Cold Comfort Food

How to extend barbecue season into the winter.

Photography Curtis Comeau; styling Sandy Joe Karpetz; L31 sweater and button up from Simons; Kotetsu 210 mm Gyuto knife and Larchwood Canada cutting board from Knifewear; Custom utility apron and utility roll by Earnest Goods; Reclaimed wood surface courtesy of Urban Timber

Barbecue season doesn’t have to end when the winter weather hits.

Maryanne Petrash, manager at Barbecue Country, says the biggest misconception about barbecuing in the winter is that many people don’t think their barbecues can function in the cold. But they can.

“Most barbecues are built to handle -30 to -40 degree temperatures. The downside is that it will take a lot longer to heat and you will burn more fuel,” says Petrash.

Regular grillers typically burn about 20 pounds of propane in a summer season, and you will most likely double that in the winter months.

Besides dealing with the weather, wind can be your biggest challenge for temperature control on the grill.

“Try and move your barbecue so you can get a wind block from either a fence or trees,” says Petrash. “In the cold, you will also have to preheat your barbecue longer. Usually in warmer weather, it’s about five to 10 minutes. In the winter, you should aim for 15 to 20 minutes.”

If you have a charcoal grill, it will also burn through more fuel, so make sure you have a good supply. When it comes to using a smoker, it can actually function better in the winter because it can hold a lower temperature longer. Insulated blankets can also be used to keep in the heat and help your smoker be more efficient. 

It’s important to remember to maintain your grill and smoker year round. Keep your barbecue clean and your cooking grates well-oiled. This will prevent food from sticking, stop bacteria build-up and keep the grill from rusting. 

The colder it is, the longer your food can take to cook. So using foods that you don’t have to babysit is key. Petrash says she and her husband love to bundle up and throw some steaks on the grill as the neighbours look on from their kitchen window. 

Meat’s executive chef and owner, Nathan McLaughlin, says grilling in the winter is always a good idea. “It’s an excuse to use my flask and you have less dishes to do after dinner.”

McLaughlin stresses the importance of keeping your lid closed while cooking on a barbecue or smoker. “You have to let the equipment do its job. You can lose about 15 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit when you open a smoker and lose seven or eight minutes on cook time on the grill when it’s cold and you open that lid.”

He explains quick cuts like chicken, pork chops, thin steaks and skewers are great for grilling out in the cold – a couple of flips on the grill and it’s time to eat. Asparagus, campfire potatoes and winter squash are all great sides that can be done on the barbecue with minimal time on the grill.

Tips for winter grilling:

Be prepared. Always have a full tank of propane ready before the cold hits. Having an extra tank on hand can also be very helpful.

Make sure you have a clear path to your barbecue and that there is no snow and ice build-up.

Bring your barbecue as close to the house as you can so you don’t have to be outside longer than you need to.

Dress for the weather but don’t wear any loose clothing, like scarves, that could get caught in the barbecue.

Wear heat-resistant barbecue gloves as opposed to mitts.

Attaching a barbecue light will help you see how your food is being grilled.

Keep the lid closed. If you are unsure about cooking time, make sure you use a thermometer.


Flank Steak with Chimichurri

Chef Nathan McLaughlin from Meat

1.5 lb flank steak


Place steak in a large Ziploc bag and pour marinade over the steak. Place in fridge for a minimum of two hours, maximum 24 hours. Start smoker using whatever wood you like. I use two parts cherry to one part hickory. Bring temperature up to 225 degrees Fahrenheit. Take steak out of bag and place in smoker. Cook for one hour or until internal temp is between 120 degrees (for rare) and 135 degrees (for medium) Fahrenheit. Let rest for 10-15 minutes – the steak will cook an additional 8-10 degrees during this time. Slice diagonally and cut across the grain. Lay out on plate, and cover with chimichurri.


Because the flank steak is a tougher cut of meat, I like to cook it low and slow to a temperature of 150 degrees Fahrenheit for medium rare.


1/2 cup vegetable oil

cup red wine vinegar

1/2 cup lime juice

2 cloves garlic

1/2 tsp black pepper

2 tsp salt.


1 cup red wine vinegar

1 1/2 cup olive oil

1 3/4 cup Italian parsley (finely chopped)

8 cloves fresh garlic (minced)

2 limes (juice and zest)

2 jalapeos, finely diced (seeds removed)

1 1/2 tsp cumin

A pinch of salt and pepper

Mix all ingredients together in a bowl with whisk and let sit at room temperature for one hour. The chimichurri can be kept for a week in the fridge.

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