There's nothing quite like grilling fish, burgers, kabobs, or steak in the backyard or the local park on a warm summer night. It's one of our greatest and most enduring culinary pastimes. But cleaning the grill afterward? Who needs it?! Well, your grill does, unless you enjoy a burger that tastes like last week's chicken. And if you're put off by the idea that you need to use harsh cleaners to do the job right, banish that thought. It isn't true.
"Grill cleaning in an environmentally friendly way is really pretty simple, and timing is everything," explains grilling expert David Joachim, author of Mastering the Grill: The Owner's Manual for Outdoor Cooking (Chronicle Books, 2007) and The Tailgater's Cookbook (Clarkson Potter, 2004).
"The simplest, best 'green' tools are, and always have been, a stiff wire grill brush, a sturdy spatula or spackle knife, tongs, a wadded up paper towel, and inexpensive vegetable oil," says Joachim. (Rodale.com recommends avoiding plastic tools and opting for stainless steel versions as longer-lasting, greener choices.) "Maybe more importantly, the best time to use these tools is when your grill is hot," adds Joachim. "It's much easier to clean a hot grill grate than a cold one."
To prevent the need for laborious cleaning sessions, follow these simple steps every time you use your grill:
1. Preheat the grill for 15 minutes.
2. Scrape the grill grate with a stiff wire grill brush.
3. Grab a wadded up paper towel with grill tongs and dampen it with vegetable oil.
4. Use tongs to rub the oily paper towel over the grill grate.
The grill brush scrapes off large bits of debris, and the oil and paper towel remove the finer soot. This keeps past flavors from infiltrating of your food, explains Joachim. "More importantly, oil lubricates the grill and helps prevent sticking, which prevents the build-up of stuck-on food," he says. This makes cleanup a lot easier.
You should also regularly tackle the area below the grate or on the underside of the lid, but only when the grill has cooled off. Here's how:
1. Remove the grill grate.
2. Use a spatula or spackle knife to scrape out and discard any carbonized debris from the heat diffuser, which is often a metal plate resting above the burners.
3. Scrape out and remove as much debris as possible from the cookbox below the heat diffuser.
4. Use the spatula or spackle knife to scrape out and discard any carbonized debris from the underside of the lid.
Depending on how often you use your grill, you'll want to clean the outside on occasion as well. To do so, use a sponge or paper towel and a citrus-based degreaser. Avoid those with artificial fragrances, orange "impostors" (such as d-limonene), or harsh ingredients.