Little Darlin’s, it’s been a long, cold lonely winter; fact is, here in the middle of April, I’m still seeing snow pics from friends in the Midwest and Canada. Well, have faith, gang, the sun is coming and with it, grilling, barbecuing and smoking season, so let’s get ready for it. Whether you use a simple pot grill like a Webber or a thousand dollar, high end gas rig, they all need TLC before the season commences.
Chances are your equipment’s been more or less inactive all winter; you didn’t clean any of it before you put it into hibernation, right? Then it’s cleaning time, first and foremost. Here’s what you need to do.
Remove the grill grates and, if you’ve got a gas rig, disconnect the fuel from the grill, remove the flame deflectors and burners from the grill body.
First thing, remove all old briquettes, burned whatever, and scrape as much grease and char off as you can by hand.
For the deep cleaning, you’ll need a grill brush, a heavy duty sponge, a scrubby pad and steel wool, a bucket of hot, soapy water, another of hot, clean water, some rags, and some degreaser. I recommend Simple Green, it’s effective and environmentally sound, which is an attribute we should all be concerned with. Have at the entire grill with the degreaser first, allowing it some working time before you scrub. Move onto the soapy water, then the rinse, until your grill looks as close to new as you can get it. FYI, if you’re a heavy user, a mid-season cleaning won’t hurt. Thoroughly clean every component, including the grates. A seasoned grill is a good thing, but excessive grease and char build up can lead to flaring, burning and off-putting flavors in your food. A clean grill will last far longer than a dirty one as well.
Kick the Tires & Light the Fires
Now give your grill a point by point, detailed inspection of every component. Check grill and charcoal grates for rust, rot or missing and chipped porcelain. After they’re clean, dry, and inspected, you’ll re-season them. Check your framework and lid to make sure they’re all sound and there are no nuts, blots, struts, wheels missing or damaged. If you use a gas grill, check your tank, valve, line, regulator, burners and flame deflectors to make sure they’re clean and sound. Don’t screw around with gas parts; if they’re rotted or badly rusted, replace them. At the least, your grill will cook poorly; at worst, you could have a genuine explosion or fire hazard brewing. If you need parts, Home Depot carries quite a few, and of course there’s probably a local supplier not to far from most of us.
When you’re ready to rock, season your grates prior to first use. Soak some paper towels with cooking oil and thoroughly rub all surfaces of the grates. Turn on the gas or light a small charcoal fire and heat the grill to high with the cover open until the oil burns off, the. Turn the heat down to low and let the grill work for about fifteen minutes or, (or until your charcoal expires). Let the grill cool down, then wipe the grates down and reapply a thin coating of fresh oil; those last steps are always a good idea after grilling, to prepare for your next session and extend the life of the grates by making sure rust doesn’t form.
So now grill is ready to rock and roll but… Got fuel? It’s the first thing we need and the first one we forget on. Friday night when you step out the back door with a platter of steaks. Start by inspecting any charcoal, smoking or seasoning woods and pellets, and gas tanks left over from last season. If any of your briquettes or woods got soaked, you’re OK if they retained their shape and what soaked them was just water. Set affected fuel out to dry and repackage as needed after they’re ready to go. If the soaking is due to inadequate storage, now is the time to correct that issue; establish nice, secure dry storage and maintain it; a nice airtight plastic bin is perfect for the job. If you use gas, make sure you’ve got fresh stuff handy; consider acquiring a second tank so you never run out when the cooking counts.
While we’re on the subject of charcoal, it’s my advice that you avoid instant light products and charcoal lighter fluid like the plague. It’s bad enough that the stuff contains things you don’t want to feed your family, and even worse that they absolutely ruin the flavor of good food. Get yourself a lighting chimney that works off scrap paper and use that; it’s just as fast, far cheaper, and makes better food. And by the way, charcoal quality does count. Crappy generic charcoal is the equivalent of mystery meat hot dogs; you’ve got no idea what’s in there and it’s likely none of it is good. High quality lump charcoal heats better, longer and more consistently, and that too means better food.
When you go shopping and buy stuff in bulk, take the time to break it down to typical meal sizes for your family, and freeze or store some in that form; this’ll make things that much faster when you feel like grilling or make spontaneous meal plans.
The basics are great, but think about stuff you haven’t tried when you’re ready to grill; veggies, even romaine lettuce is great with a light grill to it, as are fruit like pineapple, peaches or pears for a desert, lemons to accent a grilled protein, or limes for guacamole. Try a savory note like olive oil or Rosemary for a great savory counterpoint to the fruit.
And speaking of that, give this smoked guacamole recipe a try.