February 9

Cold Weather Smoking … Keep Your Barbecue Hot

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Cold Weather Smoking can throw a few challenges your way. Especially if you live up here in the north woods.

On mild winter days nothing beats getting out and smoking a hearty meatloaf or tasty rack of ribs.

Of course in our neck of the woods a mild day in February is anything over single digits!

Yes it can be done, in fact serious cold climate smoker chefs don’t put up the meat smoker when the snow flys. They just adapt.

Here are a few tips to help you adapt to cold weather smoking.

  When the temperature dips it’s time to take into consideration a few simple but important things. One thing I preach about on nearly every page of this site is the ability to reach and maintain a proper smoking temperature inside your smoker. When the north winds howl and the mercury dips monitoring and maintaining that all important temperature can be more challenging than in warmer weather.

Smokers are made of metal, which is a darn good conductor of heat and cold. So it’s easy to loose a lot of heat in cold weather. Expect to find yourself using more fuel more often when smoking in freezing or below freezing temperatures. And it’s not just the cold that will sabotage your efforts. 

Wind, rain, snow, sleet, and shade can all wreak havoc on maintaining a proper smoking temperature.  

If your smoker is getting rained on, snowed on, or even gets condensation from a cold mist it’s temperature is going to drop. Because your smoker is a heat source water, or precipitation, is going to evaporate from it’s surface. Basic physics tells us that with evaporation come heat loss, or cooling. So finding, or creating, a semi-sheltered area to set up your smoker is a good idea.

Now that you may have second thoughts about braving the cold to make great smoked foods it’s time to learn some solutions to the cold weather challenges. They are all pretty basic and simple, however implementing some or all will greatly increase your cold weather smoking enjoyment.

When it comes to cold weather smoking there are two rules of thumb. #1 is that it’s going to take your smoker a lot longer to heat up in the winter. #2 on the average you need to add 20 minutes per pound of food for every 5 degrees below 45 degrees. That’s the average, that is why it’s important to monitor food and smoker temperature when smoking in the cold weather. 

Keep it Closed
You will be tempted to keep a close eye on your food during cold weather smoking. One word of caution is Don’t! Every time you open the smoker in cold weather plan on adding 15 – 20 minutes to your cooking time.

This is where using good Cooking Thermometers are a must. By far the most effective thermometer for cold weather smoking is a digital remote thermometer or two. One to monitor the cook chamber temperature and one to keep tabs on the food itself. With a digital remote you can watch food or smoker temperature from inside the house. 

Give me Shelter
Find a spot to set up your smoker that is at least partially sheltered from the elements. Just take a look around the yard for a spot thats sheltered from a good majority of the wind, thats half the battle. I have two spots, one on the driveway near the garage, the other on the patio. Depending on the wind direction you may also need to find more than one spot.

To add additional protection you can build a smoker enclosure. That’s simply a three sided structure constructed of brick or wood, about as tall as your smoker. Position the three walls toward the direction of the wind to block as much as possible. Don’t make it tight fitting, leave a couple of feet between your smoker and the walls. You don’t want to start a fire. Follow your meat smoker manufactures safe distance recommendations     

Account for the Wind
Smoking your food in a smoker enclosure or protected area is a huge step in dealing with the wind. But neither completely eliminates cold whipping air currents of winter. Charcoal and wood fired smokers all have a natural air flow, either from side to side, or bottom to top. Attempt to see from which direction the wind is hitting your smoker. If the wind hits the smoker on the fire box more air will be introduced into the box. More air means more heat and faster fuel consumption. You may need to close your firebox intake vents more so than in summer.

It’s best to position your smoker so the wind direction will aid, not inhibit the natural flow of air through your smoker. I would rather use a little more fuel and keep a closer eye on the smoker temperature than have too cold a cook chamber.   

Buy your Smoker A Jacket:
To help maintain an even smoking temperature consider insulating your smoker. Having a fire resistant material is crucial here. Some folks use flame resistant water heater blankets cut to custom fit their smokers. Others use a welders blanket fit in the same manner.

Keep it Simple
Working in cold weather tends to make normally easy tasks a little more difficult. The bitter cold makes even the simplest tasks down right difficult. Don’t set yourself up for failure. When you first start cold weather smoking avoid complex or difficult recipes. Start with something simple like Smoked Cheeseburgers or Smoked Chicken Thighs.

Have everything pre-staged. Have your cooking utensils handy, your wood in a dry but accessible area, and your fuel in a safe location. Enlist the help of others. An assistant makes things much easier when working in cold weather.

For me simple means breaking out the Luhr Jensen electric. I keep it in an area of the garage where it’s easy to get to, if you have to dig for it in the cold you won’t use it. Because it’s electric it has steady heat, uses little wood, and is sealed fairly well. It really makes winter smoking a joy.

Well, those are the basics of cold weather smoking. Like everything else about smoker cooking it’s up to you to do a little experimentation and see what works best for you. Next time the snow fly make sure and try a few simple smoker recipes. It’s a great way to perk up a drab winter day.

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