Last week, Daniel sent me a text saying we should do a newsletter in defense of winter grilling. Well, to be specific, what he actually said was “Who the fuck decided that the most acceptable time to stand next to a giant box of fire is when it’s 90 degrees outside?” Needless to say, he has strong feelings about this, and actually so do I. So we’ve joined forces on this one.
Daniel at the grill, circa 2008.
Let’s start with the caveats:
1) Not everyone has a grill. We’ve both lived in New York City and know the drill, though in truth Daniel once moved out of a perfectly good apartment solely because it didn’t have space for a grill and the first thing I did when I bought my first house in winter 1979/80 was to put a grill on the six-by-eight-foot porch.
2) Some of you live in climates where going outside in the winter when you don’t absolutely have to is criminally insane, or at least not recommended. Grilling with Lou Rudd’s mittens is tough. (Light gloves, on the other hand, can be an advantage.)
3) Some of you are probably already avid winter grillers, in which case we’re preaching to the choir. Sorry.
For everyone else—warm weather grillers with bearable winters—let’s talk.
“Grilling season” is an artificial concept invented by Big Spring and Big Summer to corner the outdoors cooking market. (It’s like Valentine’s Day; surely you love that special someone enough to take them out to dinner more than once a year?) Sure, we’ll buy the idea that the most palatable time to spend hours in the backyard with friends flipping burgers and doing cannonballs into the pool like a Bud Light commercial is when it’s not snowing, but when it simply comes to cooking food—food you’re free to consume in the comfort of your heated home—winter is a lovely time to grill (no mosquitos!).
Grills are hot. Winter is cold. Standing next to a fire when it’s chilly outside is a comfortable and comforting activity (a whiskey, neat, is clinically proven to enhance the experience if you’re so inclined), and makes at least as much if not more sense than leaning over a box full of flames when you’re already sweating. But even if you don’t crave the elemental pleasure of being hot and cold at the same time (think running out of a sauna and diving into the snow), the truth is that grilling, whether winter or summer, doesn’t require spending that much time outside.
You light the fire. Or, if you have a gas grill, you turn it on, which maybe takes 30 seconds. You go back inside and prep whatever. When the whatever is ready, you throw everything on the grill. If you’re cooking over direct heat you might want to bundle up a little, because you’ll have to stay out there and pay attention, but since you’re using direct heat it’ll be, what? Ten minutes? You can handle that. Even I can handle it, as long as it’s over twenty degrees and not terribly windy.
If you’re using indirect heat (longer cook time, lower stakes), you can usually walk away and check in periodically. (Go easy on the whiskey, so you remember to check.)
So, really we’re talking less time in the cold than any number of other outdoors activities you might do in winter: running errands or a 10K, walking your dog or yourself, bobsledding, waiting for the bus, whatever. And this task comes with a built-in heat source.
We could go on, but you get the idea. Monday is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which makes this weekend the equivalent of Memorial Day. So: Grill something!
The three recipes below from How to Grill Everything (Jalapeño Poppers with Smoked Gouda, Carne Asada Tacos, and North Alabama Chicken with White BBQ Sauce) are all prime candidates for winter grilling: Two of them cook quickly, the other is low and slow (meaning you can go inside). Coincidentally (or not), they’re also all what we might call “football food,” which is important for Daniel (whose Patriots are playing in their customary conference championship game on Sunday), and for me (who hates the Patriots like everyone else and would love to watch them lose to the Chiefs and eat a chicken wing at the same time).
If you happen to fire up the grill, send pics (a la Daniel's tailgating still life above, but ideally with fewer Patriots banners).
— Mark and Daniel
The moderate heat of jalapeños is a perfect counterbalance to this rich filling, a combination of cream cheese and smoked Gouda. The results are nothing like the breaded, deep-fried apps you get in sports bars.
Carne asada translates simply to “grilled meat” in Spanish, but when uttered with tacos you’re probably talking about skirt steak. It’s a chewy cut and must be cooked quickly and sliced across the grain to guarantee tenderness, but the evenly distributed fat makes for rich and satisfying eating. You don’t have to season the meat much but you can; feel free to tinker with the spices and herbs according to what you like and what you have: Ground cumin, chili powder, ground coriander, and/or dried thyme are all good.
Corn tortillas are traditional for tacos, as is serving the tortillas doubled up. If you like flour tortillas, go for it; the same goes for using one tortilla per taco instead of two.
Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q in Decatur, Alabama, is dubbed “home of white barbecue sauce”—a tangy concoction based on mayonnaise and cider vinegar with a healthy dose of black pepper. Here’s my take with a cut-up chicken, so there are plenty of nooks and crannies for the sauce to season. If you’re using charcoal, you can throw a couple of chunks of hickory wood on the fire when you put the chicken on the grill, but it’s not necessary for delicious results.
Talk To Me, Goose!
Questions, comments, brilliant suggestions? Just want to share the recipe for your grandma's potato salad, or your mom's meatloaf, or your uncle Drew's three-day 100-percent rye loaf (yes, please)? Don't hesitate to reach out anytime.