While we love a shorts and t-shirt combo for a summer BBQ, grilling and smoking when it’s cold outside means you need to dress a bit warmer than normal. So wrap up and make sure you’re not wearing anything that could dangle in the fire.
CAN YOU SMOKE MEAT WHEN IT'S COLD OUTSIDE?
Absolutely! You can smoke meat in cold weather. Before you start, make sure you stock up on enough charcoal and wood. Keep the wood chopped and easily accessible in a dry place, like a wood rack. Cold weather requires more wood and charcoal, so keep all the necessary tools and utensils nearby while smoking for a smoother cooking experience so you don’t have to frantically search for any last-minute equipment.
To ensure optimal performance, monitor the wind direction and adjust your smoker’s intakes accordingly. If the wind is too strong, close the vent facing the wind and use another vent to control temperatures. Adequate airflow fuels the fire and raises temperatures, while insufficient airflow leads to heat loss. Be cautious not to reduce airflow too much, as it can cause a drop in chamber temperature and result in a smoky fire that affects the taste of your food. Consistency in temperature is key to avoid under or overcooking your dishes.
As you may know, different smokers perform differently in cold weather conditions. Smokers with thin outer walls may have difficulty reaching and sustaining cooking temperatures, while those with thicker walls might struggle to reach desired temps but offer better heat insulation for consistent cooking.
Offset Smokers: These smokers have the heat source positioned to the side of the cooking chamber, making them more challenging for cold-weather smoking. Proper airflow management is crucial with an offset smoker.
Drum Smokers: They are a good choice for winter smoking because the fuel is contained and concentrated under the cooking grate. Consider loading more charcoal/wood at the beginning to maintain temperatures.
Pellet Grills: Using a pellet grill is an excellent option for cold weather cooking. The continuous supply of wood pellets to the fire pot ensures steady heat. Adding pellets to the hopper is convenient for keeping the fire going.
Most smokers will face temperature challenges in extremely cold weather. To maintain cooking temperatures and save fuel, consider using a smoker jacket or blanket. Look for custom-fit options from smoker brands or universal alternatives. Ensure good airflow, easy access, and fire resistance. These jackets can also double as covers when not in use.
You can find DIY options for smoker insulation at hardware stores. Look for fireproof or resistant materials like welder’s blankets or furnace and double foil insulation. Avoid covering the vents and firebox directly to maintain safety, airflow, and effectiveness.
WHAT IS THE IDEAL TEMPERATURE FOR SMOKING MEAT?
The ideal smoking temperature varies depending on the type of meat. For low and slow smoking, aim for temperatures between 200°F and 225°F, with the meat’s internal temperature ranging from 145°F to 165°F. However, for a brisket point cooked hot and fast, start at 400°F until the internal temperature reaches 165°F. Then, lower the cooking temperature to around 250°F and continue until the internal temperature reaches 180°F for added tenderness. For a rarer steak or prime rib, sear it quickly at 500°F before cooking at 225°F until it reaches a desired internal temperature of 125°F to 130°F. If using the reverse-sear method, cook at 225°F until the desired internal temperature is reached, then finish with a sear at 500°F.
HOW DO YOU SMOKE IN THE WINTER?
To ensure a safe cooking environment, select a sheltered spot for your smoker away from wind, rain, and overhead obstructions. Clear snow from the ground and create a safe path from the house to the smoker. Avoid placing the smoker indoors or in enclosed spaces like the garage, as the combustion process generates dangerous carbon monoxide gas.
In extreme weather conditions, monitoring temperatures is crucial. Use a remote digital thermometer or food probe to keep track of internal temperatures in real-time, eliminating the need to open the lid or expose yourself to the cold for extended periods. This tool can also notify you when the meat reaches the desired temperature. If you lack a remote thermometer, insert a leave-in meat thermometer into the thickest part of the cut for quick readings.
To conserve heat, keep the lid closed as much as possible. This becomes even more important in cold temperatures. Opening the lid allows the carefully maintained heat from your smoker to escape, resulting in significant temperature loss. Even a brief 5-minute peek can require your cooker to recover for 15 to 20 minutes. Therefore, in cold weather, minimise lid openings and only do so when absolutely necessary.