A clean grill, more than a marinade or spice rub, delivers better flavor. Performing a yearly inspection will make routine maintenance more manageable, and help keep burners going at full tilt, chassis from rattling, and can even prevent uncontrollable fires. Use these tips for the first deep-cleaning session of the season, and then for regular upkeep until you have to pack up for the year. And if you’re a charcoal-only guy, scroll to the bottom.
Sponge the Grill
Use a sponge with warm, soapy water to clean the enameled and stainless steel surfaces, interior, and exterior. Wipe in the direction of the stainless steel’s grain to avoid leaving streaks. Give the painted surfaces a check for rust. If you find any, remove it with a stiff wire brush, coat the spot with a metal primer, then finish with a top coat of a high-heat paint such as Krylon BBQ & Stove. That black flaking material on the inside of the lid isn’t peeling paint, it’s smoke and grease build-up that you’ll want to remove.
Clean the Grates
If you forgot to clean the stainless steel grate after putting the grill away last season, don’t worry. Coat the grates with a homemade paste made by stirring one-fourth cup of baking soda into one-fourth cup of water. Let it sit for about 20 minutes, then clean it off with a grill brush. If the grate is seriously dirty, stash it in a clean garbage bag and spray it with oven cleaner before leaving it overnight. During the season, keep the grate clean by letting the heat run for about five minutes — no more — then open the top, ball up some foil (or use a grill brush), and scrub the grates. For porcelain-coated grates: Stay away from the scraper blade that comes on some brushes because it will chip the coating. Coat cast-iron grates with an oil-soaked paper towel after cleaning.
Clean the Burners
Most modern gas grills have mesh that prevents bugs from making a home within the venturi tubes, which mix air with gas for an even burn. If yours doesn’t, use a dry bottle brush to clean the tubes, then cover the opening with metal mesh to prevent future invasions. Fire up the grill without the grates or burner covers and look at the flames. Burner ports clog with grease over time, sealing them shut and causing hot and cold spots and uneven flames. You want to see blue flames with yellow tips at consistent heights. Clean the burner tubes with a stainless steel brush and the burner holes with a paperclip or flexible pipe cleaner.
Test the Connections
Here’s a simple way to determine if your gas connection (either natural or LP) has a leak: Coat the regulator, valves, and hoses with soapy water, and then turn on the gas. If you see bubbles, you have a leak. Tighten the connections or pick up a new hose or O-ring.
Seek Out Hot Spots
It’s rare that a grill heats evenly under the entire grate surface. Knowing where the hot spots are helps avoid incinerating burgers or undercooking chicken. First, find the spots by covering the entire grate with slices of bread, then letting the heat go on high for a few minutes. Once you flip the bread over you’ll be able to see which corners or areas are cooler. The cheap fix is to leave it as is and use it as a cool spot to move over cooked food. Or, fix it by replacing the grates over the cooler spot with a fast heat conductor like ones made from anodized aluminum.
Inspect the Chassis
A rickety grill isn’t fun or safe to use. Inspect joints and connections for rust and remove any with a stiff wire brush, then coat it with a rust primer and high heat. While you’re at it, tighten any nuts and bolts and replace anything that is loose, like handles or wheels.
Clean the Grease Trap
If ignored, the trays that collect grease can overfill and ignite. Clean it out at the beginning of the season, and make next year’s routine go faster by lining the trap with a disposable aluminum version or a makeshift one made with foil.
Scrub the Burner Covers
Most gas grills come with a shield that sits over the burners, protecting them from falling sauces, helping with heat distribution, and adding flavor when they vaporize falling fat. Use a brush to remove that grease or it could trap moisture and encourage rusting. If you have lava rock or ceramic briquettes over the burners, replace them if they give off a rancid smell or taste.
Cover the Grill Correctly
Tossing a tarp over your grill once it cools will prevent water from getting in, but it will also deter any condensation that forms on the surface — meaning rust. Invest in a grill canvas or vinyl that comes with a cloth lining to wick away moisture.
Cleaning Charcoal Grills
Clean the outside of the grill with soapy water and a sponge. Then remove the cooking grate and the one sitting under the charcoal. Push any leftover ash into the ash-catcher, and wash the inside of the bowl. Use a soap-soaked steel wool pad on the moving parts for burnt-on grease.