Stacy Dean learned that a grill can be your best friend during a kitchen remodel. (Owen McKearn)

Back in November, she, her husband and their three elementary-aged children assumed starring roles in that horror movie known as “a kitchen remodel.” A week after Thanksgiving, the walls came tumbling down in their upper Northwest kitchen. Literally.

Walls. Cabinets. Appliances. All of it, obliterated. To create a new, improved and expanded kitchen, the whole thing was gutted.

What does that mean? It means, of course, they no longer had a stove or oven for cooking meals.

“We bought a used refrigerator and a microwave, and we set up some shelves in the dining room to put our food and food prep items on,” Dean says. “So we prepare the food and eat it on the same surface.”

The microwave comes in handy for cooking quick, easy items. But Dean found that the survival tool she used most was the family’s 10-year-old Weber gas grill with a side burner.

“We use the burner to make pasta and popcorn — we make popcorn all the time — and use the grill for everything else,” says Dean, vice-president for food assistance policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington-based think tank. “Pineapple. Potatoes in olive oil and spices. We do bacon on the grill. Pizza. Lots of pizza. We buy the dough, grill it on both sides, bring it inside and put the toppings on, then put it back on the grill. It’s delicious.”

Dean even cooks frozen chicken nuggets on the grill for the kids. “Just put them in foil to heat them through, then [remove from foil] and brown them on the grill till they’re crunchy.”

Dean’s contractor says a grill is a family’s best friend during a renovation.

“The grill is a key part of our plan for a kitchen remodel,” says David Merrick, who owns Merrick Design and Build, Inc. “I mean, we put people through hell. We always tell them, ‘Where is the grill going to be? Because that’s where the cooking is going to be.’

“My tip is to get a cast iron skillet,” he continues. “It works great on the grill. When I did my own kitchen remodel, I use…”

Wait, you did a kitchen remodel? At your own home?

“Every contractor should put themselves through what their customers will go through,” he says. “We were out of a kitchen for 8 weeks or 10 weeks. We grill anyway, but we had to do a little thinking on our feet.”

Merrick has a gas grill and a 55-gallon drum barrel that he converted into a charcoal-and-wood fired smoker. He found himself using them for a variety of foods he hadn’t cooked outdoors before, like breakfast. “Next thing I know, I’m out there at the grill cooking pancakes,” he says.

Dean, too, has expanded her repertoire. She grills more fruit and vegetables now. She says she may never have tried grilling bacon.

“It forces you to be inventive,” she says.

She misses having an oven for “precision cooking,” and she especially misses having a kitchen sink. “We have to do the dishes in the basement sink,” she says. “Sometimes I take them to my neighbor’s and use their dishwasher if they’ve just gotten too disgusting for me to do them.”

But, overall, she hasn’t minded the experience and may even appreciate it.

“We were steak and hot dog people before,” she says, her voice conveying the pride of someone who has moved beyond limitations she didn’t know existed.

Sure, her wintertime grilling is an invention born of necessity. Still, she’s out there, sometimes in a heavy coat and winter boots, but out there, in the cold, blazing grilling trails with frozen chicken nuggets. And that should be an inspiration to us all.

Do you grill or smoke outdoors in the winter? Tell Smoke Signals about it in the comments below.

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