Cold, rain, snow, sleet, and wind may not delay the mail but they can sure delay the meal.
When the exterior of your grill or smoker is cold the metal absorbs heat from the warm air inside lowering the cooking temp. Whether you are using gas, charcoal, or pellets, in inclement weather you need more fuel to heat the air and the walls of the cooking chamber both initially and throughout the whole cook. Also, the combustion process needs oxygen so the cold air it sucks in also can reduce the oven temp. At the same time, moisture from water pans, meat, and even humidity in the air condenses on the interior like fog on the bathroom mirror. You might even see water running down the inside further cooling the metal.
Many people erroneously believe that gas will not flow at low temperatures. Not true. Propane is in liquid form in the tank, and it must boil to become a gas. The boiling point of propane is -44°F so you should have no problem getting gas to flow unless you live in Siberia. The pressure will drop as the air temp drops, and as the level of fuel drops, but that's why gas grills and smokers have a regulator, that disk-shaped device between the tank and the cooker. It regulates the flow to keep it even. According to the AmazingRibs.com science advisor Dr. Greg Blonder, "Tank pressure never drops below the regulator pressure, so in principle gas should still flow just fine. But water vapor is sometimes in the tank and it may freeze and gum up the valves, but this is rare. If you have a large flow grill with a red colored regulator, like a turkey fryer, the pressure may be inadequate."
Because it takes more fuel to heat your gasser, you may find it doesn't get as hot as it does in warm weather and you will find that you use more gas than in summer. You will also use more fuel because some BTUs are wasted getting the liquid to a gaseous state. One antidote is to use a larger tank on small portables, and use full tanks that have higher pressure on larger grills.
If you are using natural gas, the fuel will be coming from the warm house, even the cold fuel in the outdoor pipes will flow with no problem, propelled by the warm fuel behind it.
Charcoal and pellets
Same story with charcoal and pellets. You will go through more fuel heating the cooking chamber and the metal. So be prepared and light more fuel than you usually do. If you normally use the Minion or snake methods, you might want to skip them and just light the whole firebox. As usual, there's no substitute for experience, so doing a dry run without food makes a lot of sense.
While we have proven that opening the lid to peek during warm weather has little impact on cooking time, in cold weather it has a more profound impact, so keep the lid closed and the warm air in, although the temp does recover pretty quickly once you close the lid.
"Wrapping it with the ex's wedding dress works well." Kelly Short
The simplest solution is to place your cooker where it won't get hit with wind and rain, but of course you want to be careful not to melt your vinyl siding or set the eaves ablaze. Never move a grill or smoker indoors. And that means your garage. Carbon monoxide can collect in there, and in an attached garage the home's heating system can easily suck this deadly gas into the house and into your kids' bedrooms.
My friend John Dawson of PatioDaddioBBQ.com says "A quick, easy, cheap, and effective shelter for small vertical cooker is a simple wardrobe-style packing box like you use for moving." That's great as long as the wind doesn't pick up.
Another option is to use bricks in the cooking chamber to absorb and radiate heat. This is especially useful on offset smokers, and I recommend it year round.
Another good solution is to wrap the cooking chamber in a welding blanket. They're good wind, rain, and snow protection and can handle the heat without bursting into flame. They can probably handle the heat of the firebox, but I wouldn't press your luck. Reflectix Double Foil Insulation works well for cooking chamber insulation. It has a bubble-wrap type interior clad in a foil sheathing. It is heat resistant, but it can melt if things get too hot, so don't put it in direct contact with the firebox portion of your cooker. Foil insulation mat works well, too.
With any of these insulators, it is important that you allow proper air intake. If you slow or block oxygen flow, you can end up starving the fire and extinguishing it or produce gray smoke and soot that can foul the food.
I asked my Facebook friends to send me pix of how they solved the problem and I got some great responses. Several use fiberglass insulation with foil backing or hot water heater blankets but I am concerned that they could burn or melt if things get too hot. As with the foil insulation, you should only wrap the food chamber and keep them from making contact with the hot parts of the cooker. Below are some of the other clever solutions hungry readers have devised to keep their babies warm and happy. My favorite is "Ft. Smokey" built by Brian Romick, above.
If you have a novel method of protecting your grill or smoker, please post a picture on AmazingRibs.com.
Richard Meisinger Jr. uses a welding blanket on his Traeger.
Jim Streisand built a wind shield with an old dog crate as a frame for foil insulation.
Copyright (c) 2014 By Meathead, and all rights are reserved. For more of Meathead's writing, photos, recipes, and barbecue tips & technique, please visit his website AmazingRibs.com and subscribe to his email newsletter, Smoke Signals.
Follow Meathead on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/AmazingRibs