Smoking Meat in Winter: 19 Cold Weather Tips For Pitmasters


Smoking meat in the wind, rain and cold can be a challenge, but it doesn’t mean you have to put your smoker away for the winter. Smoking meat through the cold will cost a little more time and money, but if you love smoked meat, weather should never be a deterrent. As long as you have a good plan, stock up on fuel, and look at insulation options, there’s no reason you can’t enjoy smoked meat year-round. I did some research and found a few tips and tricks for winter smoking.

Have you tried smoking a Wagyu brisket yet? You can get one delivered to your door from Snake River Farms.

1. Stock Up On Fuel, You Will Burn Through A Tonne

It takes longer to heat your smoker in winter, so be prepared with extra charcoal or wood. If the metal on your smoker is freezing, it will take longer for your smoker to get up to temperature and burn through more fuel as a result. Under normal conditions, the outside of your smoker will remain hot and will keep the internal temperature consistent. When cold wind blows against the smoker, the heat will get drawn out of your smoker, and make it difficult to maintain temperature.

If you are using a charcoal smoker, you may need to keep adding coal every hour just to maintain temperature. When adding more charcoal, use a chimney starter of fully lit coals to keep the temperature hot. Pellet grills will burn through more wood than usual, so make sure your pellet hopper is full and keep a large bag of pellets on hand. Make sure the pellets don’t get wet otherwise they will be useless. When buying a pellet smoker, consider a model with a large pellet hopper so you can cook on wintry days without having to keep refilling the hopper. Gas smokers will burn through more propane tanks in winter because they have to work twice as hard. If you can attach your smoker to natural gas in your house, you will be able to smoke through winter with no problems.

2. Buy A Smoker With Double-Walled Insulation To Retain Heat

No matter what type of pit you are using, quality smokers are constructed with thick steel, so they can retain heat and keep the cold out. If you live in a cold climate, its worth buying a well-constructed smoker. One of the biggest differences between an expensive smoker and a cheaper smoker is how it was manufactured. Cheap smokers may look shiny and new in the store, but they are made with thin metal and will burn through a tonne of fuel on a chilly day. Well made smokers are put together with welds rather than fasteners, but a poorly constructed smoker will spring leaks everywhere and let cold air swirl around the cook chamber.

Traeger has a variety of different pellet grills, but the top-of-the-line models have double-walled insulation. The Timberline and Ironwood models are well insulated to hold the heat inside the cooking chamber and keep the cold air out. The Traeger Pro Series is the biggest selling pellet grill in the world, but it isn’t insulated and not suitable if you live in a cold climate. Although, Traeger makes insulated blankets for the Pro Series so you can grill through the winter months.

If you are considering buying a Traeger, you might be interested in an article I wrote that compares every Traeger model, including the insulated models. You can find the article here: Which Traeger Should I Buy? The Complete Guide To Traeger Pellet Grills

3. Get A Thermal Jacket For Your Pellet Grill

Most pellet grill manufactures have specially designed insulated blankets that attach to the hood of the smoker so you can smoke meat through the colder months. You can install one of these blankets before winter and it will insulate your smoker when the temperatures are below 35°F. These thermal blankets work really well on pellet grills and maintain a consistent temperature and will help avoid burning through excess pellets.

Where To Buy Thermal Blankets For Your Smoker or Pellet Grill

Do an online search for ‘insulation jackets’ for your particular smoker. Below are some links to insulation jackets for some popular smokers.

