It’s easy to cook outdoors in the summertime when the weather is warm and the sun is shining. But what should you do when the clouds roll in?
A lot of folks hang up their BBQ tongs when the weather turns wet. But this could mean not using your grill for large portions of the year. If you’re investing money in a premium Weber or Kamado grill it seems silly to write them off until the rainy season ends.
Don’t be a fair-weather pitmaster. With a little advanced planning, you can grill and smoke meat all year round, even in the rain or snow!
- 1 Grilling in the Rain
- 2 Ideas for Grilling in the Rain
- 3 Tips and Best Practices for Rainy Day Grilling
- 4 Safety Tips for Grilling in Inclimate Weather
- 5 Conclusion
Grilling in the Rain
We’ve all been to a barbecue that’s been rained out. Usually, this happens when a summer thunderstorm appears and you’re not prepared. If you’re cooking at a park or at a game you may not be able to shelter your grill from a sudden squall.
There’s no reason to give up on grilling or smoking meat at home just because of a little rain, however. Sure, it might seem like a lot of trouble to design a special inclimate weather set-up for your grill.
But as you’ll see, it really isn’t expensive or difficult to grill outside in the winter. In some cases, it may actually be easier to cook in the rain or snow than in the hot summer months!
Benefits of Grilling in the Rain
- The increased humidity keeps your meat moist as it cooks and prevents it from drying out.
- Lower outside temperatures reduce the chances of your meat spending too much time in the Danger Zone, where nasty bacteria can grow.
- You’ll keep the lid to your grill or smoker closed while cooking, increasing the flavor from the combustion materials (gas, charcoal or wood).
- Lowers the chances of an accidental fire (but also creates new hazards – see Safety below).
- It may be easier to maintain your grill or smoker at low-and-slow temperatures in the cooler weather. Especially insulated designs, like the ceramic Kamado-style smokers, which tend to overheat.
- You’ll earn the right to call yourself a hardcore pitmaster!
Wind is Worse than Rain for Grilling
Rain creates a few challenges to using your grill, but I’d argue that windy weather is worse.
A drizzle of rain will lower your grill’s temperature, and make it harder to light charcoal or start your gas grill. If it’s really pouring down, then water could seep into your firebox and drown the fire.
But the main trick to rainy-day grilling is to shelter your grill with an awning, canopy or umbrella. As long as a lot of water isn’t getting inside your grill you should be fine cooking under a bit of cover.
Windy weather presents a bunch of additional challenges. If it’s really rainy AND windy, your umbrella or canopy might blow away or worse, blow into your hot grill! High winds can knock out the fire on a gas grill and make it harder to regulate the temperature inside a charcoal grill.
I’ve even had a grill roll away in the middle of a windstorm. Be sure to plan for windy weather when you’re designing your grill’s rain shelter and make sure everything is well anchored and weighted down.
Ideas for Grilling in the Rain
Now that I’ve convinced you to give year-round grilling a go, how should you keep the rain from drowning out your BBQ?
The best way is to use some type of overhead cover to divert the rain from your grill. There’s a ton of options to choose from, from built-in BBQ shelters to portable grill canopies.
Take a look at your grill’s location and see what you have to work with. If you already have a covered back porch or patio you may not need to do much more than add some wind protection.
If you need overhead coverage, an adjustable umbrella, awning or even a tarp may provide enough shelter to get the job done. Just be sure you have enough room between your grill and the cover to keep things safe!
As I mentioned above, you should plan for windy as well as wet weather when choosing your shelter design. If the rain is coming in sideways, it’s nice if you can adjust your cover to block it.
Obviously, you won’t be cooking outside during a Snowpocalypse-style storm, but it’s helpful to consider the range of winter weather your area experiences. If you set-up your shelter with these in mind you should have little trouble grilling year-round.
BBQ Shelter or Porch
The best way to protect your grill from the wet weather is to use your covered porch or patio for your wintertime grilling. Your grill will stay dry and you can hang out on the porch and keep an eye on things. As long as you have enough space to avoid starting a fire, that is.
If your porch is too low or too close to your siding to grill directly under, you may be able to use the grill right outside the roofed area. This will still offer some protection and you can retreat under the roof while your food cooks. You can also add in windbreaks and additional coverage as needed.
Another option is to build a barbecue shelter or gazebo. This gives you the advantage of locating your grill away from your home and other structures. It could also give you the chance to create an awesome area for backyard entertaining!
Barbecue Umbrella or Awning
Using a BBQ umbrella is a great way to quickly create shelter for your grill during a rainstorm. There are even umbrellas made from heat-resistant materials you can clip onto the side table or handle of your grill.
