En español | 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.
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 out all the 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.
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 were trapped.
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 you have 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.
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. If there is a bit of rust buildup, Nelson suggests using a little cooking oil and a scrub pad or steel wool to remove. Then wash with dish soap and water and air dry thoroughly.
"I have an outdoor plastic waterproof bin that 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
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.
Samantha Lande is a contributing writer who covers food, health and human interest stories for several national publications. Her work has appeared in Real Simple, Allrecipes, on the Food Network and more