Did you smell it over the Memorial Day weekend? Maybe it was coming from your own backyard, or maybe it was from your neighbor’s yard, or wherever you found yourself a barbeque guest. The unmistakable smell of summer . . . . . . the active grill.
Our ancestors had the right idea. There’s nothing like cooking over an open fire. Not only does it produce the most delicious food, but it creates a sense of rugged accomplishment, and avoids the need for pot and pan washing. And gone are the days of limiting ourselves to burgers and dogs. Throw some corn, meat of any and every kind, and even pizza on there, and you’re a hero. So here are some tips on the care and maintenance of your grill, especially for readying it for a new summer season.
First of all, do yourself a favor and don some rubber cleaning gloves. They may not be fashionable, but they will save you lots of time cleaning skanky grease out from under your fingernails later on. If there are any old ashes on the bottom of the grill, take a cue from Cinderella and remove them by scooping and sweeping them out. Then fill up a bucket with some soapy water, take a scrubby sponge and a steel wool pad that you plan on throwing out afterwards, and wash the inside lid and entire inside of the firebox, rinsing with a hose afterwards. Let dry for a bit, then light a fire, put it on high, close the lid, and heat the grate for about half an hour. (Hopefully, you’ve already chosen a safe place for your grill, NOT, for example, against the side of your house, or next to an old, dead, dried up, flammable tree.) Scrape the entire grate well with a long brass-wire brush, and let it burn off for about another 15 minutes, or until there is no smoking left and the grill is looking pretty clean. If it’s really what you consider beyond hope, then splurge and buy a new grate for your grill. They CAN be purchased separately, usually online, from your particular grill manufacturer.
From here on, when cooking on your grill for the rest of the season, all of the above cleaning steps won’t be necessary. The full washing normally only needs to be done at the beginning of each season. But, what you WILL want to do with each subsequent usage, is to heat and burn off the grate of your grill for a bit before cooking, to make cooking more hygienic. Buy yourself a good, long handled, stiff-wired grill brush, and always keep it handy, because at the completion of each cooking experience, while the grill is still on and hot, you will want to scrub any excess schmutz (it’s a word!) off of the grate, close the lid, put the flame up to high, and let it burn off the mess until the smoking ceases. (By the way, for all of you indoor cookers, the same holds true of the George Foreman-type grills. It is much, much easier and more effective to clean it immediately after cooking, while still hot, with wadded up paper towel, and deft fingers to avoid burning yourself.) The heat actually aids in the cleaning, as congealed grease is NOT your friend. That being said, don’t over-stress about getting EVERY bit of grease off of the inside of your grill after each use. A little bit of this residue will actually help season your grill, and provide flavor in future cooking.
There’s nothing worse than needing a crowbar to remove your chicken wings from the grill. It’s perfectly OK, and actually a “grate” idea (teehee!) to grease your metal grate before cooking. This will actually make flipping and removing your food a lot easier, and assist in cleaning the grill later. To prevent your dinner from sticking, you need to clean and grease the metal grate. If you’re normally a spray Pam person, keep in mind that an open, gas-powered flame, complete with exposed coals or lava rocks, is probably NOT the best place to be using your aerosol spray. It’s a serious faux pas for the BBQ host to ask his or her guests to help roll them around on the ground when they go up in flames, or to host the remainder of the party without eyebrows. (Although it CAN make for some very memorable photos posted onto social media by your guests.) Simply fold up a piece of paper towel, dip into olive oil or the oil of your choice, hold it in long barbeque tongs, and coat the grate of your grill, trying to avoid dripping onto coals or rocks as much as possible. Not only will this prevent sticking, but it will also additionally season your grill in the long term, and even help to prevent rusting and damage to the grates.
At the very end of the season, dump the remaining ashes and close the lid. But, contrary to popular opinion, do NOT go crazy scraping and cleaning the grease from the grates. Leaving some the grease on the grate over the winter months can actually help prevent the metal from rusting. Be sure to invest in a good, well-fitting, secure cover for your grill. (This is actually good to have in use throughout the whole year, as long as you wait until the grill is thoroughly cool to put it on.) If it is a propane grill, be sure the gas access is completely turned off (Again, this is something that is a good idea to do throughout the year, after each use.) In fact, some like to completely remove their propane tanks at the end of the season. But then you can’t indulge yourself with grilled dinners during a moment of winter whimsy.
A grill can be your very best friend over the summer. Heck, all year long, really. Just a minimal amount of care and maintenance can keep it going strong for years. Keeping some grillable foods on hand in your freezer can make you an on-the-spot hero. Showing up to a BBQ with a hostess gift of BBQ sauces, rubs, or BBQ tools can make you very popular. And the lack of pots and pans to clean will keep your hands soft and young looking. OK, that’s pushing it. But grills are wonderful, and need very little care. And they are part of the American summer experience.
“GENTLEMEN . . . (AND LADIES) . . . . START YOUR GRILLS!!!!!”