3 Tips for Cooking Outdoors When You Are Too Busy

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Do you have trouble finding time to cook outdoors? In this article, I will share several of my tips for enjoying frequent meals of homemade tantalizing, mouth-watering barbecue—even if you don’t have a lot of spare time.


Because most people have indoor kitchens, outdoor cooking or barbecue is considered a luxury or non-essential activity. Before I share my tips for finding time to cook outdoors, we need to consider the importance of making time for relaxing "non-essential" activities.

To often constant hurry and stress are considered a badge of honor. God has designed our bodies to be productive, but they also require a certain amount of relaxation to thrive. In our society, we know how to be busy, but we are not always good at identifying why we are busy and giving our bodies a break.

Some responsibilities in life are beyond our control, but many of them are the result of decisions we make. Do you spend hours every day watching TV or mindlessly browsing social media and getting frustrated by what's going on in the world? Are there activities that fill your week, but leave you feeling drained or anxious? Look for things in your schedule you can cut out to replace with activities that take you outside and refresh you.

As barbecue enthusiasts, one of our favorite ways to unwind is to build a fire and cook some food. Like taking a hike, reading a book, or watching a sunset—cooking a special meal on the patio forces us to slow down and enjoy the moment.

Keep reading for my tips on making the most of your time if you love cooking outdoors, but don't always know how to make time for it.

Prefer to talk with us? Visit our store at 140 W Main Street in New Holland, PA or call us at (717) 355-0779 for help cooking a specific cut of meat, choosing a new smoker, or setting up your outdoor cooking space. Our store hours are listed at the bottom of this page.

1: Make a Plan

If you’re cooking outdoors, a good plan is vital, especially if you’re short on time. Hardly anything takes the fun out of cooking like discovering you are missing an important ingredient in the middle of a cook or being an hour behind when you have a deadline to meet. Here are some tips to help you plan a smooth and fun experience:

  • Choose a recipe and make a shopping list at least a day ahead of time. Shopping can be time-consuming, so line up the meats and supplies at least a day before you will be cooking. If the meat is frozen, plan enough time to thaw it in the fridge.
  • If you’re making a special sauce or if the food you’re cooking takes preparation in the kitchen, such as a mac-n-cheese or bacon-wrapped fatty, do the kitchen work the day before to spread out the work. The goal on the day of the cook is to simply fire the grill or smoker and get to cooking immediately.

“Line up the meats and supplies at least a day before you will be cooking.”

Plan Shorter Cooks

Cooking barbecue doesn’t have to be an all-day project. Smoking pork butts and briskets for 12+ hours is a rewarding experience, but if you don’t have that luxury, let’s focus on some meats you can smoke within 2–5 hours. If even that is too much of a commitment, choose a meat you can grill over direct heat in a matter of minutes.

  • Burgers, sausage links, steaks, pork chops, and shrimp can be grilled in 15 minutes or less
  • Bone-in chicken legs and thighs take 1 hour on a charcoal pit
  • Meatloaf can be smoked in as little as 2 hours
  • Salmon fillets take an hour or less to smoke
  • Small cuts of beef short ribs can be smoked in 4 hours
  • Pork ribs take around 5—6 hours

Figure out how much time you should anticipate for cooking the meats using our time and temperature chart as a guideline. Remember, cooking times are only estimates, so on the longer cooks, provide extra time as a cushion, and if the meat finishes ahead of time, hold the meat in an empty chest or warming box for a couple of hours until serving time.


2: Be More Efficient

If you’re strapped for time, having a handy cooking setup makes a world of difference. Spending time you didn't budget for to drag tools and supplies from various places, can leave you feeling frustrated before you even get started.

If you’ve been cooking for a while, you have a good idea of what you need, but I’ve learned that the right tool can make the experience less time-consuming and much more fun—which is one of the reasons you got into this in the first place, right?

I’ve already covered this topic in Making Backyard Barbecue Fun and Easy, so I won’t repeat myself here, but make sure to check out the article for a handy list of tools and supplies you need for setting up an efficient cooking space.

“Lighting a charcoal fire doesn’t have to be exasperating or time-consuming!”

Cooking With Charcoal? With the right tools, lighting a charcoal fire doesn’t have to be exasperating or time-consuming.

