With colder weather creeping in with every passing day, few people are thinking about cranking up the grill for a sleet-covered cookout.
Then there’s Rick Barrera.
Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stops this guy from firing it up. And it’s no wonder: When you’ve got a grill like Barrera’s, you want it to be smoking.
“Got it from a guy in North Carolina, 500 bucks,” he said this week, turning burgers over a grate built into the front end of a 1955 Cheve Apache pickup truck.
Yep, his grill is right behind the grill.
“He said the truck was beyond repair, but he didn’t want to get rid of it. So he chopped it up and turned it into a grill,” Barrera said. “He only sold it to me because the wife made him.”
The Aragona retiree isn’t the only outdoor cooking enthusiast who refuses to stop just because it’s cold. Hardcore grillers across Hampton Roads agree: With a few cold-weather techniques, grilling can be just as great in the winter as it is in the summer.
Propane supplier Blue Rhino is among the companies that offer tips. The gas acts differently when it’s cold, the company says, so depending on just how low the temperature dips, you can use up to 50 percent more propane while cooking. So make sure you have an extra tank around.
Grill maker Weber warns that if you’re wearing a scarf or other loose-fitting clothes to keep you warm, make sure those items are tucked in. You wouldn’t want to ruin a good cookout by catching on fire.
The company also suggests using a timer to keep an eye on how long food has been cooking. Every time you open the lid, heat escapes. And when it’s super cold, that will severely delay cooking time.
Like Barrera, Bill Dixon doesn’t understand why people would put away their grills for the winter. Cooking on a more-traditional, barrel-style smoker, Dixon said people are missing out when they stay inside.
“They’re missing everything wonderful about grilling just because it’s cold outside,” the Back Bay resident said. “This is a great time to smoke turkeys and give them away as gifts.”
Dixon, who has a reputation of being one of the area’s top grill masters, also puts together cooking videos for his Pungo Prairie website. He’s preparing to do one soon on grilling on cedar planks.
“You soak the planks, and they can be cherry, hickory, anything you’d use for smoking, in white wine and water, then put fish or meat on them. The edges start to smoke and the smoke waifs over the meat,” he said. “It’s a fantastic way to turn a regular grill into a smoker.”
Dixon’s grilling endeavors take him all over the place as a part-time caterer. His love of grilling year-round stems from watching people enjoy his food.
For Barrera, it’s also about family.
“I tow the grill to the park or to where we go camping ... just about anywhere,” he said. “It’s an experience that we can all have together and everybody enjoys it.”
Grilling has also kept his family fed in a time of crisis. Barrera lived in New Jersey when Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012.
“We were without power for 15 days, so I fired up the grill all the time. Day and night, cold rain, it didn’t matter,” he said. “I didn’t stop.”
He looks back at that time and wishes he would have had his truck grill, with its large capacity.
“The guy I bought it from said I could put 150 chicken wings on it,” he said with a smile. “I try different things all the time. My favorite is ribs. But I’ll cook anything.
“I just love to grill.”