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How to care for gas and charcoal grills

Your grill will last a very long time with proper cleaning and care

Remember when your grill was new and shiny and you were eager to use it for the first time? You could not wait to get it fired up. First, you had to burn off the protective coating. Then it cooled, you applied cooking oil to the grate and you fired it up in preparation for a real outdoor meal.

Suddenly, it seems, a few months have passed and you notice that the insides have a buildup of grease and grime. The racks are a bit, well, crispy with burned food. Uh oh. You forgot about preventative care, after all, didn't you?

If it uses propane gas, you may have noticed it doesn't heat up quite as fast or that the flame is no longer blue, but more of an orange color. That recently shiny outside is not so bright. Smudgy fingerprints don't reflect light as well, do they?

Even that little low-priced charcoal grill is showing some wear. You probably don't spray oil on the grate any more. Instead, you just drop it on the concrete to knock off the lumps. The vents are beginning to rust and water has begun to seep through to the inside pan. Worse yet, you suspect mosquito larvae are hiding within as it has been sitting outside through the monsoon season.

It is time to refurbish your beloved outdoor cooking machine.

The type of material your unit is made of, rather than what model, will determine which cleaning supplies you use. For instance, use only brass brushes on all porcelain surfaces and, heaven forbid, never use a scraper. Use only non-abrasive cleaners on stainless steel.

For the simplest grills, meaning those mid-sized charcoalers with four legs and a hinged or removable top, just hose them down, inside and out. If you begin to see signs of rust, scrape it off and recoat with a high-heat-resistant paint. Even if you have neglected the grill rack, try scrubbing the residue. You can also toss it in a garbage bag overnight, spray it down with a dish liquid/water mix, and then clean it up. Flames typically burn off a lot of leftover crumbs and at the same time kill off bacteria. You know that. However, when you invite the new neighbors or your boss over, you do not want them to cringe at the sight of your makeshift cleaning job.

Here's a tip for protecting the bottom of mid-sized charcoal grills. Before you add charcoal, place a layer of aluminum foil across the bottom. The bottoms of these units, over time, will weaken from heat, but foil will go a long way to prolong the life of your little grill. Do not use foil over open vents on tabletop grills -- or any other models for that matter.

If you have a large vertical-type dry wood smoker, a cover is the best investment in keeping it clean and resistant to rust and other elements. However, if the outside color begins to fade you can apply a good coat of fireplace paint. First, remove the rust spots with steel wool or a wire brush.

A grease tap in the bottom works pretty well for drainage, but it can still get pretty nasty in there, and you must have long arms to really clean out the buildup. Once you have scooped and scrubbed those last little black ugly bits out of the bottom, use aluminum trays to catch drips. Keep a supply of them and replace regularly. You'll have a lot less mess to deal with.

When cleaning up a propane model, always disconnect the tank first. Remove all the washable parts and soak them in vinegar or in a mix of water and dishwashing liquid. Let them sit for a couple of hours and then scrub.

You should inspect the parts that can't be washed as well. Do they need replacing? Maybe. Always follow the manufacturer's instructions for dismantling a grill. Buy new lava rocks annually. In between replacement, though, just turn the rocks face down and let the grease burn off for about fifteen minutes. Check hoses on the tank and unit for wear; if you see even the slightest damage, replace immediately.

Gas burners do become clogged. Not just from food, either. Bugs and other critters seem to have a fondness for relocating to that nice tube under each burner - it's called a venturi. If you suspect inhabitants are preventing flow, you'll need to dismantle the unit and use a pipe cleaner or small bottle brush to clean it out. Use an approved brass bristle brush to wipe away debris and vacuum the inside of the unit. Replace the grease trays every few weeks. Do not use aluminum foil inside these trays.

Over the course of years, valves, burners, and conduit may need replacement. Clean and inspect them annually; you'll know when the time is right.

Never use steel wool on aluminum steel as this will cause rust. Soap and water should do the trick. A few elemental stains will not hurt the surface.

Once your grill or smoker is clean and shiny and looking almost like new, it's time to begin practicing those key tasks you should have done in the first place.

Remember, prevention is key. One of the best ways to protect that grill is to buy a good-quality cover that fits. Second is to remove burned-on food from the grill racks after each use. Coat the cool racks - never warm ones - with oil before or after each use and you should never have major cleanup issues.

Whether your grill is an economy-sized tabletop model or a stove-sized unit with multiple components, it will benefit from regular cleaning. With a little special care, grills of any price range and structure should last for years, regardless of how much you use them.



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