  • A charcoal chimney is one of our favorite methods for lighting charcoal, depending on the type of cooker you’re using. If you want to speed up the process, use a BBQ Dragon Charcoal Chimney with the BBQ Dragon Fan to get the coals hot in record time!
  • We also recommend fire starter squares and the BBQ Dragon fan for lighting lump charcoal in a ceramic grill, such as the Big Green Egg.
  • An easy way to light charcoal in an offset smoker or a large charcoal grill is with a propane torch.
  • Big Green Egg – Lump Charcoal

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  • Bison Airlighter 420

    $49.95
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  • FOGO Premium Lump Charcoal

    $21.99
    Add to cart
  • Greenwood Propane Torch

    $30.99
    Add to cart
  • Greenwood Propane Torch With Igniter

    $41.99
    Add to cart
  • Maverick Propane Torch

    $29.99
    Add to cart
  • Best Seller

    Nature-Glo Lump Charcoal

    $18.99
    Add to cart
  • Rockwood – Lump Charcoal

    $26.95
    Add to cart
  • Best Seller

    Royal Oak – Chef’s Select Charcoal Briquettes

    $22.95$545.00
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  • Royal Oak – All-Natural Hardwood Charcoal Briquettes

    $7.99
    Add to cart

Still have questions? Visit our store at 140 W Main Street in New Holland, PA or call us at (717) 355-0779 for help cooking a specific cut of meat, choosing a new smoker, or setting up your outdoor cooking space. Our store hours are listed at the bottom of this page.

3: Leverage Automation

Pellet Grills

If you don’t have the time to build and maintain a fire in an outdoor cooker or just want to relax after a tiring day at work, a pellet grill is the perfect choice for you.

  • Our Yoder pellet smokers are made in the USA and among the best pellet smokers made.
  • Our Green Mountain Grills series is perfect for someone who doesn’t need the best smoker out there, but wants the benefit of automation.

I certainly enjoy having a Yoder pellet smoker on my patio. It only takes a couple of minutes of my time to get it started (unless it requires routine cleaning) plus about 20–30 minutes of unattended wait time.

In a pellet grill, you will need to do some work before you turn it on, such as dump the ashes, clean the drip pan, and top off the pellet hopper, but once it’s up to temp, there are no vents to adjust or coals to poke—the fire management is completely automated.

It takes about as much time to fire a pellet smoker as it does to get a charcoal smoker hot, but the start-up is more automated. You could start the grill as soon as you come home from work, and let it heat up while you walk the dog or chat with your family and pull the meat out of the fridge.

Once the smoker is up to temperature, the controller automatically keeps the smoker at the set temperature.

“Simply tap the app on your phone to instantly see how hot the smoker is running and how close to done the meat is!”

Even better, the Yoder and Green Mountain can both be purchased with WiFi connectivity, for controlling the smoker and monitoring the meat temperature from your phone or computer! Simply tap the app on your phone to instantly see how hot the smoker is running and how close to done the meat is! How cool is that?

As you can see, this automation makes longer cooks more feasible if you are busy around the house or need to run an errand.

The Yoder also makes it easy to program a schedule, where it will cook the meat until the meat reaches a set internal temperature and then lower the smoker temperature to a holding temperature. It can even alert you when it reaches a certain temperature.

  • YS1500s Pellet Grill

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  • YS480s Pellet Grill

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  • YS640s Competition Pellet Grill

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  • YS640s Pellet Grill

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WiFi Connected Controllers

Do you cook on a charcoal grill? We’ve got some automation gadgets for you too!

Our full line of computerized temperature controllers for charcoal smokers are designed to control and/or monitor your smoker temperature from your phone. They also have one or more meat probes for monitoring the meat temperature.

Call us at (717) 355-0779 for help choosing the best temperature controller for your situation.

  • Flame Boss FB500 Wifi Kit

    $349.00
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  • ThermoWorks Smoke Gateway

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  • ThermoWorks Billows BBQ Temperature Control Fan

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  • ThermoWorks Signals

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  • ThermoWorks Smoke

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Still have questions? Visit our store at 140 W Main Street in New Holland, PA or call us at (717) 355-0779 for help cooking a specific cut of meat, choosing a new smoker, or setting up your outdoor cooking space. Our store hours are listed at the bottom of this page.

About the author: Lavern Gingerich is a writer and the digital marketing manager for Meadow Creek Barbecue Supply.

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