- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Kevin Taylor’s grill gear includes all the basics: spatula, tongs, charcoal — and snow shovel and snowmobile suit. He is unwilling to let inclement or freezing weather get between him and his grill. It’s a year-round passion.

“Why would you want to be limited to grilling a couple months a year? I can’t even fathom a steak or hamburger without a grill,” says Mr. Taylor, a 51-year-old nurse from Fort Wayne, Ind. “It takes 15 minutes. You can grill in any weather for 15 minutes.”

Or even for 20 hours — like the day Mr. Taylor wore a snowmobile suit to make his smoked pork butts, a recipe that calls for a lot of time carefully tending the coals.

“My family thinks I’m crazy,” he says.

From December to February, about a quarter of American households grills at least once every two weeks, says Harry Balzer, a food analyst for market researcher NPD Group. That’s up from 18 percent in 2000. Summer grilling still dominates, but it’s not growing. Mr. Balzer says half of all homes grill in summer, a number that hasn’t changed for 10 years.

“There’s a machismo that separates the men from the boys,” says Steven Raichlen, who has written several books on barbecue. “When it snows, what do you shovel first? The path to your garage or the path to your grill?”

The key to winter grilling is controlling temperature, and the right equipment is key.

Smaller grills will have trouble maintaining the temperature, but larger stainless steel models generally are double walled, which helps retain heat, says Tim Kuhn, marketing manager for the Vermont Castings grill manufacturer.

He also says that many people prefer charcoal, but that in winter, gas often is better. “Gas lets you better maintain a temperature,” he says. “A lot of people love charcoal, and your food tastes great with charcoal, but you tend to have to go out more often to maintain the temperature and refill the charcoal.”

That is, unless you opt for a heavy-duty ceramic grill, such as the Big Green Egg. This style of grill is prized for its ability to retain heat, making them popular choices with year-round grill enthusiasts.

“The heat stays in, no matter what the temperature is outside,” says Lou West, a sales manager with Big Green Egg in Tucker, Ga. “Metal cookers will extinguish the fuel a lot faster because the energy is escaping outside the wall.”

Whatever your fuel, have extra on hand. To compensate for the cold, you may need to cook at a higher temperature, and that consumes gas and briquettes more quickly, says Rick Rodgers, author of the forthcoming “Kingsford Complete Grilling Cookbook.”

A meat thermometer with a long probe or cord helps, too, he says. That way you can check the food without opening the lid. Even better, consider a remote controlled unit that lets you monitor the temperature from inside the house.

Location also is important. Try to grill in a sheltered spot, as wind can quickly rob the grill of heat, according to Ontario Pork, a Canadian trade group that includes winter grilling tips on its Web site.

However, tempting as it might be, resist the urge to cook in the garage. It’s a mistake — and fire hazard — that Judith Fertig, co-author of “Weeknight Grilling With the BBQ Queens,” made on New Year’s Day several years ago.

“One of the neighbors called and thought our garage was on fire,” she says.

Technique must be considered, as well. Preheat the grill for at least 20 minutes with the lid closed, and be prepared to extend cooking time to compensate for the cold, says Karen Adler, Miss Fertig’s co-author.

Limit peeking to no more than once an hour, says Mr. Raichlen. Opening the lid lets the heat escape.

As for what to grill, quick-cooking foods, such as steak, chicken and fish, are ideal in the winter.

Large cuts of meat, such as brisket and pork butt — despite Mr. Taylor’s willingness to endure the cold — are best reserved for warm weather because they need to be cooked over a low flame for several hours.

“One time my father tried to cook a 25-pound turkey on Thanksgiving,” Mr. Rodgers says. “The bird literally caught on fire because the fat was dripping on the coals.”

If you absolutely must have that fire-kissed taste, Miss Adler suggests charring thicker cuts of meat on the grill until just rare, then transferring them to a 350-degree oven for 5 to 10 minutes to finish.

That’s what Mr. Rodgers did with his father’s turkey, happily ending up with extra-crispy wings.

Another important safety tip is to check gas hoses for leaks. The cold makes the hoses more brittle and stiff.

