurse from Fort Wayne, Ind. "It takes 15 minutes. You can grill in any weather for 15 minutes."

Or even for 20 hours -- like the day Taylor donned a snowmobile suit to make his smoked pork butts, a recipe that calls for a lot of time carefully tending the coals.

"My family thinks I'm crazy," he says.

From December to February, about a quarter of American households grills at least once every two weeks, says Harry Balzer, a food analyst for market researcher NPD Group. That's up from 18 percent in 2000. Summer grilling still dominates, but it's not growing. Balzer says half of all homes grill in summer, a number that hasn't changed for 10 years.

"There's a machismo that separates the men from the boys," says Steven Raichlen, who has written several books on barbecue. "When it snows, what do you shovel first? The path to your garage or the path to your grill?"

Fueling the fire

The key to winter grilling is controlling temperature, and the right equipment is key.

Smaller grills will have trouble maintaining the temperature. But larger stainless steel models generally are doubled walled, which helps retain heat, says Tim Kuhn, marketing manager with Ontario-based grill manufacturer Vermont Castings.

He also said that though many people prefer charcoal, in winter gas often is better.

"Gas lets you better maintain a temperature," he says. "A lot of people love charcoal, and your food tastes great with charcoal, but you tend to have to go out more often to maintain the temperature and refill the charcoal."

Grilled pork chops with squash, apples and cider-bourbon jus from Karen Adler and Judith Fertig's "Weeknight Grilling with the BBQ Queens" is perfect for those who can't go without grilling during a long winter.

Grilled pork chops with squash, apples and cider-bourbon jus from Karen Adler and Judith Fertig's "Weeknight Grilling with the BBQ Queens" is perfect for those who can't go without grilling during a long winter.

Unless you opt for a heavy-duty ceramic grill, such as the Big Green Egg. This style of grill is prized for its ability to retain heat, making them popular choices with year-round grill enthusiasts.

"The heat stays in, no matter what the temperature is outside," says Lou West, a sales manager with Tucker, Ga.-based Big Green Egg. "Metal cookers will extinguish the fuel a lot faster because the energy is escaping outside the wall."

Whatever your fuel, have extra on hand. To compensate for the cold, you may need to cook at a higher temperature, and that consumes gas and briquettes more quickly, says Rick Rodgers, author of the forthcoming "Kingsford Complete Grilling Cookbook."

A meat thermometer with a long probe or cord helps, too. he says. That way you can check the food without opening the lid. Even better, consider a remote controlled unit that lets you monitor the temperature from inside the house.

Cooking quicker

Location also is important. Try to grill in a sheltered spot, as wind can quickly rob the grill of heat, according to Ontario Pork, a Canadian trade group that includes winter grilling tips on its Web site.

But tempting as it might be, resist the urge to cook in the garage. It's a mistake (and fire hazard) Judith Fertig, co-author of "Weeknight Grilling with the BBQ Queens," made on New Year's Day several years ago.

"One of the neighbors called and thought our garage was on fire," she says.

Technique must be considered, as well. Preheat the grill for at least 20 minutes with the lid closed, and be prepared to extend cooking time to compensate for the cold, says Karen Adler, Fertig's co-author.

And limit peaking to no more than once an hour, Raichlen says. Opening the lid lets the heat escape.

Larger grills are prized for their ability to retain heat, making them popular choices with year-round grill enthusiasts. The right equipment and clothing will help give you that charcoal taste all year round.

Larger grills are prized for their ability to retain heat, making them popular choices with year-round grill enthusiasts. The right equipment and clothing will help give you that charcoal taste all year round.

As for what to grill, quick-cooking foods, such as steak, chicken and fish, are ideal in the winter.

Large cuts of meat, such as brisket and pork butt - despite Taylor's willingness to endure the cold - are best reserved for warm weather because they need to be cooked over a low flame for several hours.

"One time my father tried to cook a 25-pound turkey on Thanksgiving," Rodgers says. "The bird literally caught on fire because the fat was dripping on the coals."

Cool in the cold

If you absolutely must have that fire-kissed taste, Adler suggests charring thicker cuts of meat on the grill until just rare, then transferring them to a 350-degree oven for 5 to 10 minutes to finish.

That's what Rodgers did with his father's turkey. And to their delight they ended up with extra-crispy wings.

Another important safety tip - check gas hoses for leaks. The cold makes the hoses more brittle and stiff.

"Rub liquid detergent with a paint brush over the hose. If bubbles form, there's a hole," says Mike Kempster, a vice president with Palatine, Ill.-based Weber-Stephen Products Co., which makes gas and charcoal grills.

Even serving the food requires a bit of extra thought. Don't leave the plates outdoors while grilling or they will become cold and will cool the food too quickly after you take it off the grill.

Despite the extra effort, Fertig thinks winter is the best time to cook outdoors.

"The winter sky is just beautiful," she says. "You're near a heat source out there with a glass of wine and life is good."

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