Off-Season Grilling

By Fred Jerant

It is an all too-familiar tale: the end of a torrid summer romance. Inevitably, the passions that had once flamed and flared, eventually cooled, and went out…leaving only ashes and memories.

Of course I’m talking about cleaning up the grill (gas or charcoal), putting a cover on it and stashing it in the garage until next year.

Trust me: It doesn’t have to be that way.

In fact, many savvy cooks know that you can readily grill (and roast and bake) outdoors throughout the year, providing your family and friends with the succulent tastes and rich aromas of fire-cooked foods in even the nastiest weather.

At its most basic, cooking is the manipulation of time and temperature. Colder weather can really impact your cookout, but you can boost your chances of success with a little forethought. “Cold will draw away heat,” says Tim Knecht, co-author of the books Gourmet Camp Chow and Foiled Again!, “and wind and precipitation do their parts as well.”  That’s why he advises finding a relatively sheltered spot to set up.

But not too sheltered. Mike Pichetto, owner/executive chef at Vintage Restaurant (part of the Club at Morgan Hill) Easton, says, “Don’t ever grill inside! My brother is a fireman, and he gets called out every November because somebody used a turkey fryer or grill in the garage!” Grilling also emits carbon monoxide fumes, which can be lethal in confined spaces.

With gas grills, Knecht adds, “If you can’t block the wind, position the grill so the wind is perpendicular to the burner tubes, not blowing down their length; that can actually kill the flame.”

Regardless of your precautions, you will still end up losing some heat. A simple way to compensate is to allow extra time for preheating the grill, and for cooking the food.

Our experts agree that a 20-minute preheating time is typical. Cooking times will be extended, too – more if you check the food frequently. “You lose heat every time you lift the cover,” Knecht says, “adding another 10-15 minutes to your total cooking time.”

Of course, all that extra heating and cooking time will affect your fuel consumption. If you are a charcoal traditionalist, you will see when it is time to add extra fuel.

But what about propane? How can you tell if you have enough for your cooking adventure?

According to, a filled tank holds enough propane for about 20 hours of cooking time. The site offers a simple way to “guesstimate” what’s left: turn off the gas and disconnect the tank; rest it on a level spot. Pour some warm water down the side and touch the tank. The cool section contains propane, while the warm one does not.

Of course, there IS one foolproof way to ensure your supply: keep a spare tank on hand. “I always make sure our tanks are filled before we go to an event,” says Cheryl Gruber, co-owner of DnC Catering, Allentown, “and I take some extras. It’s cheap insurance against a cookout catastrophe.”

When it comes to food choices, just about anything can go on the grill – meat, fish, vegetables, fruits – but consider this: it is one thing to leisurely tend a grill when it’s 85 degrees and sunny, but quite another when it is gray and slushy.

Pichetto prefers fast cooking items, so he will not have to spend too much time outdoors. “With a large enough grill,” he says, “you can cook up a meal of salmon, vegetables and parboiled potato wedges all at once.” Hankering for boneless chicken breasts or other thick cuts of meat? Pichetto suggests butterflying them first; “They’ll cook faster, and use less fuel.”

Or choose foods that tolerate longer cooking times and little fuss: pulled pork, leg-of-lamb or beer-can chicken. They are cooked with indirect heat (similar to an indoor oven), so you do not have to venture outside as often. “There’s no reason to limit yourself to the ‘traditional summer foods.’ Why not roast a turkey on the grill? Or cook your New Year’s Day pork roast that way?” Knecht adds.

The hearty flavors of roasted turkey and pork are terrific for wintertime meals, and Gruber likes to ramp them up with different seasonings.  For example, “I like to use cinnamon in meat rubs,” she says. “Many people think it belongs just in desserts, but it’s a great spice to use in a rub, especially in the fall and winter.”

Gruber also suggests sugaring your steaks – that’s right, SUGAR. “Rub the steak with a little olive oil, and sprinkle a bit of granulated sugar – about a teaspoon per steak – on both sides just before it hits the grill. The sugar caramelizes and sears like crazy, keeping the meat flavor in,” she says.

As you can see, it is really not a big deal to grill year-round – especially if you follow our experts’ advice. But if you cannot wrap your mind around the idea of cold-weather outdoor cookery – but still want to look impressive – you might try Pichetto’s light-hearted suggestion of culinary chicanery.

“Get your grill good and hot,” he says, “and cook your food just long enough to get grill marks on it. Then take everything back inside and finish it in the oven!” he says.

Grilling Recipes

Seafood Bake

(courtesy of Foiled Again!)

Single Serving:

• 6 large or jumbo shrimp, deveined,

in shells

• 6 clams, washed, in shells

• 6 mussels, washed, in shells

• 1 4-to-6 oz. Lobster Tail (optional)

• 1 cob of corn, cut into 2-inch rounds

• 2 new potatoes, washed and halved

• 4 oz. dry white wine

• 2 T butter

1-to-2 T Miles River Dry Goods & Pro

visions LLC Seafood & More Season-

ing, or Old Bay

Prepare a double thickness of heavy duty foil 18 inches square. Using a large bowl, form the foil to the inside of the bowl.

Place shrimp, clams, mussels, lobster tail, corn and potatoes in the bowl. Pour the wine over all and gently stir to cover all.

Sprinkle the seafood seasoning over all, stirring to coat. Place dabs of butter in several locations and seal the foil tightly. Cook on grill over medium-high heat for 30 to 40 minutes, turning gently every 10 minutes.

Serve out of the foil or place on plate.

Greek-style grilled leg of lamb

(Courtesy of Mike Pichetto)

• 1 6-7 pound leg of lamb, deboned

and butterflied

• 5 cloves garlic, peeled

• 1/2 Spanish onion, peeled

• 1 T  fresh thyme

• 1 T  fresh dill

• 1 t  dry oregano leaves

• 2 T  fresh parsley

• 1/2 c olive oil

• 1/4 c fresh lemon juice

• Kosher salt

• Black pepper

For this recipe, the leg of lamb must be deboned and butterflied. If you are unsure about this process, your butcher or meat cutter can do it for you.

You can use gas or charcoal for this dish. If you are using coals, build a thick layer on one side of the grill, and a light layer on the other. The thick side provides high heat for initial searing; use the light (cooler) side to finish cooking. If you are using gas, just start with a hot grill, and then reduce heat to finish.

Place the lamb in a metal bowl large enough to fit the entire leg in one layer (in other words, keep it flat, not rolled). Mince garlic, onion, thyme, dill, oregano and parsley well, preferably with a knife or in a food processor. Mix minced ingredients with olive oil.  Coat lamb entirely with this mixture and refrigerate, covered, for 2-3 hours or overnight.

Preheat your grill according to directions above. Remove lamb from bowl and set aside. Add lemon juice to bowl, mix and return lamb to coat. Remove lamb from bowl and season well with salt and pepper. Reserve remaining marinade for basting.

Place lamb, fat side down, on the hot side of grill (or over high heat) for 5-10 minutes or until outside is well-seared and has good color. Turn the lamb over and repeat on the other side. Baste lamb with remaining marinade. Move lamb to low side of grill (or reduce heat), cover and cook an additional 30-45 minutes, keeping a cooking temperature of about 300 degrees.  Roast until an instant-read thermometer indicates an internal temperature of 125-130 degrees, for medium. Remove from grill and let rest, covered with foil for 10-15 minutes. Slice thinly and enjoy.

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