Umbrellas can be small enough to cover a portable kettle grill or the large type that are freestanding or integrated into a table. Depending on your set-up and weather, the umbrella may even offer you shelter as you stand by your grill. Then you can keep your hands free even as you grill in the rain.
Retractable awnings are another great way to create a sheltered area for grilling and meat smoking. You can pull them out when needed and tuck them out of sight when you’re done.
Canopy for Your Grill
A barbecue canopy is like a portable shelter for your grill. These self-standing tents offer you an inexpensive way to create a “mini porch” for your grill or smoker. As a bonus, you can use them for shade in the summer and for weather protection in the winter!
These canopies come in a range of materials. Some are less ideal for BBQ because they are made with fabric like nylon or polyester. These pop-up tents are usually constructed from flimsy materials and are not very durable.
I would opt for one made with sturdy, fire-resistant materials and open sides. You can always add a windbreak if you need one, but it’s better not to have a lot of fabric blowing in the wind as you play with fire.
Barbecue Wind Shield
Once you’ve settled on your overhead shelter, you’ll still need something to prevent the wind from blowing out your grill’s flame or scattering your charcoal ashes. That’s where a windshield or windbreak comes in.
BBQ windshields are simple, heat resistant panels that you can position around your grill to divert the air flowing around it. A windshield or break can prevent a gust of wind from blowing out your grill’s flame. They are also handy to keep hot ashes from blowing out while you check on your food.
There’s a variety of shields available online, or you can go the DIY route and construct your own. If you frequently use a backpack or camping stove you might already have a shield you can use with your big grill.
You can use your BBQ umbrella or a tarp to create a partial windbreak around your grill as well. You clearly don’t want to position them too closely to your hot grill, but they can be useful if the wind is blowing in a consistent direction. I often tilt my big outdoor umbrella to block the wind and rain while I grill.
Tips and Best Practices for Rainy Day Grilling
The key to grilling and smoking meat in the rain is to have a plan. If you arrange the grill and do your food prep in advance, you won’t get distracted by weather issues while you’re cooking.
Positioning Your BBQ Shelter/Umbrella
Before you fire up your grill, make sure your rainy-day set-up is ready to go. You may have to adjust things if the wind shifts.
Make sure your BBQ shelter, umbrellas, tarps, awnings or canopy are the proper distance from your grill. Otherwise, they could start a fire.
How much room do you need? I’ve seen a lot of different numbers on the internet. Some sites say you need at least 10 feet between your grill and any canopies or structures. Other sites say 5 feet is plenty of room.
I would err on the side of caution and leave at least 6 feet between a hot grill and anything flammable. Even in the rain, your grill or smoker can still melt siding and start a structure fire.
Using Your Grill in the Rain
How is rainy-day grilling any different from barbecuing under a hot summer sun?
Lighting a Grill in Wet Weather
Starting your grill can be more challenging when it’s cold and rainy.
I’ve noticed that the auto-ignition on many gas grills fail to light when it’s wet outside. You might want to have a BBQ lighter or some matches handy in case you have this kind of problem. Then you can use them to manually start your gas grill.
For charcoal grills, things can be a little trickier. Even if you’ve stored your charcoal in a sealed bin or garbage can, the humidity in the air can make it harder to ignite.
I always use a chimney starter to light my charcoal. When the ground is wet, I use some bricks to elevate the chimney starter while my coals burn down. This way they stay dry and I don’t have to open my grill until they are ready to go.
Allow Extra Time for Preheating
It usually takes longer to prepare charcoal and preheat your grill when the weather is nasty outside. So give yourself extra time for this initial stage, and use more charcoal to increase the temperature inside your grill. This should counter the effects of the cooler weather and humidity.
Keep the Lid Closed While You Grill
You’ll want to limit the amount of time your grill spends with an open lid while your cooking in bad weather. Even if your using a BBQ umbrella or canopy, opening the lid too often will slow your cooking times down.
Every time you open your grill or smoker, you lose precious heat. The temperature inside will drop and your food will stop cooking until the heat increases again.
Watch Your Temperatures
Your grill may not get as hot when it’s cold, windy, rainy or snowy outside.
My gas grill struggles to reach 500°F in the winter months even though it has no problems reaching high temps in the summer. Your food may not cook as quickly as you expect if you’ve only grilled in the warmer months of the year.
I highly recommend using thermometers to monitor both the temperature of your food and those inside your grill as you cook.
Ignore any built-in thermometers your grill or smoker might have and use a better system instead.
