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Smoking Meat In Cold Weather: 11 Tips for Success

True barbecue lovers know that smoked meat isn’t just a summer thing!

But, smoking in winter presents a whole heap of extra challenges that, if you don’t deal with correctly, make it almost impossible to maintain the right cooking temperature.

So, what do you do next time the hankering for a smoked meal hits when the weather isn’t crash hot? Follow these smoking meat in cold weather tips and you’ll be serving up melt-in-your mouth meats year round.

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Table of Contents

11 Simple Tips for Smoking Meat in Cold Weater

We really wished we lived in Hawaii. But, the reality is that we, the Burning Brisket family, spend 75% of the year smoking meat in less than ideal conditions.

Raging winds, all kinds of never-ending rains, snow… There’s no doubt about it, colder weather does impact your barbecue. But, impact doesn’t mean impossible.

You absolutely don’t need to let a little (or even significant) amount of bad weather from stopping you from sinking your teeth into a perfectly smoked rib.

I mean brisket, short ribs, and smoked mac and cheese are great winter-time comfort foods, am I right or am I right?!?

Here’s what to do…

Use a Barbecue That's Suitable for Cold Weather

Forget winter smoking on a cheap offset smoker! The thin metal will simply bleed heat. And, even if you use a tonne of extra fuel, you’ll have a nightmare of a time trying to not only reach but then maintain a suitable and safe cooking temperature.

To successfully smoke in cold weather, you need the right kind of gear to do just that.

Think of the maximum heat retention that you get from a kamado smoker. Or, the automatic tempearture control offered by a pellet smoker.

Those are our favorite types of smokers to use for mid-winter cooks.

If you’ve got one already, you’re good to go.

Or if you’re shopping, check out our top cold weather smokers for a round-up of all smoker types, or commit to a couldn’t be easier pellet grill for cold weather that’s insulated and set up for cold climates.

Shelter Your Barbecue

Although it’s absolutely ESSENTIAL that you smoke outdoors (not in a garage either), you’ll have an easier time smoking in winter if you can position your barbecue somewhere that’s sheltered from the cooling effects of the wind, rain and snow.

That might mean setting up under an open-sided gazebo or around the side of your house that’s less exposed.

But, if it’s really howling out there and you don’t have a natural shelter, consider making your own.

A piece of ply covered with some foil insulation can work wonders. Just be careful not to position flammable materials too close to any hot spots of the outside of your barbecue, particularly the firebox.

Blanket Up

If they make an insulating blanket for your smoker, investing in one of these is going to make smoking in really cold temperatures A LOT easier.

Cold weather jackets like the Traeger Insulation Blankets are specially fitted to create a barrier between the hot smoker surface and the cold air outside. They do wonders for keeping the temperature more even, reducing cook time, and improving fuel efficiency so you’re winning all-round.

There’s a lot of Z Grills smokers that have matching insulation covers available too.

We just keep ours on in summer too.

Cook Smaller Cuts of Meat

Ribs straight off a Z Grills pellet smoker

Now, we’re not stopping you from cooking a super large brisket in the pit of winter.

But, choosing smaller cuts of meat that don’t require such long cooking times will be easier when the weather’s working against you. Something that’d usually take 12 hours in summer might need more like 16 hours + when winter temperatures slow the cooking down.

Instead, try smoking some ribs, chicken thighs, beef cheeks, meatballs, or sausages. These are also ideal finger foods for entertaining over Christmas.

Check out our guide on the best meats for smoking for more inspo.

Stock Up On Fuel

Using the Z Grills 200A Cruiser with Traeger Pellets

Even if you’re using a smoker that’s well insulated for cold weather cooking, you’re going to need more fuel to reach and maintain a steady temperature during winter than you would on a fine summer’s day.

So, stock up on your fuel of choice and have it nearby to make things easy.

Store Your Fuel Properly

Just last week I lost half a hopper full of fresh pellets because an unexpected storm rolled by, dousing my hopper in more water than it could handle.

So, while keeping your pellets, charcoal, or wood dry isn’t too big of an issue when the weather’s fine, come winter you’ll want an easy way to prevent any dampness from ruining your clean burn and good temperatures.

Check out our guide on how to store smoking pellets. The tips you’ll find there can be applied to charcoal too.

Monitor Your Barbecue's Temperature Closely

During summer, yes, you might be able to get away with forgetting the smoker while you mow the lawn, watch the game, or have a beer with the boys.

But, when you’ve got cold weather encroaching on the goods, you’ll need to keep a close eye on the temperature throughout the cook to make sure your fuel is topped up, and the temperature is keeping steady so that dinner’s not unexpectedly 4 hours late (it’s happened to us too).

