Imagine strutting to the back patio with a plate full of beautiful burger patties to cook. You approach the grill. Lift the lid. And stare into the charred, stuck-on remains of the last feast to hit the grate. Don’t live out this nightmare. If the previous time you used the grill was around football season and the weather’s finally turning warm, it’s time to get your outdoor cooker ready with a thorough cleaning.
Step 1 - Maintain
Ideally, a grill should be cleaned after each use. When the grates are still warm, but not too hot to handle, you can run a good wire brush over them, removing any remaining food and char. Same goes for the ash. Once it’s cool, clear it out. If your grill has an ash pan this is easy, if not, use a whisk broom or small shovel to remove the ash.
But we don’t always want to work on cleaning the grill after we’ve had our fill of blackened meats, do we? We just close the lid and forget about it until the next time. A little prep, though, will get things ready so you don’t have to fear the grill. The following ideas are to be done only when the grill grates, body, charcoal and all other components are cool enough to handle.
Step 2 - Scrub and Rinse
Let’s start with a standard stainless steel grate. If it’s not too dirty, you can do a cleanup with a wire brush, some dish soap, and a garden hose. An alternate is to fill a spray bottle with a 50/50 ratio of distilled white vinegar and water. Spray this all over the grate, let it sit for a little while, but not until it’s dried. Hit the grates with the wire brush to bring back the shine, then rinse with water.
Step 3 - Soak
Now, if the grate is in real bad shape, it’s time to get serious. Once again, we’ll enlist white distilled vinegar, but paired it with it’s old friend baking soda. You remember how they foamed in that junior-high science experiment? We’ll use that volcanic power for the good of your grate.
Get a clean plastic garbage bag large enough to hold the grate. Once the grate is inside, mix one cup white distilled vinegar with a half cup baking soda in a large bowl. Pour this over the grate in the bag, secure the top and leave alone for a night. By the next day, you should be able to rinse off whatever grime remains, or reach for your wire brush again if things need more persuasion. Again, rinse with water once you're done.
Step 4 - Season
If your grill has cast iron grates, they’ll need a little extra care so they don’t rust. Just like a cast iron skillet, they should never be left wet after a wash. Some might not even need soap, just a good scrubbing with brush with wire or stiff nylon bristles. If the grease is really thick, dish soap or a spray bottle with the 50/50 water/vinegar should work. Follow your individual manufacturer’s instructions regarding the care of your cast iron grates. But always remember to dry them thoroughly. And give them a light coat of cooking oil after they’re clean to protect them from rust.
Step 5 - Clear the Ash
Cleaning the interior of your grill follows the same principles as the grates. Remove any charcoal and ash. Anything stuck on can get scraped away with a wire brush. Again, we can reach for our vinegar mixture or dish soap. If your grill went through a particularly rough season and lost some paint on its exterior, there are spray paints appropriate for grills – just make sure you absolutely have the correct product - and color.
Step 6 - Prep for Gas
With a gas grill, rotate your stones or ceramic briquettes so their clean sides are exposed. If you can’t find any clean sides, then it’s probably time to replace the stones. While you’re at it, make sure all your gas fittings are secure and grease free. An old toothbrush with a dot of dish soap can be handy for cleaning small areas.
It might take a little effort on a neglected grill, but you’ll see that the stuck on grease will soon relent to your elbow grease. And it’s not just about good looks. A clean grill helps food taste better, without old char adding an extra burnt flavor. So before you marinate the meat, get that grill sparkling again, then it’ll be worthy of the feast you’re cooking for you and your backyard friends.
(Now that your grill is ready, get yourself set up with grilling tools for the master griller.)