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Prep Your Grill for a Sizzling Season of Meals

5 tips for getting the most out of your barbecue equipment

man cleaning grill
arinahabich / Getty Images

As the weather warms up and people spend more time gathering outdoors, it's time for grilling.

But before you throw your meat (or veggies) on the fire, take some time to optimize your grill for the season. Just like anything that hasn’t been used in a while, the equipment you rely on to create sizzling outdoor meals could benefit from a good tune-up. Whether you’re a gas or charcoal griller or prefer your meat on a smoker, two pitmasters share their tips on how to keep your grill in tip-top shape all season long.​

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1. Deep clean the grates

Make sure you’re starting the season with a clean surface for grilling. Taking the time to do a proper cleaning in the beginning will go a long way, wiping away the grime that may have built up if you left your grill dormant most of the winter. A clean surface will make your food taste better. Rob Serritella, founder and pitmaster at Los Angeles’ Holy Cow BBQ, has a whole process for cleaning the grill.​​

To start, if you have a gas grill, make sure the gas is off.​

Remove your grill grates (if you can) and place them on a surface for cleaning. If your model doesn’t have removable grates, it likely has a tray underneath to catch debris that is removable and cleanable. Most people line these trays with aluminum foil for easy cleaning.​

​Use gloves and goggles (to block flying debris), and fill a tub with hot water and dish soap. After a good soak, scrape off the debris. If dish soap doesn’t do the trick, try oven cleaner.​

​Rinse with hot water and air-dry.​​

2. Get rid of gunk

“Use a putty knife, brush and skewers to get all of last year’s gunk out,” Serritella says. That includes the inside cover, sides and bottom of the grill. This will make sure that nothing burns off right onto your food.​​

Breaking in a New Grill?

​Getting a new grill is exciting, but before you throw on the burgers and dogs, make sure you do a bit of prep.

  • Give your grill a bath. Clean the interior with gentle soap and water, says pitmaster Anthony Nicolosi of BBQ & Craft Company in Miami Beach, Florida. Use a towel to “ensure it’s completely dry,” before moving on, he says.​​
  • Make sure it’s level. A wobbly grill can be dangerous while cooking, says Rob Serritella, founder and pitmaster at Los Angeles’ Holy Cow BBQ. A grill mat can keep things level and maintain a tidy area.​​
  • Do some preheating. If you have a gas grill, Nicolosi recommends spraying the interior with nonstick spray and starting a fire at 450 degrees for one hour. “This allows the grill to settle in before its first use,” he says. Serritella uses a wire brush to scrape off the openings in the gas tubing (while it is heating). “This allows for proper and even gas flow,” he says. ​​
  • Get rid of that new grill smell. Serritella suggests cranking up the heat to high for 15 minutes to get rid of the metallic or chemical smell in the grill cavity that can come from new packaging or paint.​​
  • For smokers. If you’re using a smoker, fill the smoker tray with wood chips and water, and cook on medium heat for about 30 minutes. “This gives your new barbecue a ‘smoky’ primer before first use,” Serritella says.​

Soak a few old dish towels in the hot water and dish soap solution, and wipe down all areas of the grill. Then spray the inside top of the grill with a solution of 1/3 vinegar to 2/3 water. Think of this like cleaning a dirty pan before you are ready to use it to cook.​​

Let sit for at least a half hour, then wipe down the inside and outside of the grill with warm water to remove any of the leftover char from last year, dirt that may have blown in or bugs that got trapped.​​

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If you cook with a charcoal grill, make sure to remove any residual ashes, says Octavius Nelson, owner of Bobby’s BBQ in Fountain Inn, South Carolina.​​

“A lot of people leave the ashes in there and cook on top of them next time, but that can rust out your grill box,” he says. “It’s best to remove the charcoals after every use, once the grill cools down.”​​

Remove your grill’s drip tray if it has one (most gas grills do) — this is what catches any dripping grease — and re-cover with foil before you place it back.​​

3. Prep your grill grates

Once you’ve done a deep clean, it’s time to prep your grill. Nelson recommends oiling the grates of the grill to counteract any rust that may have built up.​

“If you’re an experienced griller, put some cooking oil on a towel after your grill is hot and rub the grates to wipe it down,” he says. “If you’re more of a beginner, take the grates off your grill before you light it, and rub the oil on them cold. Then put them back on, heat up your grill and use a grill brush to clean them off.”​

Grillers can also do a pre-burn with the oil grates for about 10 minutes before cleaning, to burn off any excess, Serritella says.​​

4. Cover it up

Grills are made to withstand the elements, but getting a cover and protecting your equipment between uses will prevent the need for frequent heavy-duty cleaning.​​

“If rain gets in your grill, it could get moldy,” says Nelson. “A cover will also help keep critters and bugs out, especially bees.”​​

Make sure to wait until your grill cools down to cover it each night.​

Barbecue tools on wooden table
Olena Danileiko / Alamy Stock Photo

5. Check your supplies

Now that your grill is in tip-top shape, make sure the rest of your supplies are as well. For chip or pellet grills, Serritella suggests removing any unused fuel from last season in your barbecue or smoker and replacing it with a fresh, dry batch to prevent moisture or bugs from tainting your cooking efforts. The same goes for charcoal or presoaked charcoal — start with a fresh bag.​​

If you’re using a gas grill, check that your tank is full — you don’t want to run out of gas midway through flipping burgers or chicken.​​

Take quick inventory of the rest of your tools — brushes, tongs and spatulas. If you see they are missing bristles or broken, it’s time to replace them. If there is a bit of rust buildup, Nelson suggests using a little cooking oil and a scrub pad or steel wool to remove it. Then wash with dish soap and water and air-dry thoroughly.​​

“I have an outdoor plastic waterproof bin I designate for my grilling tools and supplies that I don’t have room to store inside,” he says.

Pro Tip: Invest in a meat thermometer

person checking sausages with a meat thermometer
mrcmos / Getty Images

When it’s finally time to cook, the most essential tool to have is a meat thermometer. There are plenty of inexpensive options to choose from, including instant-read digital thermometers and Wi-Fi-enabled probe thermometers you leave in your meat. These probes have an external readout that displays the meat’s temperature as it cooks, so no need to continue opening the lid to check.​“Poking your meat over and over while it’s on the grill will dry it out,” says Nelson. “A digital thermometer will read your temperature much faster, so you’re not leaving your grill open and letting the heat out.”​​

It’s easy to find the right temperatures for each kind of meat online, if your thermometer doesn’t come with a guide. The result will be perfectly cooked meat for grilling season.​