Spring is Here...Time to Barbecue!
The sure signs of spring's arrival are the aromas of burning charcoal and barbecued food filling the evening air. With warmer weather, cooking outdoors becomes much more enjoyable. If you retired your grill and smoker during the winter months, now's the time to do maintenance on your equipment.
To get your grills and smokers in tip-top condition for the coming barbecue season, start by give them a good cleaning. As you clean, look things over closely and make the necessary repairs. The following list will guide you as you get your outdoor cookers in shape.
Clean the Food Grates - There are three main type of grates - solid metal (cast iron and stainless steel), chrome plated, and porcelain coated. Each requires specific care when cleaning.
Cast iron and stainless grates are
tough and durable. Begin by using hot soapy water and a wash cloth to remove the grease and loose particles. Use a stainless steel brush to remove the remaining grunge. Give the grate a final soapy cleaning and rinse thoroughly.
After your grates are clean (all styles), spray them with Pam for Grills® cooking spray on both sides. This will prevent rust, prevent moisture from entering cracks in porcelain, and help keep food from sticking. And from now on, to make it easier on yourself, clean your grate after each cookout.
Chrome plated grates need to be treated with a little more care. First, check for flaking chrome. If you see the shiny metal peeling off the grate, replace it with a new one. Having sharp-edged chrome flakes on your grilled food is a bad thing! If the chrome not flaking, start with a soap and water cleaning. Finish cleaning with a soft brass brush, or a tough plastic mesh scrubber along with BarKeeper's Friend® cleanser. It's a non-abrasive cleaner that's non-toxic, and does a good job cleaning grates. Rinse well when clean.
Porcelain coated grates are the most fragile. The coating can chip or crack is the grate is struck with a hard object, dropped, or flexed. When the porcelain cracks, it allows moisture to reach
the base metal, which will begin to rust. Rusting will loosen the porcelain's bond to the metal, and it will begin the process of falling apart, with some of the porcelain possibly getting on your food. Great for the dentist, but not for you. Inspect the grate for cracks and chipping. If you see problems and they're not severe, keep using the grate, keeping an eye on the problem spots. If it's really bad and the porcelain is breaking off in chunks, replace it. If it's good, start cleaning with the hot soapy water routine. Next use a soft brass brush or plastic scrubber. BarKeeper's Friend® will help. Wash again and rinse well.
Don't turn the grill to
high in hopes of burning off all the grease and food. That only causes burned on carbon to build up - and that's the toughest stuff to get off your grill. High temperatures can also weaken porcelain coated grates and cause them to fail sooner than they normally would. A gentle washing in hot soapy water after each barbecue is all it takes keep your grates clean and your food tasting its best.
Charcoal Grills and Smokers - Remove and inspect the charcoal grate. These tend to burn away after a season or two of hard use. If the rods of the grate have corroded into thin, flimsy wires, replace it. If it still has some life left, brush it with a wire brush and rinse with water.
Remove all the ashes from under the grate. Use a brass brush to scrape off what's left. Wash the inner grill body surface with hot soapy water and rinse. Check for missing porcelain and rusting metal. Repair any rusted spots by sanding away the rust, priming, then
painting with a high-temp grill paint. This will stop the rusting, and more importantly will prevent the ashes from coming in contact with the bare metal.
When ashes become moist from high humidity in the air or from rain, they become very corrosive. Bare metal will corrode away in a couple of seasons from the harsh effects of wet ashes. To get the longest life out of your charcoal grill, remove the ashes and clean the interior surfaces regularly. Once a week would be a good idea. Don't give the corrosive effects of ashes a chance to ruin your grill.
Gas Grills and Smokers - Remove the lava rock and replace it if it's filled with grease or breaking up into small pieces. Remove the burners and check for rust-throughs, and look closely at each opening to make sure they're not plugged up with food particles, lava rock or other stuff. Spiders and other critters love to get into gas burners to hide from the winter weather. If you have
access to compressed air, blow the burners out (wearing safety glasses, of course!) to clean them. If the burners are rusted badly or bent out of shape, replace them with new burners of the same style and size.
Clean the inner surface of the grill so it's free of dirt, grease and food particles. Touch up any bare metal by sanding the area, priming it, and painting with high-temp grill paint.
Electric Grills and Smokers - Check the lava rock, and replace if necessary. Remove the electric heating element and closely inspect it for rusting and cracks. If it is cracked or rusty, you can continue to use it if it heats up properly. Just be aware that it will soon go out on you, and probably when you need it the most! Go ahead and buy a new one now to have on hand when the inevitable happens. Clean the interior and touch up the paint. Prevent corrosion before it has a chance to start.
Clean Remaining Interior and
Exterior Surfaces - Hot soapy water and a stiff bristle brush will do a great job. While cleaning, look for loose screws, broken handles, rust, flaking paint, loose rivets, cracked glass on thermometers...find the problems before they cause a problem, and fix them. Always have sandpaper, primer and grill paint on hand to maintain the finish.
Check the Thermometer - Since temperature is critical when cooking in your smoker and grill, remove the thermometer to check its accuracy. After cleaning the stem, hold it in rapidly boiling water until the needle holds steady. The gauge should read close to 212 degrees Fahrenheit. If not, adjust it or replace it with a new one.
Check the Overall Stability of the Grill or Smoker - Are the wheels in good shape? Plastic wheels tend to crack after a few winter seasons. Replace them if questionable. Does the unit wobble when your gently shake it? Check the base for loose screws
and split welds. Screws can be tightened, or replaced. However, cracked welds are another story. Unless repaired, the weld will continue to split, causing a very unsafe condition. Call a welding repair shop, or even the local auto exhaust system repair shop. They do a lot of welding and may be able to repair your cooker for a reasonable price. If your grill or smoker is a cheap one, it may be a better idea to replace it with a new one. Repairs just aren't cost effective after a certain point.
Check all Vents for Proper Operation - They should be tight fitting and should rotate easily. Repair or replace as needed.
Check All Gas Connections for Leaks - Mix up a 50/50 mixture of water and liquid dishsoap and use it to check all gas connections on your grills and smokers. With the gas on, brush some of the liquid on each connection. If you see bubbles, there's a leak that needs to be repaired. Gently tighten
the loose connections just until the leak is stopped. Overtightening gas connectors will damage them, so be careful.
Cleaning Stainless Grills - The surfaces of stainless grills require special cleaning solutions. Using the wrong cleaning agent on stainless steel can cause discoloration or staining. Contact the grill manufacturer or refer to the grill owner manual for the recommended cleaning instructions.
Now that your grills and smokers are in top condition, get out there and use them! Nothing beats the flavor of food cooked in the great outdoors. Try one or two of the following recipes in your just-like-new smoker or grill. Winter's over. It's barbecue season!