It’s been a long and harsh winter across the nation with snow and ice storms forcing even the most die-hard barbecue and grilling fans to keep their cooking relegated to the kitchen. But with the start of spring comes warmer temperatures and longer days, the perfect combination for those looking to fire up their backyard smokers and grills for the season’s first backyard cookout.
Whether your grill has been braving the elements on the back porch or has been stowed away in the garage during the offseason, the months of inactivity have likely left it looking nothing like the star of so many barbecues last season.
Grill grates that had at one point been pristine have now collected a not-so-appetizing layer of rust, while grease from countless cookouts has sat idle during the downtime, just waiting to cause flare-ups during that first cookout. Meanwhile, the once shiny exterior of your trusty kettle grill has been rendered dull and dirty during the off-season and those unused bags of charcoal that were put away for warmer days have emerged damp from improper storage.
5 Tips for Starting Grilling Season Off Right
All hope is not lost, however, as we have several tips to get that grill looking like new again and to ensure that the next several months are filled with countless smoke- and flame-filled memories. Before the first hot dogs, rack of ribs, or T-bone steaks get some live-fire loving, check out our step-by-step guide to help you “spring” back in to barbecue and grilling.
Grease is the Word
So your grill’s been in hibernation since late last fall, has it? It’s time to start the grilling season off right with a complete top-to-bottom scrubbing. Start by removing the grill grates and wiping down the interior of the grill with a paper towel or mildly abrasive sponge in order to remove any built-up grease and residue. By removing grease and residue on a frequent basis, you are significantly reducing the likelihood of severe flare-ups so it definitely doesn’t hurt to do a full scrubbing every few months.
Rusty grill grates are one the most common issues when a grill sits unused for an extended period of time. But there’s no need to jump in your car just yet in search of replacements. Unless the rust is quite severe, a little elbow grease and TLC is usually all that’s needed to get them back in shape. Start by scrubbing the grates aggressively with a wire-bristled brush or S.O.S pad to remove the rust particles. Once the grill is completely clean of rust spots, season the grate well (I recommend using an oil-soaked paper towel held by a set of tongs), heat grill to high and re-apply oil in order to create an oily barrier between the grate and your food. Re-apply oil before every new cookout in order to ensure additional rust doesn’t form.
We all want to impress friends and family when we’re cooking for them outdoors. So why not make sure your grills look as good as the food that you’re turning out? Wipe the entire exterior of the grill down with a sponge and a bucket of soapy water, then rinse with fresh water to remove any soap residue before using. Disposable bleach wipes are also a great tool for quickly wiping down the grill after each cookout. Remember, the cleaner you keep your grill and accessories throughout the year, the longer they will last.
So the grill is ready to roll and now all you need is the fuel. But what if the charcoal you stashed away before the first snowfall happened to have gotten wet? Never fear! Assuming the briquettes have retained their original shape, simply dry them out as best as you can and you are ready to roll. Also be aware that when using instant charcoal, be sure to close the bag well after each use otherwise there’s a good chance all of the fuel will evaporate. Your best bet when storing charcoal year round is an airtight plastic bin, available in the storage section of most hardware stores and big box retailers. And if you’re cooking with gas, be sure to thoroughly check the hose and its connections for leaks before using for the first time as the cold winter weather can often do damage to these parts.
Now that your grill is back in top form, it’s time to think about your menu. Hamburgers, hot dogs and bratwurst are always a great choice, especially after a long winter away from the smoke and fire. But also consider expanding your menu to include seasonal products and flavors. Grilled seasonal fruits…olive oil and lemon marinated asparagus…lamb chops with fresh mint sauce…the list of light and fresh springtime flavors goes on and on. Be adventurous when planning your outdoor meals and you’ll soon find that there’s hardly anything you can’t produce on the grill!