Smokers & GrillsThermal Blankets For Grills and SmokersWhere To Buy
TraegerTraeger makes heat resistant insulation blankets for the Pro Series 22 and Pro Series 575 pellet grills.
Traeger.com
Green Mountain Davy CrockettAmazon sells a fire-resistant fiberglass blanket that sits over the grill and attaches with magnets.Amazon
Weber Smokey MountainBBQ Guru has a silicon coated jacket that fits over the top of a WSM or similar sized charcoal smoker.BBQ Guru
Weber KettleYou can also use BBQ Guru’s silicon coated jacket on a kettle grill.BBQ Guru
PitBossPitBoss have insulated jackets available on the PitBoss websitePitBoss
Z GrillsAmazon sells thermal covers for Z Grills smokersZ Grills
YoderYoder smokers make quality thermal jackets to fit the YS640 and YS480.Yoder

4. Insulate Your Smoker With a DIY Thermal Blanket

If you don’t want to buy a thermal jacket for your smoker, you can make your own using a welding blanket or an insulated jacket for a hot water tank. If you search within the meat smoking community, you will find lots of DIY insulation ideas for those who live in colder climates that reach below 35°F. Some people are extremely creative and it’s an affordable option if you want to continue smoking in freezing conditions. Join Facebook groups, search YouTube, Reddit and Pintrest for different design ideas.

Once you get hold of a thermal blanket, find a way to attach it around the cooking chamber of your smoker. Head down to your local hardware store and see what thermal products they have available or browse online. This welding blanket is the number one selling thermal blanket on Amazon and sells for about $30. If you want a thicker blanket, the price goes up to around $80 to $100 for a heavy duty thermal like the Tillman (check latest price here).

The market is full of cheap thermal products that are made with mechanically bonded glass fiber rather than quality materials. They do the job but a high quality thermal product is safer and will last longer. These insulation mats are made with synthetic rubber and can withstand temperatures up to up to 1300ºF (Check the latest price here).

5. Line The Interior of Your Smoker With Insulation

Another idea is to line the inside of your smoker with insulation which will give you the same heat retention of an expensive double-walled smoker. Products similar to this foil work well to insulate the inside hood/lid of your smoker to hold in heat and keep out the cold. Interior insulation works well, however it should not come into contact with a direct flame.

Have you seen the most advanced thermometer on the market? FireBoard can be controlled via your phone, holds meat 6 probes, and records your cook data on a cloud.

6. Build a DIY Shelter To Shield Your Smoker From The Wind

Many people consider wind to be a far greater enemy than freezing temperatures. When too much chilly wind blows through your smoker, it will suck all the heat out of your cooking chamber. To combat this, you will need to keep adding more fuel to maintain a steady temperature. If the wind isn’t steady, it will cause the temperatures in your smoker to fluctuate. There are a few ways to protect your smoker from the wind. The most obvious is to place your smoker in an area that is protected from the wind. However, a wind-free zone isn’t always possible, so you may need to get creative.

Try constructing a wind block by using anything you can to deflect the wind away from your smoker. If you search the online communities, you can find several do-It-yourself windbreak designs for smokers to help you cook meat efficiently in cold and windy conditions. Many DIY designs use plywood to build a simple shelter around the smoker. You can then wrap a heater insulation blanket around the wooden frame. I’ve seen some inventive designs where people have made little insulated huts, or repurposed wooden pellets, filled them with insulation and placed them around their smoker.

7. Get a Kamado Grill To Smoke Meat In Freezing Conditions

If you live in a cold climate, consider buying a ceramic kamado smoker like the Big Green Egg or a Kamado Joe. Ceramic grills are the best performing smokers in the winter months because they are extremely fuel efficient and retain heat better than any other smoker. Egg smokers are so well insulated, you can use them in the snow. The heat in the ceramic smokers takes longer to reach the exterior skin, so even an icy wind won’t be able to draw the heat away. On a chilly day, Kamado grills will still need a lot of fuel to get going, but once they hit the target temperature, they hold the temperature inside very well.

Kamado-style grills are an ancient design and are the most versatile cooker on the market because they can smoke, roast, grill and bake. Ceramic grills are expensive, but worth considering if you are constantly up against cold weather. I’ve written an extensive comparison between the Big Green Egg and the Kamado Joe if you are interested in learning more about ceramic cookers. You can find the article here: Kamado Joe vs Big Green Egg- Which One is Better?

