Easy Maintenance Tips for Grills

Give Your Family a Good Grilling

John Keys, owner of Busters Butane Gas Company Inc. in Corpus Christi, Texas, has had the same gas grill for 10 years, and it shows no signs of slowing down. It doesn’t look like a spring chicken, but it’s not ready for the trash heap either.

You, too, can own a grill that lasts seemingly forever — all you have to do is follow a few simple guidelines.

Charcoal Grills

Edie Ramos, an inside garden sales associate at The Home Depot, said the back-to-basics charcoal grill is a sure-fire bet for grilling on the cheap. With a little loving care, this low-cost cooking tool can last five to seven years.

Shopping: There aren’t a lot of bells and whistles on these babies, so they aren’t hard to shop for. Simply consider the size of the crowd you’ll be cooking for and whether you want a grill that also has a smoker attachment.

Set up: Ramos recommends putting charcoal in the bottom and letting it burn for 30 to 45 minutes to burn off excess manufacturing materials.

Routine care: Wait until the fire burns down, Ramos said, leaving red coals before adding the meat to the grill. Before you do, you might want to add a little non-stick spray. Better yet, she suggested cutting an onion in half and scrubbing the grill with it. It will leave a nice residue that adds flavor and prevents food from sticking. After the meal, use the other half of that onion to clean up any mess.

Spring cleaning: If you’re a good rust-watcher, you used that cover. Brighten up the grill’s exterior with glass cleaner, Ramos said, and scrub the inside with a wire brush.

Safety first: If your food is nice and juicy, it’s going to cause the fire to flare up. Opening the lid will fan the flames with a lot of oxygen, so open it slowly to avoid a big blow-up. Also, don’t be so happy with the lighter fluid; dampen the coals, don’t soak them.

Gas Grills

Shopping: Price matters. How good a grill do you want? Go ahead, get that bargain one, but Keys said you should understand it’s probably going to be sitting on the curb waiting for the garbage man in a season or two. Pool that annual grill budget and splurge on a better brand. A good-quality gas grill will be easier to maintain and will last longer, and may even come with a lifetime warranty.

Set-up: Keys recommends turning it on and letting it run for an hour to burn off any oily residue left from the manufacturing process. Follow up with a spritz or two of a nonstick spray then throw on the food.

Routine care: If you didn’t clean it after the last use, Keys said, now’s the time to take a wire brush and knock off any leftover particles from the previous feast. It might take a little elbow grease, but it’s still better than a sink full of pots and pans. And for heaven’s sake: get a grill cover and use it. Protecting it will add years to the life of your grill.

Spring cleaning: Once a year, Keys suggested, take the thing apart (scary, we know, but you want it to last, right?) and give it a good scrub and inspection. Clean the briquettes and check the burners and cooking grids for rust. If there’s a touch of rust, scrape it off. If there’s substantial rust, it’s time to shop for replacement parts or the decent grill you should have bought in the first place. Baked-on food clouding the cover? Use oven cleaner and hose away the mess.

Safety first: There’s a rubber hose that runs from the tank to the barbecue pit. Keys said gas grill owners should check it routinely to make sure Rover or another wayward critter hasn’t punctured it. If you ever smell gas, he added, shut the tank off immediately and have it checked out.

Barbecue Pits

Roy Hinojosa, owner of Hinojosa Fence in Corpus Christi, doesn’t have any patience with fancy-pants grills. He sells a South Texas favorite, the barbecue pit, a barrel-shaped grill that takes a little labor but provides what its fans consider a muy bueno smoky flavor.

Shopping: If you’re something of a macho cook and the process is as important as the result, this is the grill for you. As Hinojosa sees it, if you need something fancier, you might as well go in the kitchen. The average-size grill feeds five to six people, he said, but if you have the urge to smoke 40 chickens at once, there’s a pit to meet your needs.

Set-up: Use whatever you like to build the fire, from charcoal to mesquite wood. You can use lighter fluid, he said, but a couple of matches and a piece of paper is more natural and works just as well.

Routine care: If you want your grill to last longer, clear out the ashes after each session and hose out the pit. Leaving ashes in the pit will over time, decay the pit. At the very least, clean the grate before and after each use with a wire brush.

Spring cleaning: Some might say grit adds flavor in the case of a pit, so it doesn’t require much maintenance. Never paint the inside, Hinojosa said, but if the outside has seen better days, he said, you can repaint it with the heaviest heat-resistant paint you can find.

Safety first: Hinojosa warned that heavy lids can injure or even sever little fingers. If there are children around, he recommends keeping the lid closed or getting a weight put on it that will keep it open. Never use gasoline or diesel fuel to start the fire, he said. It’s tempting to quick-start, but it’s too unpredictable and dangerous.

Scripps Howard News Service

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