Having an outdoor barbecue may keep the kitchen cleaner, but it's hard to expect things to stay shiny and new when sloppy ribs and sticky buffalo wings are involved.
Regular maintenance and cleaning prolongs the life of a barbecue grill, improves cooking, and prevents meat from sticking by removing excess debris. Keeping the outside nice and clean will ward off rust and mechanical issues, too.
A barbecue "first aid" kit of sorts will enable minor repairs or cleaning jobs to be done quickly and painlessly. Area barbecue gurus recommend having the following items on hand:
For cooking, cleaning and quick repairs:
A brass barbecue brush
Bar Keepers Friend
Yellow Teflon tape
Supply of shop rags
Rust inhibiting paint (for gas can)
A spray bottle of soap water
Basic tools, including pliers and a screw driver
With an industrial cooker, simply using the unit will handle basic cleanup needs, says B.T. Collins, owner of Back Porch BBQ in Jacksonville.
"The way I clean mine is I get a fire going — get it about 500 degrees — and I burn everything off of it," says Collins.
"Then I go in and brush it down with a wire brush. I'm sure there's bigger and better ways to do a backyard barbecue grill, but that gets stuff off the cook surface for me."
While grill cleaning can take place before or after a big cook-out, some barbecue gurus lean towards cleaning their grill just before use, instead of right after.
Anthony James, Pacific Northwest Barbecue Association member and leader of the 2005 and 2006 Team of the Year, leaves buildup from meat right on the grill. "As far as the stuff left after cooking, I leave mine. I don't clean it afterwards."
For once yearly "deep cleaning," cook surfaces can be cleaned in a variety of ways. James's favorite is spraying on a heavy degreaser available at auto parts stores, and using a pressure washer or high-power water spray to clear grease from working parts.
An alternative for cooking grids is to coat with oven cleaner and place inside a kitchen oven set on clean. For ovens with no "clean" setting, adjust oven temperature to the highest setting and let cook for an hour or more.
Once clean, coat with cooking spray and cook for two hours on the grill with the lid closed.
At the end of the barbecue season, James suggests leaving gunk and buildup on the cook surface to protect the grill from damaging elements.
"When I'm basically done for the year and not going to use it for awhile, I make sure not to clean it. It's like a cast iron skillet. You season it with a good coat of lubricant and tuck it away for the winter."
Aside from caring for the cook surfaces of the grill, Two Pines Smokehouse barbecue chef Luis Ramos says to be sure and check for cracks in gas lines. To do so, mix a small batch of soapy water, smear onto gas lines and watch for bubbles.
For small leaks, tighten connections and recheck for leaks. If leaks are along the line, use yellow Teflon tape to seal. If gas tanks are starting to rust, clean thoroughly and paint with a rust-inhibiting paint. Excessively rusty or older tanks should be replaced.
The outer surface of any grill can be cleaned with an all-purpose spray cleaner (when the gas is turned off, of course). Stainless units can be cleaned using soap and water, window cleaner or a stainless cleaner like "Bar Keepers Friend."
Last, but far from least, keep the grill covered when not in use. During the off-season, keep it stored away in a garage, if possible.
"If you keep it clean, it will just last a lot longer," Ramos says. "Then you can think about cooking, instead of cleaning a dirty grill."