8. Buy An Electric Smoker For Year-Round Convenience

Electric smokers are a great option for the winter months and are relatively uneffected by the cold. You may use more electricity on a freezing day, but a little extra electricity is far cheaper than excess charcoal, wood or propane tanks. Many pitmasters have an electric smoker in their arsenal, purely for the colder months so they can continue smoking brisket year-round. The meat smoked in electric smokers doesn’t taste as good as meat smoked in a charcoal or wood smoker, but it is still delicious smoked meat.

Electric smokers are affordable, and Masterbuilt Electric Smokers are extremely popular on Amazon (the latest price here). If you want to learn more about electric smokers, you might be interested in another article I have written where I outlined all the pros and cons of electric smokers. The article also briefly reviews all the most popular electric smokers on the market. You can find the article here: Are Electric Smokers Good? – We Look At The Pros & Cons (Plus Review 6 Models)

Pellet smokers are sometimes confused with electric smokers, but they are very different. Although pellet smokers and electric smokers require electricity to operate, that’s where the similarities end. A well insulated pellet smoker can be used year-round, but a thin walled grill will need an insulation balnket.

9. Buy a Decent Cover To Keep Weather Off Your Smoker

Keep your smoker covered when it is not being used. This will keep the weather off your smoker and save you time when you go to cook. If your smoker is covered in snow, it’s going to take a while to heat the metal and get the smoker up to temperature.

This brisket injection marinade is the secret used in competitions and made by a World Barbecue champion.

10. Pre Heat Your Smoker 1-Hour Prior To Cooking

The walls of the cooking chamber will be colder in winter so it will make it take longer to heat. On a chilly day, plan to fire up your about an hour before you plan on cooking. Pre-heating will give your smoker a chance to come up to the target temperature and stabilize before you add meat.

11. Put a Brick In Your Smoker To Absorb Heat

Another trick is to place a brick inside your smoker. The brick will absorb heat and keep your smoker hotter for longer. If you try this method, don’t put the brick directly into the firebox because this could be dangerous. Place the brick away from the fire so it’s sitting in the cooking chamber. You can attach handles to the bricks so you can move them around easily, otherwise you can pick up hot bricks with heat proof gloves.

12. Overshoot Your Target Temperature When Heating Your Smoker

When heating your smoker, aim to exceed your target temperature. On a wintry day, you’re better off raising your temperature higher than you want to go. If your target temperature is 250°F, aim for 300°F then slowly bring it down.

13. Keep Cold Air Out Of Your Smoker By Not Opening The Lid

One of the worst things you can do on a cold day is continuously open the lid of your smoker. Opening the lid will cause you to lose heat and let in the cold air. When you have to open the lid, move fast and do everything you need to do at the same time. Quickly mop or probe the meat, add extra wood or coals and get the lid back on as fast as you can.

If you don’t already, use a good remote meat thermometer so that you don’t have to keep opening the lid of your cooker. A good duel-probe thermometer will allow you to track what is going on inside your smoker and monitor the internal temperature of your meat. If you want to know more about meat thermometers, I’ve written an article where I go through all the basics and have some affordable suggestions to help you get started. You can find the article here: The Beginner’s Guide To Meat Thermometers.

14. Use a Chimney Starter To Pre-light Lots Of Charcoal

On a cold day, you’re going to be loosing a lot of heat from your smoker so you’re going to have to keep adding hot coals to maintain your desired cooking temperature. Use a charcoal chimney starter to pre-light your coals and wait until the coals are fully lit before dumping them into your charcoal basket. If you notice the temperature of your smoker dipping, fill another charcoal chimney full of coals and light it on the side. After 20-minutes, the coals should be lit and you can add them to your fire. Keep repeating this process to maintain a stable temperature.

