Grilling in a winter wonderland

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Black is the new black, forty is the new thirty, and you know what? Winter is the new summer. Yeah, you heard me. Effin A.

I didn't grow up with a barbecue grill in the back yard (well, there was technically a grill, but it was more of a spider habitat, since it was used about once every fifteen months). My parents weren't really the grillin' types, and in Denver, you only fire up that bad boy during the warmer months, anyway, rolling it into the garage once soup-and-stew season hits in late October and snow starts to fly.

Or can you grill year-round?

I got my first propane grill about a decade ago - deciding to throw off the shackles of my upbringing and fly with fire, meat and vegetables. It was fun, and after watching tailgaters at NFL games on TV, I got the urge to cook bratwursts, beer-can chickens and peppers long after summer had vanished. Nothing makes a man feel more like a manly man than mannishly standing outside in 20-degree weather on a Sunday, grilling a brat with one gloved hand and drinking a beer with the other.

But I didn't have much company in the back yards of Denver, or so I thought.

In 2002, I moved to California, where I lived for five years. In the Golden State, you grill year-round, walking out into your back yard in February in your flip-flops, picking a lime off the tree and squeezing the juice onto a nice tri-tip or some mahi mahi, smiling all the while.

When I moved back to Denver, I missed the year-round smell of barbecue - especially when I realized that most of the supermarkets put their briquettes and other grilling stuff in a tiny corner in the back of the store, where it hibernates until May.

I vowed then that the weather would not stop me, and that's when I saw a study called "Eating Patterns in America," which reported that "BBQ grilling is no longer just a summertime activity as an increasing number of Americans fire up their grills year round." The report, issued by the NPD Group, a market-research company, claimed that the number of households using a grill at dinner at least once during an average two-week period throughout the year grew from 17 percent in 1985 to 38 percent in 2007.

"While summer still accounts for the highest consumption levels of grilled food, grilling has increased the most in the other seasons of the year," it concluded.

So when I heard Monday morning that five inches of snow was expected to fall in Denver by midnight, I couldn't wait to hit the back yard. I didn't wear my flip-flops, and my lime was store-bought, but you'd better believe there was a smile buried under the frozen snow on my lip. It's summertime in the city. - Jonathan Shikes

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