If you’ve invested in an infrared thermometer, this is a great time to use it on your grill! Since these thermometers can measure the actual temperature of your grill grates, you’ll be set for success.
Insulate Your Smoker
Smoking meat can be especially challenging in wet or cold weather. On the other hand, sometimes it’s actually easier to smoke meat in the winter!
It depends on your smoker. If your smoker is the cheaper type that leaks a lot of heat and smoke, you may have trouble getting it to temperature when it’s cold and rainy. Maintaining the ideal low smoking temperature might take a lot of monitoring, and use extra fuel.
If your smoker is a premium version, like a Traeger or pellet smoker, you might have the opposite problem. My Traeger gets too hot in the summer months but works like a dream in the winter. So I do my best meat smoking in the middle of a snowstorm.
If your smoker has trouble maintaining the ideal low-and-slow temperatures when it’s raining, you could add some insulation to your cooker. There’s a bunch of easy DIY insulation methods you can choose from to increase the heat inside your smoker in the winter.
Choose Fast-Cooking Meats and Veggies
It’s a lot easier to cook outdoors in rainy weather if you’ve planned the menu ahead of time.
One option is to pick foods that cook quickly. Even in the winter, grilling some hot dogs, burgers and boneless chicken doesn’t take very long. Veggies like corn on the cob, squash and bell peppers cook quickly and don’t require a lot of effort to prep.
Alternatively, you could precook your food and finish it on the grill for a flavor boost.
There’s no reason you couldn’t start a pork tenderloin in your oven and transfer it to your hot grill for the searing. Raw potatoes could take up to an hour to cook on your grill, but if you parboil them first they’ll just need some browning.
With a little planning, you can eat like a King and grill all year round!
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Safety Tips for Grilling in Inclimate Weather
Here’s a list of tips for cooking outside safely when the weather is less than pleasant.
You don’t have to pack your grill or smoker away for the winter, but you should take a few extra precautions to keep yourself and your home safe!
Do’s and Don’ts of Wet Weather Grilling
When cooking in the rain, do:
- Cook outside underneath a shelter or canopy.
- Make sure your BBQ is located away from structures and other flammable materials.
- Make sure your BBQ grilling area has adequate ventilation.
- Anchor your umbrella, tarp or canopy so they stay a safe distance away from your grill.
- Allow a minimum of 6 feet between your grill and things that could catch fire.
- Use a windbreak to prevent the wind from blowing out your flame or hot ashes.
- Limit the amount of water that can drip into your grill.
- Keep a close eye on your grill and keep the lid closed as much as possible.
- Keep a hose or fire extinguisher handy, just in case.
- Dispose of any charcoal or wood ashes very carefully!
- Use your grill in an open garage or partially-walled carport or screened porch. Even with an open window or door, dangerous gases like carbon monoxide can build up and even leak into your home.
- Use a grill or smoker near your home or other structure, or under a low overhang like a garage door. Fires can start even in the rain or snow.
- Leave your grill unattended for more than a few minutes. A gust could send things flying or blow out the flame on your gas grill.
- Immediately restart a gas grill if the flame dies. Turn off the gas and let it air out for a few minutes before relighting it.
- Allow any electrical cords or connections to get wet. Avoid stringing several electrical cords together and just use one with the appropriate length.
How to Dress for Success While Grilling in the Rain
No one talks about what to wear when you’re grilling in bad weather, and I don’t understand why this is so overlooked!
It’s tempting to toss on a rain jacket, but that would be a mistake. A rain jacket might keep you dry, but if it accidentally touches your hot grill it’s gonna melt in a second. I learned this the hard way when I ruined an expensive hiking jacket.
So, avoid highly flammable rain jackets and fabrics like polar fleece, nylon, and polyester. Most waterproof fabrics are a no-go near a fire.
Instead, choose natural fibers like wool or cotton. They are still flammable, but they don’t melt instantly if they touch a hot grill. I have a wool sweater that’s my go-to for winter time grilling. It’s better to be damp than to melt your favorite jacket.
You’ll also want to prevent your clothing from being blown into the flames. Keep your sweater zipped up and use some rubber bands on your sleeves if they want to slip over your hands. Sometimes I tuck my sleeves into my grill gloves to keep them safe.
Someone once told me that it takes true dedication to barbecue year-round. But once you’ve invested your money in a great BBQ set up, there’s no reason to take the winter off from outdoor cooking!
While it might seem hardcore to grill in the rain, it’s really very easy if you do a bit of advanced planning. With a shelter to keep the rain off and a windbreak around your grill, you can keep cooking all winter long.