Unless you are like me and grill year-round, the warmer weather signals the start of the grilling season. This spring, especially, as millions of us are told to stay home, a trip outside to the backyard or patio is a welcome change.
If you have a new grill or have taken one out of winter hibernation, you’ll need to clean and season it before you cook.
Remember, outdoor grills are like cast-iron skillets: They get better and more seasoned the more you use them. When food cooks on the grill, the fats and juices are vaporized by the heat and create the smoke that flavors the food. The smoke accumulates on the inside of the grill and is “seasoned,” making your food “sing” with grilled flavor. For this reason, you don’t want to over-clean your grill.
If you’ve had your grill for a year or two and use it frequently, you may notice that the inside of the lid looks like the “paint” is peeling. This is simply the accumulation of layers of smoke, and not paint at all. You will want to remove this build-up so it doesn’t flake off and fall into your food. Scrape the inside of the lid first. If the grill still has layers of left-on food on the grill grates, turn all the burners on high for 30-45 minutes, or until everything has burned into a white-gray ash. Brush the grates with a grill brush while they are still hot, and let the grill cool before continuing to clean.
Warm soapy water, a scrubbie and a little elbow grease will take the excess grime off easily. Don’t scrub so hard that the grill becomes shiny again. Be sure to leave the first layer of seasoning on the grill, but get rid of any excess soot and ash.
If you’ve had any flare-ups, you may want to clean the outside lip of your grill as well, the part of the lid that meets the rest of the grill. Be sure to rinse with cool clean water.
Once the grill is clean, it’s time to season or re-season it. My favorite way is to fill the cooking grate with uncooked sausages such as bratwurst or Italian sausage — not the bulk breakfast variety. You don’t want to waste good sausage, so make it a meal. Smoked Sausage with Apple Fennel Sauerkraut is the recipe I make most often, and it is perfect for people who think they don’t like sauerkraut. The “sauerkraut” is made with aromatic fennel and tart apple, and seasoned with caraway seed.
Normally, I grill raw sausages slowly on a low-medium indirect heat, but when I am seasoning the grill, I opt for a medium-low direct heat to get more of the juices rendering and releasing on all the surfaces of the cooking grates. Turn the sausages a couple of times to make sure they don’t burn, and let them cook until very brown and bubbling hot. Remove the sausages and re-set the burners to high, letting the grill burn off any residue until it turns ashy white, or about for 20-30 minutes.
Meanwhile, you can enjoy the sausages. When you’re done eating, clean the cooking grates with a grill brush, turn off the gas, or close all the vents on a charcoal grill to extinguish the coals — and you are ready for the season!
If you are someone who forgets to clean your grill regularly throughout the season, print this out and put it on your refrigerator or somewhere close to remind you:
Cleaning Your Grill
(Follow these steps and grill maintenance will never be a big job.)
Preheat every time you use the grill.
After removing cooked food from the cooking grate, allow residue to burn off for 10 minutes.
Before and after each use, use a grill brush or crumpled aluminum foil to loosen and clean residue on the cooking grate.
Remove accumulated ashes from charcoal grills each time you cook out.
Check the drip pan and clean and replace it when it is half full.
Clean your grill once a year with warm soapy water but no harsh abrasives.
And, remember, a grill is like a cast-iron pan: The more you grill, the better your food will taste!