Even once you’re used to how your smoker performs in cold weather, a change of wind direction or more rain can have a big impact on how your cook goes on that particular day.

Check the temperature dial every hour or so, and be sure to add more fuel earlier rather than later.

If you don’t want to have to throw on a jacket, hat, and gloves before you head outside, invest in a wireless smoker thermometer with a dual-probe or ambient temperature probe so you can see exactly how hot your smoker is from inside somewhere warm.

Set a Higher Cooking Temperature

Depending on what type of smoker you have and how cold it is, you might find that the ambient temperature of your smoker just can’t quite get up to your target.

In this case, set the target a little higher than you’d like and you’ll probably find that it can get up those extra few degrees.

Wrap Your Meat

If you don’t already do it, wrapping your meat is a great way to speed up your cook times by holding the heat in to push past the stall quicker. And, it’s an even more appreciated boost during winter when you need all the help you can get.

Butchers paper works the best to keep the heat and most of the moisture in without fully blocking the smoke. But, some people do prefer good old aluminum foil too.

Personally, I use butchers paper for everything. But, I like to double wrap with wide, heavy-duty BBQ aluminum foil on top of the paper for pulled pork only. I find it holds the juices in better.

Smoke to Temp, Not Time

This is the best trick to cook better barbecue at any time of the year.

But, especially in winter when you’ve got the cold, wind, wet, or all of the above impacting on your cook, you absolutely want to be cooking until your meat reaches the correct internal temperature instead of just to time.

To do this you’ll need a wireless meat thermometer (which will help you with the tip above anyway).

Most have apps that guide you to the right internal meat temperature based on which type of meat you’re cooking. Then, you’ll simply cook until your thermometer tells you the pork butt is ready to pull apart instead of just hoping that 8 hours will do it.

Keep the Lid Closed!

Having a peek at your meat during a mid-winter cook means letting in a blast of cold, wet air that’ll dramatically drop the temperature. You’ll then need even more fuel and time while your smoker works hard to hit your target temperature again, delaying your serving time.

Instead, save yourself the hassle by keeping the lid closed as much as is humanly possible!

When it’s time to wrap your meat, open the lid once, take all your meat out, close the lid wrap, and pop it back in.

Then, rely on your wireless smoker thermometer again to tell you exactly how well-done your meat is so there’s no need to sneak a peak or open the lid to insert an instant read thermometer.

FAQs About Smoking Meat in Cold Weather

Umm…. when is smoked meat ever bad?!? It can be harder to smoke in cold, wet, or windy conditions. But, with a few simple tips there’s nothing better than enjoying a hot smoked salmon, chicken, or even brisket on a cold winter’s day.

Yes, you can smoke meat when it’s 30°F (-1°C) out.

Plenty of people do smoke meat outdoors in freezing conditions. Be sure to follow the tips in this guide to make the task easier.

Traeger don’t specify a safe minimum operating temperature. But, it is possible to use a Traeger pellet smoker in freezing conditions.

Traeger state that you can expect a slower ignition time, the temperature to sit under the target, and your smoker to use more fuel.

You should be able to use most quality pellet smokers in freezing or snowy conditions. But, using a fully insulated model like these will help the grill to run easier and use less fuel.

Depending on which type of smoker you have, wind can hugely impact the temperature your grill sits at causing heat fluctuations and higher fuel usage.

Try to position your smoker out of the wind as much as possible or at least orient it so that the wind isn’t whipping through the vents.

Summing Up On How to Succeed When Smoking Meat in Cold Weather

Absolutely, don’t let a bit of bad weather stop you!

With the right approach and a bit of practice with your particular smoker, there’s no reason you can’t make epic smoked meat in winter too.

Check if your smoker is well-suited to cold weather, set it up as out of the weather as possible, make sure you’ve got plenty of fuel, and always cook to temperature instead of time!

Kate Brown, the founder and voice behind Burning Brisket, is not your typical pitmaster or restaurateur. Her expertise in barbecue grew from a humble desire to cook exceptional meals for her family. From overcoming burnt brisket mishaps to establishing her boutique cattle ranch, Kate shares her passion to help 'ordinary' individuals cook extraordinary barbecue, believing that simplicity often yields the best flavors. Kate is committed to making great barbecue accessible to all with the right resources and some tasty practice.

About Burning Brisket

Burning Brisket is one of the leading, independent authorities on all things barbecue. Family-owned and run, it's our mission uncomplicate the art of smoking to help you enjoy making incredible food at home for your family and friends to create memories over.

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