Once you’ve managed to whip up the courage to brave the cold, actually smoking in extreme conditions can prove to be a test. With wind, rain and snow reaching and maintaining the correct temperature becomes much more of a challenge.
But you don’t need to let it stop you from firing up the smoker. Let’s run through 7 practical tips for cold weather meat smoking.
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1) Different types of smoker performs differently in extreme conditions
As the term suggests, a “pitmaster” knows their craft. This includes knowing how your type of smoker performs in the cold.
Thin bodied smokers like the Weber Kettle or Smokey Mountain will struggle to get up to temp. They also lose heat quickly once you reach your desired temperature due to the thinner metal body conducting heat away from the chamber.
This means you will need to burn more fuel to reach and maintain the correct temperature.
Thicker insulated ceramic smokers like Kamodos will similarly need to use more fuel to get up to temperature. However once you have reached the desired temperature, it will be easier to maintain.
You will also need to use more fuel when using gas smokers. One point to note is that, contrary to what some may think, the gas should flow just fine in cold weather. Meathead Goldwyn gives a great in depth rundown on using gas in cold conditions.
Meathead Goldwyn, Cold Weather Grilling & Smoking
“Many people erroneously believe that gas will not flow at low temperatures. Not true. Propane is in liquid form in the tank, and it must boil to become a gas. The boiling point of propane is -44°F so you should have no problem getting gas to flow unless you live in Siberia.
The pressure will drop as the air temp drops, and as the level of fuel drops, but that’s why gas grills and smokers have a regulator, that disk-shaped device between the tank and the cooker. It regulates the flow to keep it even.
Similarly, if you are using a charcoal or pellet burner, expect to get through more fuel to keep the heat up.
Using an electric cooker can be a viable solution for cold weather smoking due to the steady heat produced.
2) Create your own smoker insulation
You don’t need to spend lots of cash on a a cold weather jacket to provide insulation for your smoker. You can always DIY! The main considerations you need to take into account are safety, airflow, and effectiveness.
Some options to consider are welding blankets or furnace insulation. A welders blanket is a great option as it provides protection from the wind, rain and snow. It will also provide insulation without the risk of anything catching alight.
Double foil insulation is a good option to protect your smoker, however, be sure to not place it in direct contact with the firebox itself, as there is a chance of the insulation melting.
A user over at the SmokingMeatForums posted a great guide to insulating a Masterbuilt Propane smoker using aluminum foil insulation from the hardware store.
T-ROY Cooks suggests using furnace insulation to wrap around a Weber Smokey Mountain. This will allow you to smoke in freezing conditions.
Generally, a trip to your local hardware store will provide you with plenty of inspiration. Once you have found a product that is suitable, cut it to fit your smoker and make sure the vents are not covered.
Check out this gallery for ideas from fellow pitmasters. There might be something that will work for you.
3) Keep the Lid Shut
Lifting the lid and having a solid 5 minute peek while it’s cold out can leave your cooker working hard for the next 15-20 minutes to get back up to temperature. This can really add up and result in serving some grumpy, hungry guests
Even opening the lid for a minute or less will take a couple of minutes for the cooking chamber to reach the desired temperature again. Either way, flipping the lid is not a great habit to get into, particularly in the cold weather.
If it’s raining consider rigging up an umbrella, or even get someone to hold it over you and the smoker when you need to open the lid up.
While you always want to know what’s going on inside your smoker, in winter keeping a close eye on your temps is even more important. Checking your temps from the comfort of your couch is also pretty great. That’s why we recommend a dual probe remote thermometer. Using a digital thermometer not only means you can keep an eye on the temperature without lifting the lid or heading out into the cold yourself.
4) Stock Up on Fuel
As we have discussed, you are going to chew through more fuel if you are planning to cook in the cold. Armed with that knowledge, make sure you have enough fuel ready to go. Also, take a few minutes before the cook to set up any tools or utensils you may need while you are smoking. This will ensure that when it is time to refuel, you won’t risk a drop in temperature while you’re frantically searching for the equipment you need.
