Gearing Up for Grilling Season
Backyard grillers have been heating up their charcoal or gas grills since spring. But how many of those people took the time to clean their grills?
While it is an extra step, cleaning your grill is essential to good grilling, food safety and plain old cleanliness. Honestly, would you knowingly eat a hamburger that was cooked on grates coated with last year’s food particles hanging on the surface? Think about how many times we do this because we assume that the high heat used to preheat the grill has burned off the remnants of the last grilling session. If your grilled foods have black flakes on them, it isn’t caramelization—it’s carbonized food particles. Yuck.
Cleaning a grill takes no more than 15 minutes, depending on how fast you move. Break it down into a few easy steps, and you’ll see how basic it really is.
Step 1: After each grilling session, let the grill—whether charcoal or gas—cool down slightly, then use a grill brush to remove the food debris. Pour vegetable oil on crumpled paper towels and wipe off the grate, leaving behind a thin, protective layer of oil and removing any tiny particles in the process.
Step 2: If you have a charcoal grill, remove the ashes. Ash is caustic and will eat away at the bottom bowl of the grill. Dispose of cold ashes in a metal bucket conveniently set beside the grill. Ashes can then be bagged and trashed, or applied to a compost pile as long as there are no meat or grease clumps in it.
Step 3: If you have a gas grill, every few cooking sessions, clean the food particles that have dropped onto the metal plates above the burners.
Step 4: Clean off the outside of the grill with soapy water and a rinse to maintain it. This is particularly important with pollen in the air.
Step 5: Once a year—preferably at the beginning of the season—take apart the hoses and fixtures on a gas grill and inspect for wear and damage. Also, buy a gas leak detection kit, and make sure all the fittings are secure and in good working order.
If you haven’t caught on yet after reading through the steps, step 1 is really the only one that needs to be done every time you grill. If you have a charcoal grill, then step 2 is necessary. You would never use a skillet over and over without washing it, nor should you grill on an unclean surface. Just as you wipe off your stovetop, you should maintain the outside of your grill. Now that we’ve got the cleaning out of the way, let’s go grill something!
Layering Flavors with Grilling
For memorable grilling, building flavors is essential and easy. Using marinades, rubs, wood chips and sauces is a fantastic way to turn basic grilling into gourmet grilling. Save yourself some money and make a dry rub house blend, storing it in a large salt shaker.
If you don’t feel like experimenting with a homemade rub, there are many types available at the grocery. Whether you cook burgers or brisket, a dry rub adds an initial layer of flavor and helps develop great color. If you are smoking or barbecuing a large cut of meat, prepping the entire surface with a dry rub the night before allows the flavors to develop. The biggest mistake backyard grillers make is just sprinkling on rubs. Rubs create color, flavor and texture (crustiness) when properly applied. If you absolutely have to have a rule of thumb, think of it as 1-2 tablespoons (depends on how pungent the rub is) per pound of meat.
The second layer of flavor occurs while smoking or barbecuing with the addition of wood chips. Wood chips come in a variety of flavors, some intense like mesquite, and some mellow like alder or apple. Dampen the chips so they smoke, not burn, and add just before putting the meat on. Cover the grill or smoker to allow the smoke to penetrate the surface. Always remember that a little goes a long way when using wood chips. Too many chips and the flavor will be bitter.
The third layer of flavor happens after or just before the meat is ready to come off the grill. Applying a sauce pulls all the other flavors together, creating a unified flavor profile. Seasoned grillers (pun intended) have additional marinades and techniques they weave into the process. But following this simple 1-2-3 approach will take you from basic to gourmet without a lot of hassle.