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Four-Season Grilling

You'll find people who believe that grilling is a summer activity. And so it is! But there is no reason to put the grill away when the leaves of fall, the snows of winter, or the mud of spring dominate the landscape.

Here are some tips that can turn you into a four-season griller. Assuming, of course, that for some reason you want to stand outside, among knee-deep snowdrifts, spatula in gloved hand, listening as the sizzle of grilling meat blends with the whistle of wind through leafless trees.

Summer

This is widely considered the normal season for grilling. Nearly all resources assume that you're grilling at summer temperatures.

I have found, particularly since my bald spots united in an irresistible march toward my neck, that it is advisable to wear a cap while grilling during the summer. After enduring an eye-crossing headache or two, I realized that the hot sun above and a hot grill below were putting my head in a thermal squeeze play.

Rain is no reason to stop grilling, although you may want to make some minor adjustments in your habits and attire.

Light to moderate rain presents no problem at all, since the grill's lid provides cover for the food, and a dish cover will serve the same purpose while carrying food inside. I generally use a cap with an eye shade, to keep rain off my glasses, although this is optional.

During heavy rain, it may be more comfortable to seek shelter under a carport, awning, or other structure with a roof, but with open sides. Seriously: this is important. Don't ever grill in a place that has walls. Grilling with charcoal or LP gas produces gasses which can be lethal if they are allowed to concentrate.

A good, stout, awning gives plenty of protection for hail, although I suppose that some might argue that standing near an LP gas cylinder when lightning is in the area isn't the smartest thing to do.

My wife takes me inside during tornado warnings, so I can't offer first-hand advice on how to grill under those conditions. Actually, she doesn't let me outside for any reason during that sort of weather.

Fall

Autumn's leaves are beautiful, colorful, and combustible. Special care should be taken during this season, to keep dry leaves from accumulating near the grill. One drop of flaming grease on a small pile of leaves could take all the fun out of an afternoon's grilling.

As temperatures drop, you'll find that you need to apply more heat, and more time, to whatever you're grilling. I've also noticed that grilling times get more sensitive to wind conditions as it gets colder.

Lighting the grill on a windy fall day can be a challenge. Sometimes, I've had one of my daughters hold a saucer sled just upwind of the grill, as a windbreak. This technique gets more important as winter approaches.

Winter

This season separates the truly dedicated griller from those with the sense to stay inside.

The most obvious difference between summer and winter grilling is the temperature.

Appropriate clothing is a must for the winter griller. The short sleeved shirt that makes grilling comfortable in early August must be replaced by something more substantial. I usually opt for a flannel shirt and winter-weight jacket, with heavy gloves.

The only problem with good winter clothing is that it not only keeps the cold away from me, it also keeps the heat away. I have to be a little more careful about where I put my hands and arms, to keep from singeing something.

I often take the gloves off while handling the grilling tools. I'm clumsy enough with my bare hands. I've tried flipping burgers with winter gloves on, and generally the patties either sneak between the bars of the grill, or leap free of the grill. Either way, it's an annoyance.

Another important point is that air temperature affects cooking time and the amount of heat needed. Generally, by the time the temperature hits zero, I've got the flame on high for a minimum of 2 minutes per side for hamburgers, with at least 6 or 7 minutes on medium. You'll have to pay attention to how your grill works in cold weather, and adjust grilling times accordingly.

Winter grilling also brings snow into the food preparation process. It is important to have a path cleared to the grill. Balancing a plateful of food while wading through a drift is not something I would advise attempting.

Care must be taken while shoveling a workspace around the grill. I recommend that you shovel only to within a foot or so of the LP gas cylinder or any part of the grill that contains gas lines, and use your gloved hands to clear snow after that point.

During mild winter days, I've found that sunlight and the heat of grilling will melt snow. When this re-freezes, the area around the grill gets very slick. Judicious use of sand will give you plenty of traction. Usually. If it doesn't, you'll find out as soon as you step on the area. It's a good idea to step carefully, especially when carrying plates of food. I suppose it's easier to clean off a steak that's fallen into snow than one that dropped onto fresh-cut grass, but I'd rather not do either.

By the time December and January roll around, wind has usually been a problem at least once. I've found that an excellent windbreak can be made, by sticking a saucer sled into a snow bank. It may be necessary to shovel snow into the desired position and pack it down, to make a solid base for the saucer.

Spring

In Minnesota, this is the season when winter melts. The biggest challenge for me is usually keeping track of how the rising temperatures affect cooking time. If I'm not careful, I can come back in with at least one very sincerely over-done set of hamburger patties.

I try not to let this happen, since my kids will then generally compare the results of my efforts to a pile of hockey pucks. Thin, lumpy ones.

Ice, water, and mud combine in unpredictable ways. You may have to scrape, shovel, or drain the area around the grill, so allow a little extra time before you plan to start grilling.

Next: Enjoy!

Copyright 2005 Brian H. Gill