Barbecue Prep Tips: How To Clean A Grill

Grilling makes food mighty tasty. Make it even tastier by keeping that grill clean.

Ah, grilling one of the great joys of spring, summer and even fall for the hardcore outdoor cookers. But, as with any kind of cooking, you want to keep your equipment in top shape. For the sake of your grill, the effectiveness of your cooking and perhaps even the palatability of your food, cleanliness is an important factor.

This doesn't mean your grill has to be clean enough that you can perform surgery on it, but at the start of grilling season in particular, it pays to give the grill a vigorous cleaning. And if you use it often, give it a thorough cleaning every once in a while in addition to spot-cleanings.

One of the most effective ways to keep the grill clean is not to let anything get caked on it over the course of a day. Hey, you wipe your stove off after finishing dinner (we hope), so don't neglect your grill, either. After you're done cooking, let the heat of the grill do the same thing a self-cleaning oven does: Cook away some of the debris. If you have a gas grill, you can actually turn the heat up to high and close the lid for 10 to 15 minutes; a charcoal grill will simply have to make do with the remaining heat from the coals. Let the grill cool slightly before you get in there with the metal brush (or wadded up aluminum foil) to scrub the grilling surfaces, but don't let it actually get cold. If your grill has grates with a non-stick coating, use a plastic scrubbing pad instead of a metal brush, or they won't be non-stick for very long.

Aside from sanitary reasons, there is a good reason to keep things tidy after a cookout, particularly for charcoal grills. Rust is the major bane of any charcoal grill, and failure to clean out the ashes on a regular basis sets you up for having a rusty grill. For optimal heat retention, you are going to need a layer of ash, but you want fresh ashes for that; old ashes just end up helping to corrode your grill. Empty the ash catcher under the grill if you have one, and also dump them out from inside the grill.

For most charcoal grills, spray-on oven cleaner is your first line of defense if you're ready for a serious cleanup and not just a quick scrub and ash removal. After you've removed the ashes, spray the inside of the grill and the grate with the oven cleaner, and let it sit long enough to loosen up the grease and grime. Wipe off the cleaner with paper towels or wadded up newspapers, and follow up with some mild detergent (nothing abrasive; dishwashing soap is fine) and water. Rinse, dry and repeat cooking as soon as your taste buds cry out for some grilled food again. It also wouldn't hurt to give the cooking grates a light coating of cooking oil before you finish up. This will help make the next cleanup easier and prevent moisture which could foster rust growth.

Gas grills are treated a little differently for the serious cleanup. Skip the oven cleaner and move straight to mild soap, water and a soft cloth after you've blasted the inside with heat and scrubbed away the old food and other materials. Rinse the grill with clean water and wipe it out. In addition, you need to examine and periodically clean out the burner ports with a toothpick, metal wire or a piece of straw.

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