“Rub liquid detergent with a paint brush over the hose. If bubbles form, there’s a hole,” says Mike Kempster, a vice president with Weber-Stephen Products Co. in Palatine, Ill., which makes gas and charcoal grills.

Even serving the food requires a bit of extra thought. Don’t leave the plates outdoors while grilling or they will become cold and will cool the food too quickly after you take it off the grill.

Despite the extra effort, Miss Fertig thinks winter is the best time to cook outdoors. “The winter sky is just beautiful,” she says. “You’re near a heat source out there with a glass of wine, and life is good.”

If you are among those for whom the lure of the grill trumps all weather conditions, consider bundling up and trying these recipes for grilled pork chops and Asian flank steak.

Grilled pork chops with squash, apples and cider-bourbon jus

This recipe, from “Weeknight Grilling With the BBQ Queens” (Harvard Common Press)þ takes 1 hour, 15 minutes from start to finish.

2 acorn squash, halved across the center, seeds removed

1 cup apple cider or juice

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon bourbon or rum

Salt and white pepper, to taste

4 Golden Delicious apples, tops and bottoms trimmed

4 boneless pork loin chops, cut 3/4-inch thick

Place the squash halves on a microwave-safe plate and microwave on high for 8 minutes, or until partially cooked. Set aside.

Meanwhile, to make the cider-bourbon jus, in a small saucepan bring the cider to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-high and cook until the cider has reduced to about ½ cup, about 12 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the butter and bourbon. Season with salt and white pepper. Transfer 1/3 cup of the jus to a small bowl, setting aside the rest.

Preheat grill to high. While the grill heats, cut the squash into 3/4-inch rings and place on a baking sheet. Slice each apple top-to-bottom into four pieces. Use a paring knife to remove the core from each apple slice, then set the slices on the baking sheet. Brush the apples and squash rings with jus from the bowl, then season with salt and pepper.

On a separate baking sheet, arrange the pork chops, brush both sides with jus and season with salt and pepper.

Oil the grill grate. Place the apples on the grate, close the lid and grill for 2 to 3 minutes.

Use tongs to turn the apples, then close the lid and grill for another 2 to 3 minutes, or until the apples have grill marks and give when gently squeezed with the tongs. Transfer the apples to the baking sheet and place the squash on the grill.

Close the lid and grill for 4 minutes, then turn and grill for another 3 to 4 minutes, or until the squash is marked and cooked through. Transfer to the baking sheet.

Place the pork chops on the grill and cook for 7½ minutes, turning once.

Arrange the squash and apple rings around the pork and drizzle everything with the reserved jus.

Makes 4 servings.

Asian grilled flank steak

This recipe is adapted from Steven Raichlen’s “How to Grill” (Workman). From start to finish, it takes 4 hours, 15 minutes.

1½- to 2-pound flank steak

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon peeled, minced fresh ginger

3 scallions, white part only, sliced

2 to 4 Thai chilies or jalapeno peppers, seeded and minced

3 tablespoons sugar

1/3 cup soy sauce

1/3 cup lime juice

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

1/3 cup dry-roasted peanuts

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

With a sharp knife, score the steak on both sides in a crosshatch pattern. Place in a glass or ceramic baking dish.

In a large glass or stainless steel mixing bowl, combine the garlic, ginger, scallions, chilies and sugar. Use the back of a spoon to mash to paste. Stir or whisk in the soy sauce, lime juice, sesame oil and 3 tablespoons of water until the sugar is dissolved.

Pour the marinade over the steak. Cover and refrigerate 1 to 4 hours, turning several times to ensure even marinating.

Arrange the grill for direct grilling. Preheat the grill to high. Just before cooking, brush the grate with oil.

Remove the flank steak from the marinade, discarding the marinade. Place the flank steak on the grill and cook to taste, 4 to 6 minutes per side for medium-rare (about 145 degrees at the center on an instant-read meat thermometer).

Transfer the steak to a cutting board and let rest for 3 minutes. Cutting against the grain and at a 45-degree angle, cut the steak into very thin slices. Transfer to a platter and garnish with the peanuts and cilantro. Serve immediately.

Makes 2 to 4 servings.

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