The man behind the Toque!!
Chris, though most of the time, I only answer to Zinger. I have been around BBQ my whole life, and to me, barbeque means friendship, family, and fun. Some of life’s greatest moments are shared around the barbecue. As a very social person, I go out of my way to open the doors and start conversations!! That means que!!
I am the chief cook for Frozen Toque BBQ, my International Award Winning competitive team. My first competition was in April 2017. I decided to make the jump to cook rather than be a judge. Back then, little did I know there was a traditional BBQ scene in Canada and how fast it was growing!
I have had the pleasure of mentoring judges, assisting new and experienced competing teams, cooking with friends from Australia, United States, and Canada. I have been invited to cook with friends at some prestigious events like the American Royal (2018), National BBQ and Grilling Association (2019), and the Jack Daniels World Championship (2019).
Some of my most recent accomplishments are; winning a grand championship locally here in Alberta, along with countless top category finishes, winning the Alberta Cup again in 2021, and actively supporting the growth of BBQ across Canada as the Vice President of the Canadian BBQ Society, a not-for-profit society dedicated to the growth and development of BBQ in Canada.
When I am not tending to the fires, I am the President and Founder of Zinger Computing, a technology firm with offices across North America servicing technology needs for businesses from small family-run businesses to multinational firms and government agencies.
My wife and I have been married since… let me think here 2010. That sounds right.. We enjoy travel, camping, and spending time with friends and family. When we are not running our little sporting events or swimming, we do find time to enjoy a movie and enjoy an adult pop or maybe some fermented grapes!!
Helpful tips for Cooking in the Canadian Winter!
By: Christopher Zinger (Frozen Toque BBQ)
Cooking in the winter has a lot of unique challenges, but before we address some of them, just remember you can bundle up in the winter, while the summer you can only take off so many articles of clothing and head outside before the police arrive!!
Safety First!! Clear a safe Pathway.
Now that we can get to and from our BBQ’s safely, it will be more fun than trudging through the snow. If your BBQ is away from your home, you can now safely make a dash for the warmer environment, without slipping and falling on some ice.
Challenge # 1, is not just the cold! It’s more about the Wind.
Though the cold does have something to do with it, remember we are making a fire!! So that will fix the cold!
In some parts of our wonderful country, we have winds that are blowing year-round. But those long sunny summer nights are a lot warmer than the -25 degrees a lot of us can contend with during the winter months. I don’t know the folks that control the weather, but it always happens a weekend cookout for some friends or family is planned. The weekdays were much nicer weather, and that storm sets in early Friday evening. As they say in the business, the show must go on!
Let’s dive into a little bit of science without putting on the lab coat, as I am sure most of us probably have outgrown it anyways!! As the cold air moves over our hot BBQ, the magical wind fairies take the heat away from the outside surface of your BBQ. If you look closely at your BBQ on a nice sunny day you may see this magical phenomenon happening; it looks a lot like a heat wave over the pavement on a hot summer day. Now this phenomenon is amplified as the winter windchill set in.
What does that mean? These dreaded wind fairies take away the heat used to cook our food, and because the temperatures are much colder than during our summer cook-outs, we are going to use more fuel to compensate for both the wind sucking the heat from our BBQ’s and the cold air trying to rob the BBQ heat.
A Winter Coat for your BBQ!!
Ideally, we will want to move our BBQ’s to a location that is sheltered from the wind. That DOES NOT mean your garage!! Back in 2014, I had built a mini shed for my smoker, as the deck built with my house was elevated, and constantly in the wind. Even on an otherwise calm day, the breeze from the “water feature” or mosquito breeding grounds as I refer to it as behind my house would keep me from enjoying winter cookouts.
Before the Shelter Shack
After the Shelter Shack
Realizing that this is not always an option many BBQ vendors have winter blankets for their BBQ’s. Now if your specific BBQ manufacture doesn’t have a solution directly from them, or a local retailer you can find yourself another option at many local hardware stores, or specialty welding supply stores. A welding safety blanket, or as I call it the RedNeck BBQ Jacket.
Traditionally this piece of safety equipment is designed to protect equipment and the welder while welding. ... Many modern welding blankets are made of flame retardant fiberglass and can stand working temperatures ranging from 300 to 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit. Perfect for the low and slow cooks stuck at around 225 – 250 Fahrenheit for many hours.
By adding a Welding Safety Blanket to cover your cook chamber, you help prevent these wind fairies from stealing your heat as quickly, just like your winter coat.
Some folks will drape the blanket over their BBQ’s where the exhaust stack is not directly over the cooking chamber like in a Traeger, GMG, PitBoss.
Others will hug the welding blanket around the BBQ, for example, folks with a Weber Smokey Mountain, or Drum Style Smoker.
