Knowing how to clean your grill correctly can extend its life, reduce food sticking, and even prevent fire! Here are a couple simple steps that will ensure you are staying on top of it.
With experience comes wisdom. I have been grilling for more than 30 years, and in my early years I did not clean my grills in a timely manner. This can cause issues for both the grill grate and the metal bottom of the grill interior itself.
More than once, I let the grill sit with used charcoal in it for an extended period of time, even during a rain storm or snow storm. When moisture gets in there, that charcoal ash can get mucky and crusty, and it's just not good for the grill. I have had the bottom of a grill get rusty and eventually rot out. This tends to counteract your grilling mojo!
Now I tend to clean out my grill ash after every few uses (or immediately if I think it will sit for an extended period). If you clean it after every few uses, the ash will still be pretty loose and easy to scrape or remove with a small scoop. If there is a bit of crusted-on ash, I use a plastic putty knife to scrape it off. I do not use a metal scraper because it may damage the grill coating (which, again, could lead to possible rust).
It is also good practice is to scrape food residue off of your grill grates after a cook. Former Lazy Me was also known to sometimes skip this easy step, again leading to rust — this time of the grill grates.
Fast forward to the present. I now spend that little bit of time to clean and care for my grill grates and grill interior, which leads to a happy grill that lives a longer life.
I also highly recommend investing in a grill cover — and using it! Keeping your grill covered, especially if you are storing it outside, keeps it cleaner, helps prevent moisture from getting in, and protects the exterior surface from the elements. If you regularly store your grill in a garage or enclosed shelter, you probably do not need a cover.
For my Traeger pellet grill, I use a small shop vac to clean out the charcoal ash. Unlike the kettle and ceramic grills I own, the Traeger does not have any vents in the bottom to make it easy to get ash out of the grill reservoir. The Traeger also has more nooks and crannies to work around, so the shop vac works great for just sucking everything up!
I also cover the drip tray of my Traeger with aluminum foil. I recommend changing out the foil after each time you cook, unless very little grease or other food has dripped on it. It has never happened to me, but I have heard many stories of grillers leaving the foil on for multiple cooks and having the grease or drippings eventually starting on fire during a cook. Not a fun time.
Besides helping to ensure that your grill doesn't rust and that you don't start a fire, keeping a clean grill has a couple of more benefits that should not be discounted.
An additional tip to help prevent food from sticking to the grill grate: lubricate the grate with peanut oil prior to each cook (but after the grate is heated). To apply the oil easily, I wad up some paper towels and just use my grill tongs to dip the paper towels into a small container of the oil, then run the paper towels across the grates a few times. Since food has less tendency to stick to an oiled grate, that also aids in the clean up!
Follow these simple guidelines for how to clean and maintain your grills, and you'll be able to enjoy them for many years.
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