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As winter thaws, it’s time to spend our days on porches, patios or in the backyard. A key part of these warm weather activities is showing your outdoor cooking skills to friends and family. During the cold months, your grill has probably been sitting idle, so it’s time to give it a deep clean before it’s lit several times a week. Some of us keep the grill going all yearbut spring is the perfect time to do a deep clean before the official the outdoor cooking season begins. Here are some tips and tricks that will hopefully make things easier.
Disassemble, rub, reassemble
A good rule of thumb when it comes to cleaning anything you haven’t used in a while is to take it apart as much as you feel comfortable with and wipe it down thoroughly. For grills, this means removing the grates and any burner bars or covers – basically anything you can remove that isn’t the heating element. This gives you the opportunity to inspect the burners of your gas grill or the firepot of a pellet model for any unsightly wear. If these components are worn or excessively rusted, most companies offer replacement parts that you can easily replace with a few basic tools.
Once all the pieces are out, begin by scraping excess debris from all sides of the interior – with the help of a cleaner if necessary. For a gas grill, that probably means pushing everything through the grease trap. On a pellet grill, you’ll want to scrape the grease chute into the catch pan, but you’ll also need to vacuum the inside with a shop vac, just like you would after a few hours of use. And while you’re at it, go ahead and empty the hopper of all the old pellets that have been sitting around since Labor Day. Fuel that’s been sitting in the grill for months won’t give you the best results when cooking, so you might as well start over.
Fortunately, pellet grill manufacturers have made easy cleaning a key part of their designs. Weber SmokeFire has a set of metal bars inside that can be quickly removed to open the bottom of the chamber. It’s also a design feature of the company’s gas grills. Simply vacuum or push debris out of the grease chute. The catch pan where all the trash goes is also easy to access from the front of the grill, and you can remove the aluminum liner and replace it with a new one in seconds.
Traeger’s Newest Pellet Grills have also been redesigned to improve cleaning. Most notably, grease and ash end up in the same “drum” that is easy to detach from the front of the grill. The company also allows you to quickly remove all interior components, although they are larger than what you find on the SmokeFire. Finally, Traeger moved the pellet chute to the front of the new Timberline And iron woodwhich makes it much more convenient to swap wood varieties or empty an old stash.
You will want to remove as much leftover food from your grill as possible for several reasons. First, this material is old and heavy buildup over time can hamper cooking performance and impact flavor. The last thing you want is old food or fat just burning under an expensive rib eye. Second, in the case of pellet grills, not properly removing grease and dust can be dangerous. It’s easy for grease fires to start in scalding temperatures and if there’s enough pellet dust in the bottom of your grill, it may actually ignite or explode. That’s why companies advise you to vacuum after a few hours of use.
To really clean the surfaces, you will need an all-natural grill cleaner. There are tons of options here, and it might take a while to find one you like. I usually use Traeger’s Formula as it is readily available at places I buy pellets and I have found it to work well in cutting through stuck on mud. You want an all-natural grill cleaner rather than a regular household product because it’s safe to use on surfaces that will touch your food. They are also safe to use on the outside of your grill without damaging chrome, stainless steel or any other material.
Spray the inside and let it act for a few minutes. Wipe everything down and go back to any heavily soiled areas as needed. Ditto for the grates, bars, and any other parts you removed. I like to lay them out on a garden trash bag (they’re bigger than kitchen bags) so anything I scrape or clean doesn’t spill all over my patio. You can use store towels if you want to recycle or paper towels if not, but be aware that whatever you choose will be covered in nasty black gunk, so you won’t want to just throw them in the washer when you’re done. A pre-wash in a bucket or sink is necessary to make sure you don’t transfer gunk from your grill to your casual workers.
In terms of tools, you don’t need a lot. i tried this grill robot which claims to do the work for you, but I’ve found sticking to the basics to be more effective. And honestly, when you get used to it, it doesn’t take long. It’s a good idea to have a wire brush specifically for grills that you don’t use to clean anything else. After all, it will hit the same surfaces you put food on. I recommend another smaller wire brush – those that look like big toothbrushes – to clean the burners of a gas grill. If you notice that the flame isn’t shooting through one of the holes, you can use it to clear the path. Finally, plastic is the way to go for a scraper, anything else and you risk scratching the surfaces of your grill. Of course, any damage done would be inside, but it’s still not a good feeling to spill your previous investment.
Check for updates before your first cook
If you have a smart grill like Trager, Weber or another company, you’ll want to plug it in and check for software updates long before your first grilling session. Chances are you haven’t cooked much since last fall, which means companies have had months to update their appliances. Trust me, there’s nothing worse than spending an hour carving and seasoning a beef brisket only to come out to start the grill and it immediately goes into the updating process. This could significantly extend the total baking time depending on the extent of firmware additions and the strength of your WiFi.
Fortunately, checking for updates is quick and easy. All you have to do is turn on your grill and open the company app on your phone. If a download is ready for your model, the mobile software will let you know and it’s usually quite visible. If there is no pop-up alert showing immediately, you can check the settings menu to be sure. Sometimes for small updates a company may not beat you to freshen up. However, starting a fresh firmware list is always a safe bet and will ensure that your grill performs at its best when cooking.
For a good time every time, clean after each use
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not adhering to my own advice here, but it’s good to have goals. I’ll also be the first to tell you every time I smoke a Boston Butt or other super fatty cut of meat that I wish I had done at least a quick cleanse right after the meal. Grease buildup is not only highly flammable, but much harder to clean once it has cooled and solidified. Ditto for stuck-on sauce or cheese left on your grills after chicken or burgers. It’s best to tackle these things while the grill is still hot, but cooled by the cook.
You don’t necessarily have to take out the shop vacuum every time for your pellet grill or empty the grease trap. But you’ll want to make sure these foods are kept away from the main cooking area for safety and that any burns won’t affect the flavor of your food. A few cups of hot water can clean up grease runoff while the wire brush I mentioned is best for grates. It also doesn’t hurt to give it a light wipe down with an all-natural cleanser to have everything ready when you want to cook again.