Summertime! The living is easy and-more often than not-the food is grilled. From burgers, dogs, and steaks to chicken, shrimp, and skewered vegetables, grilled and barbecued fare is a summer season essential.
One key to ensuring your foods are grilled to perfection is keeping the grill itself in tip-top shape. A well-maintained grill, whether gas or charcoal, will not only keep your food safe (as well as your home and patio), but will also bring out the best flavors in your favorite marinades and rubs.
Here are seven top expert tips to keep your grill in good form:
1. Start with a good foundation. Place a spatter mat or grill pad beneath your grill before you start cooking. According to Leslie Wheeler, director of communications for the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association (HPBA), these naturally heat-resistant pads will protect your deck or patio from drips of grease that miss the drip pan.
2. Observe safety essentials for gas grills. Never force an excess of propane into a liquid propane cylinder. Wheeler notes that, by law, a 20-lb. cylinder may be filled only to 80 percent capacity, leaving room for the liquid to expand. Check for gas leaks every time you disconnect or reconnect the regulator to the cylinder. Inspect hoses for abrasion and leaks before each use, using a soap and water solution (as shown right below), never a flame, to test for leaks. Replace any faulty hoses with a parts replacement kit before operating your grill. Always keep the grill lid open when lighting a gas grill to prevent a flash-off from gas buildup. Do not attach or disconnect an LP cylinder or alter the fittings when the grill is operating or hot.
3. Place it properly. Set up your grill in an open, well-ventilated space at least 10 feet from your house. Keep it away from overhead combustible surfaces or dry leaves, and as Wheeler advises, be sure all parts of the grill, including the legs, are firmly in place and stable.
4. Prep the kettle. Before adding the coals to a charcoal grill, Wheeler suggests lining the kettle basin with aluminum foil. Once you're finished grilling and the coals have cooled, simply wrap up the coals and ash and toss. Then wash the bowl and line it with foil for the next time you cook.
5. Keep the grate spiffed and brushed. Pre-heat your grill to 500-550 degrees to burn any leftover debris into ash, then use a stainless steel bristle brush to remove the ash and debris. A hot grill is always the best for cleaning. (Do not clean the grates right after you grill; food debris and sauces clog up the grill brush.) For a deeper clean, remove the grates when the grill is cool and squirt on a little dishwashing liquid (or place the grates in warm soapy water to cut the grease), then scrub with a wire brush or abrasive pad.
6. Regularly clear away grease and ash. After each use, remove the bottom tray from under a gas grill, place it carefully over a trashcan, and use a plastic scraper to remove excess grease, recommends Weber grilling expert Kevin Koleman. For charcoal grills, remember to empty the ash pans after each, since ashes can absorb moisture and may cause premature rusting of parts.
7. Keep it clean, inside and out. Wipe the outside of a gas grill lid with a paper towel and cleaner (glass cleaner for porcelain-coated lids and stainless steel cleaner for stainless steel lids), advises Kolman. If your grill is stainless steel, you'll get the best results by buffing with the grain using a microfiber towel. If you notice any grease stains on the outside end caps of the lid or cookbox, clean with warm soapy water, rinse, and dry thoroughly as soon as possible. Never use harsh chemicals or scouring pads-they will damage the stainless steel surfaces of your grill. Koleman also recommends cleaning the outside of your grill every two weeks with a non-toxic, non-abrasive cleaner formulated for use on stainless steel.
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