Just Recruitment’s resident grill king tells us why the cooler months are perfect for firing up the barbecue, and shares his tips about how to do it
If you’re a regular visitor to our website, you’ll know that we regularly post recipe ideas from our resident barbecue supremo, project manager Tom Knowles. But you may be wondering why we continue to do so as the temperature drops towards zero. Surely winter is the time to put your grill into hibernation and move your culinary activity indoors?
Not at all, says Tom. In fact, he reckons the cooler weather is perfect for getting outside and enjoying your barbecue.
“I love all cooking,” he says, “but barbecuing is a particular passion for me. So why would I let the weather stop me doing something I love?”
The logic is straightforward enough. Walking enthusiasts don’t stop hiking just because the days are shorter, and bird watchers still head out to the hide with their binoculars in-hand. So why should it be any different for a barbecue enthusiast?
Tom has another, more practical, reason for keeping his barbecue in service during the winter. Remember the Beast from the East that struck in March 2018? Over in East Anglia where Tom lives, the storm didn’t only bring freezing conditions and inches of snow. It also led to power outages, meaning many homes were left with no lights or heating, and no means of cooking supper.
Not so the Knowles residence. “You can fire up a barbecue whenever,” he explains. “While everyone else is worrying about going hungry in the snow, you can look forward to some nice wholesome food, made all the more delicious by virtue of being cooked in the great outdoors. Honestly, it’s magical to cook a steak while you’re surrounded by crisp white snow.”
If that’s you well and truly convinced of the merits of a winter barbecue, you’ll need some help to get started. So here are Tom’s top tips for cooking in the cooler months.
“Preparation is a crucial part of barbecuing all year round,” Tom explains. “But cooking in cold weather makes it even more important. Make sure you have everything you need right by the barbecue so that you don’t have to traipse in and out of the house. And ensure your meat is ready to drop on the grill immediately it’s up to temperature. That way, you’ll be inside in the warm enjoying supper as quickly as possible.”
Line up enough fuel
“You’ll burn a lot more fuel to maintain the same temperature in winter than in summer,” Tom explains. “It’s always worth having extra fuel to hand. This will ensure you don’t run out with your meal half cooked. And if you don’t end up using it, store it somewhere cool and dry in readiness for your next barbecuing adventure. After your first winter barbecue, you’ll be itching to get outside and repeat the experience.”
Keep a lid on it
“Closed-lid barbecuing is sensible throughout the year,” Tom says, “because it helps lock in flavour and gives you greater control over temperature. But it’s crucial when the temperature is cooler. Only lift the lid for very short periods, to prevent cold air getting in and slowing the cooking process. You’ll find that your barbecue loses heat very quickly, especially if the temperature is near to freezing.”
Location, location, location
“Everyone has their favourite place to barbecue, but you may need to rethink it during the winter,” Tom reflects. “I try to get as close to the house as possible, without filling the inside with smoke and taking care to avoid confined spaces where the fumes can’t circulate. This means I can carry utensils and raw food to the barbecue easily. And, when everything’s ready, it minimises heat loss while you carry it to the house. There’s nothing worse than sitting down to a lukewarm steak that was perfect when it left the grill.”
Choose your weapon
“Equipment is a big passion of mine,” says Tom. “I get as much pleasure from buying barbecue gear as I do from cooking. But while you don’t need as much stuff as I have, some items are particularly useful during the winter months”.
“I wouldn’t be without my heavy-based pan. I rest this on the cooler part of the grill to keep cooked food warm, and use it to finish off food that’s just slightly undercooked. Cast iron cookware conducts heat brilliantly, and can be used inside the kitchen as well – making it a sound investment for any cooking enthusiast.”
Eat for the season
“While you can cook pretty much anything on the grill, it’s worth thinking about the best dishes for the weather,” Tom suggests. “Slow cooking takes longer in cold temperatures, and may be more of a mission than you’re willing to accept. Focus on thinner cuts of meat, which are usually nice and tender. They’ll take less time to cook, meaning you won’t spend so long out in the cold, and can get busy eating sooner rather than later.”
Enjoy the experience
If it’s not clear already, Tom thoroughly enjoys winter barbecuing. And his final tip bears that out: “Don’t forget to relish the experience of cooking outdoors in cooler temperatures,” he says. “Take time to look around you, feel the coolness on your skin, and luxuriate in the warmth of the fire. It’s a way of connecting to your inner cave man or woman. I don’t think there’s anything I like more about the winter than getting outside and cooking over a live flame.”
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