It’s been months since your last fall cookout, and as spring arrives, your grill needs a close inspection from the lid on down. Give yourself a pat on the back if you covered it or kept it in the garage during the winter to help prevent rust. But even under wraps or sheltered from the weather, your grill needs some spring cleaning to perform at its best.
Spotless outside and in
Would you leave grease on the cooktop and in the oven of your range? Of course not – so treat your grill to the same standard of cleanliness. After all, it’s a cooking appliance, too.
You may need more than one type of cleaner to get grill looking like new. If it has a stainless steel exterior, for example, look for a cleaner designed specifically for that type of metal. If you open it up and see shiny black flakes under the hood, that’s burned-on carbonized grease, which can cause a fire.
The work you put into a thorough cleaning pays off in better performance all season long – and this year, pledge to tidy up after you grill so you lessen the pre-cooking maintenance.
Get a grate clean
For tough, burnt-on soil, deep clean your grates. Mix a cup of baking soda with two cups of vinegar for an overnight soak that can give you a rinse-away clean. Lemon juice, or a 1:1 mixture of water and white vinegar, makes a great spray-on cleaner for lighter grunge. Let the solution set for an hour or so and then break out the wire brush or a crumpled wad of aluminum foil to scrub your grates shipshape.
You also can buy specially made cleaning pads that blast through caked-on grease. Check for stray bristles or left-behind bits of cleaning materials on the grates, as these make an unappetizing addition to your recipes. Or, as an alternative to brushes, try heating up your grill and rubbing half an onion on the grates to loosen soil, or invest in a hardwood scraper.
For a charcoal grill—
Trash the ash
A clean grill is a happy grill. An ash pile, along with unburned chunks of charcoal, will block the air vents and leave you struggling to control your cooking temperature. Grab a trash bag and empty the bottom of your grill, along with its ash catcher, if you have one.
For a gas grill—
Clean tubes and burners
Some grills include spider guards. If yours doesn’t, brush out insect nests from the burner tubes that connect the gas to your burners – and if your burner tubes are removable, spray them out with a garden hose or clean them with a long, flexible brush. Dry them out thoroughly before you reattach them. While you’re at it, clean the grease trap so you don’t need to worry about fires, and line it with aluminum foil to help keep it clean.
Finally, crank up the burners with the grates out of the grill and look for uneven flames. For an easy test, reinsert the grates and cover them with slices of white bread. After you’ve run the burners on high for a few minutes, tip over the bread and see which pieces look the toastiest. Clean your heat shields to even out the flames.
Clogged gas ports and tubes reduce your cooking capabilities. Turn off the propane and tackle your gas ports and tubes while they’re cool with a paper clip, toothpick, or pipe cleaner to clear away blockages.
Look for leaks
Don’t put up with a cracked, leaky, dangerous fuel line, or one that’s loose. Clean off the lines first. To check for problems, coat the lines, valves, and regulator with soapy water while you’re running the gas, and look for bubbles. If they show up at the ends, tighten the connections and try again. If you see them along the fuel lines or at the tank, replace whatever’s leaking.
Check your tank
Unless you want to serve steak tartare and raw kebobs, you need a good gas supply to make it all the way through your preparations. Stuck with a gauge-less tank? No problem: Just pour some warm water down the side. The water will cool rapidly at and below the level of the propane.
For a more-scientific approach, use your bathroom scale. Check the tank for its tare weight – how heavy it is when it’s empty – and subtract that figure from the number you see on the scale. Propane gas produces 21,600 Btu per hour, so when you divide the weight of the gas by the maximum Btu output of your grill, you know how many cooking hours you’ve got in the tank. A spare tank keeps you from running out.
Keep up the pressure
If your gas flame runs yellow instead of blue, you’re not getting enough gas pressure from the tank to the burners – and your cooking results will suffer. Before you start replacing parts, try “rebooting” your grill. Shut everything off, disconnect the tank, work the valves by opening and closing them, and then put everything back together. Ease the gas on slowly and recheck your flame. If it’s still yellow, you may need to replace your burner ports.
Before you cook
Preheat and oil to skip the sticking
Food won’t stick to your grates if you let them heat up first. Light your coals or burners, and then put the grates on for a few minutes. Next, oil the grates with a paper towel, using your tongs to apply a thorough coat. This treatment is ideal for cast-iron or metal grates, but ceramic and chromed steel don’t need to be oiled up.
Once you’ve cleaned, cleared, tested, and prepared your grill, it’s time for cooking season. You’ll enjoy those delicious outdoor flavors much more when your grill gives you its best performance—and all you taste is this year’s food, not last year’s residue.