No matter how you use the blanket remember a few key points:
Never block the exhaust of your smoker. Doing so will affect airflow, preventing the clean burn of your fuel source.
Never exceed the working heat temperatures for your blanket.
Be creative. Some folks will cut the blanket for a more custom fit, such as around exhausts, or to allow the cooking chamber to be opened and closed without removing the blanket.
Don’t use an old blanket, as oils or other contaminants may have gotten onto you blanket that could pose some very serious health risks.
Some of the more “high-end” BBQ’s have some levels of insulation already built-in directly from the manufactures, and probably will not benefit from the Redneck BBQ Jacket. Some of these manufacturers use thicker steel like Yoder Smokers; many gas grills have a double walled lid, ceramic grills and smokers have thick walls designed to control heat loss, while others are insulated like your home. A good example of an insulated smoker would be a Backwoods Style Smoker or Bradley Fridge Style Smokers. Many of these BBQ’s are very well suited to our environment if your budget supports it!!
Bradley Fridge Style Smoker
Challenge # 2 - Fuel Usage.
There are many different types of fuels we use for our BBQ’s; Pellets, Charcoal, Wood, Natural Gas, Propane. You get the picture. During the winter it's inevitable that you’re going to use more fuel.
When we BBQ you have to bring the ambient air temperature up from below freezing to your desired cook temperature (225). In the winter in some parts of the country we will go from -25 up to 107 degrees Celsius that’s 225 F. A jump of over 130 degrees Celsius. During our summers that jump is significantly less, +15 to 107 degrees Celsius which is only a 92 Degree change. The difference between the two increases in ambient air temperature in the winter and the summer to the desired cook temperature is roughly 40 degrees Celsius.
You turn your home up from 20 to 40 degrees Celsius and see how much more fuel you use to heat your home in the winter. For most homes, I would say the fuel usage would at least double, if not triple!! We can compare this to how much our heating bills are during winter months.
Managing Fuel Usage, without breaking the Bank!
It’s Sunday at 7:30 AM, you have company coming over at 3:00 PM for some samples of that amazing BBQ, and long behold you're out of your favorite charcoal or pellets. Sound too familiar? Well in the winter because our favorite retailers are on winter hours, you may not be so lucky to be able to swing in and get an extra bag, or you may have to wait till the retailer opens. My word of advice here is always have an extra bag/fuel on hand, or plan far enough ahead that you will not need to scramble at the last minute. It’s truly priceless if you have everything you need and that big dump of snow arrived at the wrong time you will not be stressed about this!!
Prices today are very reasonable for these fuel sources, and having that second bag on hand might just encourage you to use your BBQ a little extra where you might not have if you had to run to get some extra.
I know countless BBQ parties I have gone to over the years that folks have run out of, dare I say it, propane!! Someone then needs to run out to either fill or switch the tank, while things are half cooked. So it’s doesn’t just affect us folks using the old school or traditional cook methods!!
Digital Temperature Controllers
The first thing, this is a love-hate with the competition folks, and we are not here to talk rules today!! A large number of commercial BBQ’s today have some form of Digital Temperature control device, whether this is built in from the manufacturer's factory, or added afterward for end-user conveniences, like aCyberQ BBQ Guru, or a FlameBoss these devices will help in two different ways;
Your temperatures will be managed and more consistent.
Because your temperatures are consistent, your fuel usage will be more predictable.
When I started down the path of BBQ, a lot of these devices didn’t exist, or where very unreliable. I would go through a whole fourteen-pound bag of charcoal in a matter of eight to ten hours. For me back then this was acceptable, and just part of the cost of good BBQ!! Fast forward ten plus years, if I don’t get a full twelve hours out of a bag of charcoal, I think I have done something wrong.
Remote Monitoring. Avoid having to bundle up all the time
I think of this as a wintertime luxury, or maybe I am just lazy and don’t want to bundle up every couple hours to check my smoker! Folks are more and more focused on using technology in their cooking.
Remote Wireless thermometers will allow you to have a quick glance at a smartphone, or wireless device without having to bundle up and check the temperatures. I have been using a Maverick Wireless Thermometer for what feels like forever. You can set alarms to be notified if your pit temperatures drop to a certain level. Allowing you to re-fill your pellet hopper, or add some extra charcoal. Or vise-vera if your BBQ gets too hot you can adjust accordingly.
Let's snuggle this up with a few key notes or take-aways!!
Be Safe! Clear the winter away from your BBQ; it will make it easy to get to and from your BBQ to check your cook.
Just like you, your BBQ needs a jacket in the winter when you are doing the low and slow cooks. It will help keep the fuel usage at more predictable levels.
Keep your supplies stocked up, and easily accessible, so that when Snowmageddon happens, you can have that summertime feeling and use your BBQ.
