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Cyndi Allison - Grill Girl

Cleaning a Charcoal Grill

Kum Ba Ya
Grilling Can Get Really Messy

I've yet to meet anyone who says, "Boy, I just love to clean my grill." In fact, that ranks right up there with toilet cleaning and washing the deep fryer. But, it's a necessary evil. No one wants food served from a filthy grill—not healthy and not appetizing. So, grill cleaning is one of those deeds that must be done.


We were a military family, and the Navy takes exception at moving grime. In other words, the grill is either spick 'n span, or it goes to the curb for scavengers. Since we invested in a Weber and didn't want to spring for a new "good" grill every move, I learned to scour and spit shine the old charcoal grill. The grill moved all over the world, and it looked almost as good as new before every pack-out.


Here are my tips for cleaning a charcoal grill:


Get a Jump on the Grill Cleaning Job


I'm sure everyone has heard the old saying about "an ounce of prevention." Well, this holds true when thinking "down the road" on grill cleaning. Be sure to spray the grill grate before grilling. The regular Pam spray works well, and they now offer a Pam spray designed for grill cooking. The protective spray cuts down the cleaning after the party, and I always try to remember to spray before I start grilling.
One clean up short cut that I would not recommend as far as preparation is to cover the grate with tin foil. Though it's easier to clean a grill that is covered with tin foil, the result is that food is basically fried and not grilled. The food does not taste as good, and it's not as healthy. You're better off cooking inside over the tin foil method. It really defeats the whole idea of grilling out.


Tonight or Tomorrow Morning?


One big problem with charcoal grill cleaning is that the grill stays hot for a good period of time after cooking. There are two theories as far as the best way to handle this hot situation.
One camp leaves the grill running wide open. The thought is that the fire bakes off a lot of the grease. This does greatly extend the time between cooking and cleaning, since the grill stays hot for a long time if left to burn off.


The other approach is to put the lid on the grill and close down all the vents. This caps the fire, and unless it's a late night party, the grill is often cool enough to clean before bedtime.
I generally let the fire burn out. This eliminates the need to dispose of the extra unburned coals. They simply burn up. And, a lot of the grime does cook off the grates and sides of the grill. This does mean, however, that I'm usually grill cleaning the day after. Or, I forget about cleaning the grill and then have a mess to deal with before the next cook out.


Down and Dirty


Once the grill is cool (or not hot enough to be painful), clean out all the old coals and dust. These need to go in a bag and in the garbage. Charcoal mulch is not good for the garden or the yard. The acid level is too high. Throw that in your vegetable bed, and you're not going to have a productive season.


Squirt Dawn dishwashing liquid on the grill and grates. I used to buy cheap dishwashing liquid, but my plumber told me that I'd probably not need to call him so often if I bought Dawn which cuts grease. He was right. It is a better product and especially for grills which are greasy. I don't call the plumber so much now, and I don't have to scrub the grill as rigorously with Dawn.


The basic cleaning gets some but not all the grime. A second cleaning with a scrub brush and/or a scratchy pad (those green 3M rectangles sold in the grocery) is necessary. Brushes are more appealing with the handle, but it's hard to find a good brush and one that will hold up. I find that brushes last only a few cleaning sessions (and I've tried a number of brands), so I often use the less expensive scratch pads. Squirt on Dawn and rub away. Most of the mess comes off.


Spring Cleaning (or End-of-Summer . . .)


At the end of the grilling season (not that we ever hang up the grill tongs even during the short snowy part of the winter around here) or if you forget to clean after a grilling and have a really nasty grill, this may require more desperate measures. It's nice to be on top of things, but the reality is that it's not always possible. So, grills can reach the "super ugh" stage.


If you have a real grill grime situation, then don't despair. It's possible to take a really gross grill and get it back in shape. We've done it numerous times around here.


Buy some Easy Off Oven cleaner. Spray that on the grates and on the inside of the grill. Try to avoid the outside of the grill (which usually isn't that dirty anyway). Easy Off can damage the coating on the outside, so I don't hit the coated parts if I can help it.


To speed up the process, put the grates in a black trash bag and tie it shut. This creates a kind of greenhouse effect and means less time waiting for the Easy Off to work. The grates can be sprayed in the yard and left out, but be careful and don't get the spray on the grass or flowers. It tends to kill growing things like that.


After the oven cleaner has had a chance to bubble up the grease, it generally sprays or rubs right off. There may be a few places that require some rubbing but not many.


Touch Up and Pack Away


A good cleaning usually takes care of grill grunge. Give the grill a quick look over and touch up any spots still needing attention. Then, cover the grill. There are covers made for various grills, and trash bags or homemade coverlets (old quilts or towels) can also be used. If using plastic, don't seal up tight. Sealing traps moisture and can cause the growth of things better not mentioned. If you do end up with a science project growing in the grill after cleaning, it does clean off pretty easily, but it is not a good pre-meal sight.


Fun? No! But, a Clean Grill is a Happy Grill


If you stay on top of your grill cleaning, it's much easier to take care of the messes and much more likely that your family will be "up" for a barbeque. Grills also last much longer if they are tended to. There are a variety of ways to approach this rather unpleasant task, and some products that make the clean up much easier. There's room for error too. We've really disrespected our grill a few times, but it's always cleaned up and continued to give good service with a little extra loving care.


Worth the Effort? You Bet!


Whether you're new to grilling or dealing with a nasty, messy grill, you can do this. It takes a little time and effort, but when you're eating a big juicy steak hot off the clean grill, you'll be glad you took the time buy and keep up a charcoal grill.goes here.

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