To make your life easier during the cook, it is a good idea. If you’re using a wood burning smoker, keep your wood in a dry, yet accessible spot, chopped up and ready to go. Wood racks can be a good option to keep your firewood dry.
When it comes to charcoal or gas, you may need to do a bit of a stocktake before you start and if needed, make a trip to your fuel supplier. Better yet stock up on charcoal or wood pellets in advance. Keep in mind that the fuel sufficient for a warm weather cook will not do the job in the cold.
5) Position your Smoker in a Sheltered Spot
A lot of the difficulties associated with smoking in windy, cold weather can be lessened by placing your smoker in a protected spot throughout the cook.
Have a look around your yard and identify areas that are sheltered from the wind and rain. By doing this, you can build up a nice knowledge base of “go to” spots for all sorts of weather scenarios. For instance, you might have one spot that is great for windy conditions, and another that is perfect for when it rains.
A word of warning. I’m never sure if we really need to point this out, but you always hear stories about people that didn’t know this. Never move your smoker inside your home or a into a confined space while you’re cooking.
Not even into your garage. Carbon monoxide is a byproduct of combustion, so it is going to be produced by your smoker over the course of the cook. In a confined space, therefore, there is a risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Of course, this isn’t an issue when you BBQ outside in a well ventilated area.
Also be wary of cooking in enclosed areas adjacent to your home as they may have vents that lead into the house itself. This could put family members or pets inside at risk.
When seeking a sheltered spot to position your smoker, consider nearby flammable or meltable materials. A nice spot under your eaves might look perfect, but you wouldn’t want it all to end in an embarrassing call to the fire brigade.
6) Dealing With the Wind
Dealing with the wind is one of the key factors in keeping a consistent temperature in the chamber of your cooker. A consistent temperature inside the chamber is important because large fluctuations in temperature can ruin your BBQ. While finding a protected spot will help with maintaining some kind of consistency the main thing to consider is air flow.
Some smokers have a definite path that air follows. Get to know how the air flows through your particular smoker. This is important to know, because increased airflow through your smoker will stoke the fire and increase your temperatures.
On the other end of the spectrum, no airflow means heat loss, as the fuel cannot burn.
The solution is to monitor the wind direction and adjust your intakes accordingly. You might need to shut off a vent facing the wind completely and adjust temp using another vent.
The aim is to avoid either spikes in temperature or snuffing out the heat. Generally speaking, it is better to work with the wind. Reducing the airflow too much will drop the temperature in the chamber and can result in a dirty fire that produces unpleasant smoke that can ruin your food.
7) Use a Cold Weather Jacket
When it is cold, wet and miserable, we naturally reach for a jacket to keep us warm and protect us from the elements. Your smoker will enjoy the same benefits from wearing a cold weather jacket.
The objective of putting a cold weather jacket on your smoker is to hold in the heat it has already generated. Another benefit is protection from the elements; which could affect the consistency of the temperature inside. Depending on your model of smoker, you may be able to buy one specifically.
The fine folks over at BBQ Guru make a Silver Bullet silicone smoker jacket for both the 18.5 and 22.5″ Weber Smokey Mountain. These are sewn from 700°F silicone coated material to helps offset the effects of wind, rain and snow and conserve charcoal.
If you purchase a cold weather jacket for your smoker, you have the added benefit of being able to use it as a cover for your machine when you are not cooking.
Be sure that the cold weather jacket you purchase has allowed for adequate air flow, ease of access and fire resistance.
Wrapping it up
What did you think of this our tips for smoking in cold weather?
No doubt, the dead of winter is the perfect time to enjoy a tasty, perfectly cooked BBQ. So don’t let doubts about whether you can pull it off hold you back from giving it a go! With a bit of know-how there’s nothing stopping you from keeping the pit going all year round.
If you enjoyed this post, please share your top tips for smoking in the cold in the comments below.