Hankering for the smell of juicy burgers, savory sausages, moist chicken or peppery steaks on the grill? Staring wistfully at last summer’s hot dog or marshmallow skewers that have sidled to the back of the flatware drawer? What about those evenings spent sharing scary tales on a blanket under the stars, participating in sand castle contests at the beach, or maybe the zany old fashioned potato sack or three-legged races you loved so much at last year’s county fair?
If you think family memories like these need to remain buried for yet a few more months under layers of snow and ice, you may want to think again. There’s no better way to beat the winter blahs or encroaching effects of video game syndrome (i.e. sore thumbs and an expanding waistline) than a day spent embracing the great outdoors at a February family cookout.
In winter, preparation is certainly key, maybe more so than in other seasons. As the first order of business is personal protection and comfort, dressing in layers for the elements (think thermal long johns, polar fleece vests, double wool socks, insulated gloves or mittens and warm, waterproof boots) will help prolong the time family members can remain outdoors to enjoy all the fun.
Also, while some people do use a backyard grill year-round, the extent of it usually entails dad or mom dashing out to turn the steaks and right back inside to the computer or 50-inch flatscreen. In fact, a great winter cookout should involve lots of crisp, fresh air and loads of activities that keep you smiling and moving–so lock the door and head for the hills, the park, or even the beach.
All Fired Up
While making a campfire in the snow may involve some research and planning, a portable charcoal grill or small hibachi may save time and be just what Boreas–the Greek god of cold north winds and impending winter–ordered. Be sure to investigate the site where you’re going ahead of time to make sure cooking is sanctioned.
Though the temperature is cold and packed snow may abound, make sure you’ve chosen a sunny day, and one with little or no wind. This will ensure an easier time lighting coals and maintaining the food prep/picnic table. While hot dogs, burgers, chicken and steaks are always a good bet, because it’s winter, heartier fare like beef or sausage kabobs alternated with cubed winter squash, potato, fresh beets, onions, and fennel make for a great option. If your grill closes and can retain the heat (a hibachi will not do this), chefs at some of the West’s finest ski resorts swear by robust beef or chicken stew, tangy bean chili or fragrant fondue made in a Dutch oven right atop the grill. As the cooking process can take hours, be prepared to quell growling stomachs with starters like fontina cheese and olives, smoked salmon, and crackers, along with thermoses of hot cider or tomato soup–up against a family-friendly game of snow touch football, of course.
After lunch, while last summer’s sailing and swimming may be on hold for a few more months, who says a few feet of snow should preclude a rousing scavenger hunt. In fact it’s even more fun when buried treasures–like the chocolate-y, marshmallow-y makings for s’mores, which will be cooked right on the grill–are slid into snow banks or under ice-coated bushes (keep them wrapped up well, please!).
Or how about a contest to build the tallest snowman or biggest snow fort? Who says the only medium for building castles is sand? These pursuits, in addition to more traditional activities you may like such as sledding, skating, snow shoeing, or a great winter family hike make for a day full of fun, food, and exercise–less about the cold more about “chillin” together. And who knows, come summer you may even be hankering for the smell of savory sausage and winter squash kabobs on the grill!
Savory Sausage and Winter Squash Kabobs
4 pork, chicken or turkey sausages — sliced thick
1 lb. cubed winter squash (purchase already cubed in bags for convenience if available)
4 Yukon Gold potatoes — cubed
4 large fresh whole beets — peeled* and cubed
fennel — thick sliced
olive oil for brushing
meat thermometer to test sausages if desired
Alternate sausage, squash, potatoes, beets, and fennel on metal skewers. If using wood skewers, soak in water first. Brush with olive oil. Place on grill away from direct heat, turning at least once, until vegetables are soft and interior temperature of sausages is 160 degrees. Serves four.
*Peeling beets can be tricky and messy. You can try using a vegetable peeler, or it might be easier to boil them before leaving. Immediately peel skin, let cool, and cube.