15. Select Wood And Coal That Burn Hotter And Longer

Some woods will burn hotter than others. Red oak, for example, is a wood that will burn hot for a long time. There are also some minor differences between different charcoal brands. If you want to find out which charcoal burns the hottest and the longest, check out an article I wrote about an experiment that tested all the major charcoal brands to find out which ones are the best. You can find the article here: Which Lump Hardwood Charcoal Burns the Best?

16. Keep Your Smoker In a Protected Area Away From Weather

On windy days, place your smoker against a wall or in an area where it is protected. Never use your smoker in the garage. Always place your smoker in open areas where the smoke and carbon monoxide can escape. Smokers produce carbon monoxide, which can be harmful to you and your family. Protect pellet smokers from the rain because of electrical components. Keep the pellets dry by keeping water out of the hopper. When wet, wooden pellets expand, making them useless. 

17. Own a Variety Of Smokers For Different Seasons

If you’re serious about smoking meat year-round, consider owning a variety of smokers. It’s always good to have options when external forces are trying to stop you from smoking meat. Having an electric or gas smoker will allow you to smoke meat even if it’s freezing or blowing a gale. If you live in extreme cold, a kamado will give you the option of smoking in the snow. To learn more about smokers, check out my complete smoker guide.

18. Don’t Use Water Pans In Winter To Reduce Condensation

Under normal conditions, placing a water pan in your smoker is a good way to lower the temperature, but not in winter. On a cold day, a water pan will increase condensation inside your smoker and add moisture into the internal atmosphere and cool the metal on the smoker.

19. Modify Your Brinkman Or Other Poorly Constructed Smoker

If you are using a similar cheap smoker as a Brinkman, then there are several modifications that you can make so you can get more out of it in winter. Cheap smokers have thin metal, are poorly constructed and let cold air in and allow heat to escape. If you own a smoker similar to a Brinkman, there are some modifications that you can make to get the best out of it in winter.

Start by sealing any holes or joints to stop cold air from getting in. Wrap a welding blanket around the smoker, place a brick on one of the racks and remove the water pan. Again, check the meat smoking community for “Brinkman Mods” on YouTube and forums and Reddit.

My Favorite Meat Smoking Tools

Thanks for checking out this article. I hope you learned a few things. Here are some of my favorite tools I use when smoking brisket that may be useful to you. These are affiliate links, so if you decide to purchase any of these products, I’ll earn a commission. But in all honesty, these are the tools I recommend to my family and friends who are just starting out.

Meat Thermometer: There are dozens of fancy thermometers on the market, but I still use my trusty TP20. For around $50, I have a high-quality meat thermometer with two probes, and can track the temperature of my smoker with one probe, and my meat with the other probe. The ThermoPro TP20 is an Amazon Best Seller because it’s the easiest thermometer to operate, is durable, highly accurate, and comes with pre-programmed meat settings.

Instant Read Thermometer: Arguably, the second most important tool you need is a fast and accurate instant-read thermometer. These tools play an important role in the latter stages of the cook when the meat needs regular checking in multiple areas. I use the ThermoPro TP19 because it can do everything a ThermaPen can do, but for a fraction of the cost. You can check out the TP19 on Amazon here.

Butcher Paper: Wrapping brisket in butcher paper has become a huge trend in barbeque thanks to Aaron Franklin. Wrapping your brisket in paper will give you a nice brisket bark. However, you can’t just use any old paper, it has to be unwaxed, food grade paper. You can find it on Amazon here.

Advanced Thermometer and Automatic Temperature Controller: Once you’re ready to take things seriously, the FireBoard 2 Drive is a six-channel Bluetooth/Wi-Fi thermometer that can monitor up to 6 pieces of meat, control and graph your cook sessions on your smartphone, and attaches to an an automatic blower that will convert your charcoal smoker to a set-and-forget. This is one of the most advanced meat thermometers on the market. You can check it out on the FireBoard website here.

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