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I grew up in New England. We weren’t nuts like people from Minnesota (seriously, I’ve seen Minnesotans wearing shorts on days that would freeze a polar bear’s tongue to the hull of a passing ship) but we didn’t let a little winter stop us from grilling out on occasion. I’ve found that a lot of folks pack it in for the season as soon as it gets a little nippy, not to be seen on the patio till spring. That’s a shame, because with a little planning you can enjoy your landscape all year long. And no, “buy a heater” isn’t one of the tips. That’s a Buzzfeed level of lame BS.
Tip One: Make Sure Your Cooking Gear Is Up To It
Devoted readers of this blog should know that I love grilling with charcoal. I also love showing off for company. Last Christmas I decided that Christmas dinner would be a deconstructed beef Wellington from the Cooks Illustrated grill cookbook (Amazon affiliate link), which clearly meant it would be grilled. Outside. When I announced the menu, MJ said “you’re nuts. Enjoy grilling alone in the cold and dark because no one is coming out with you.” As she often is, she was right. I DID enjoy it, and no one did come out and grill with me. Whatever, I had wine.
The problem was the cold. I just couldn’t get the coals hot enough and so things took way longer than normal, I couldn’t cook as much at one time, and the sear on my beef was lacking. If I would have had a fancy, high powered grill like the Fire Magic Echelon series (did you know I sell those? Contact me if interested), I could’ve had dinner as tasty and ripping hot as I do in June. Thus, tip one.
Tip Two: Block That Wind!
Living in an older downtown area our fenced backyard is also surrounded by other houses, so it’s always been a little unclear what direction I would say is the prevailing wind. That is, until I made walking Bonnie every morning a key part of my compass. I can now tell you that I step off the porch, walk to the city sidewalk, turn 90 degrees left, and whoomp! There it is. At least it’s a tail wind coming home.
Wind certainly plays a role in the success of your ability to cook outside, but it also wreaks havoc with your ability to a) spend time outside in the winter and b) convince your friends, family, and dog to spend time with you outside. There are two main ways of creating a wind screen: build it or plant it.
If building a wind screen, you obviously want it to look good all year long. Simple fence panels work, as do really tight trellis panels or clear acrylic panels. The important thing is it need to be high enough to really break the wind, and it also has to be strong enough not to get pushed over by heavy winds. I recommend deep posts, set in concrete.
If planting a wind screen, you can take advantage of the fact that a Green Giant Arborvitae hedge (as an example) will get a heck of a lot taller than that 6 foot fence panel you’re eyeing at Lowes. The down side is that you have to wait, but you could always plant your screen now and build a temporary wood (or other material) screen that will go away as soon as the trees get tall enough. No matter what, research your planting of choice to be sure that it’s deep rooted and not the sort of tree that’s likely to drop branches on you if the breeze picks up.
Tip Three: Have a Winter Patio
This is one of those so-obvious-it’s-stupid tips that no one ever thinks to do. Maybe your main living space is farther away from the house to take advantage of lake views, or cool breezes, or it’s right next to the lawn so you can keep an eye on the kids in their fort. Guess what? It’s 35 degrees out. None of that matters. You want a place to grill some burgers, smoke a cigar, and get your niece away from her boyfriend so you can ask how serious they are. That’s it. If that means moving the grill and a handful of chairs, maybe a side table, closer to the back steps for a few months, so be it. It’s a small price to pay to get to enjoy your space all winter long.
What tips do you use to make your space a four season living space? Let me know in the comments. And if you’re from Minnesota and you’re offended, don’t be, You’re descended from vikings and you terrify me.