Use the technology available to you to monitor and manage your cook without having to go outside in the cold all the time.
Embrace the winter!! We have it for what feels like sixty percent of the year!! Don’t let the winter blues stop you from enjoying your BBQ!!
Trick!! Because I want to hear, you used your BBQ a couple more times this winter than last!
If you can get your fuel source up to room temperature before using, it will help combust easier, and the fuel will not be wasted trying to heat up the rest of the frozen fuel like pellets or charcoal.
When I am going to prepare for a cook, I will bring a bag of charcoal and set it by my back door and let it warm up to room temperature for an hour or so. When I am not using the charcoal, I store these bag in my garage, so in the winter they get Frozen!!
Charcoal all tucked in the for the winter
Pellet folks this goes the same for you as well, though the hopper may not be insulated these pellets will ignite faster when they are warmer, as they don’t take as long to get to the combustion temperatures, and that means less time waiting for your BBQ to get to temperatures. Word of caution though if you did not store your pellets properly in the first place humidity can be your enemy!! A sealed container is the best to prevent pellets from swelling or becoming too humid.
Notice the blue rubber seal inside the lid !!
BONUS: Take Advantage of the Canadian Winter and SMOKE Some Canadian CHEESE!!
Here is something our friends to the deep south can’t do easily without having some extra equipment to cool their environments, and people in the tropics never even heard of.
Smoking cheese requires that the ambient air temperature be low enough to not damage the delicate cheese and some cheese’s melt at a much lower temperature than others.
While the temperatures are below freezing or a couple of degrees above zero.. its time to get our smoke on.
This year I started smoking cheese using an Amazen Pellet Tube Smoker, my first official introduction to the world of pellets. It’s a device you fill with pellets and turn any BBQ into a smoker, and though it is marketed to be used to supplement smoke in other BBQ’s while they are operating. I thought why not use this for cheese and don’t use the fuel source on the BBQ, basically a poor man's cold smoker.
On my deck right now I have two Weber Smokey Mountain’s, a gas grill, and a kettle. None of these were ideal to smoke cheese on, as the temperatures would be a way to hot without purchasing a special cold smoke generator. So I thought why not try this device, they are very affordable, or a wonderful gift at many retailers around the country, and online, and pellets are not overly expensive either, I could afford for about 100 bucks to smoke something other than competition BBQ.
Lets Smoke some Cheese
Now I didn’t start with any Wagyu or AAA Prime grade cheese. I thought the cheaper, the better.
I lit the Amazen tube according to the lighting instructions enclosed with the product. Put the cheese on my gas grill (of course it was not lit), and put the amazen tube filled with burning pellets on the back of the grill, closed the lid and two hours later came back to what I thought was going to be “Smoked Cheese”...
Of course being the cook I am, I had to taste. HUGE MISTAKE!!! What have I done this tasted like licking the inside of an ashtray.
Frantically I tried searching for some trusted resources, books, online forums, and friends. I got all sorts of advice that seemed only to confuse the whole situation further… TIME was the answer that I thought was the most wildly made up answer ever. Turned out I was WRONG! Smoked cheese needs some time to let the smoke flavors mellow, and that it did a couple of weeks in the fridge in a ziplock bag and even my friend's untrained palate, could handle the smoked cheese.
Now what I am doing is using my Weber Smokey Mountian to smoke cheese, the picture below will show how I can get more smoke by having the Amazen tube directly under the cheese I want to smoke rather than off to one side, and that doesn’t evenly distribute smoke very evenly in this case.
you can see the Amazen tube lit and glowing in the firebox potion of this BBQ
After a few failed attempts; over-smoking cheese, using the wrong layout, and probably the worse using the wrong pellets, I can provide some advice to hopefully give you a leg up, and avoid the mistakes I made.
Start with a lower number of hours on the smoker (1-2) is very reasonable depending on your tolerances to smoked flavors, even 30 minutes is ok to start. A very wise man once told me to treat smoke like you would salt and pepper a little can go a long way.
Use a mild wood flavor. I don’t recommend Jack Daniels Pellets for smoking delicate cheese, apple, cherry, or hickory are much milder flavors that lend themselves better than the harsher flavors like mesquite.
If you can put the smoke directly under the cheese, rather than off to one side, this may mean lifting your bbq grates, or using the warming rack on your gas grill, and putting the tube smoker directly underneath. But I find you will get a more even result across all the cheese you may smoke at the same time.
Cold cheese tends to attract more smoke than room temperature cheese. In a blind test with some culinary friends I gave them the same cheese’s smoked side by side in the same smoker under the same conditions, the only difference was one I let come to room temperature while another was kept in the fridge, before hitting the smoker.
I have heard other members and friends of BBQ in the winter smoke ice cream, or put a cocktail out with the smoker tube to get a smoky flavor!!