Ready, Set, Grill

Prepping your grill for a long, tasty season

For me, there’s nothing better than a simple heavy gauge stainless steel grid grill. Because of its thick bars, you get good support for your food, good heat transfer from the grill to your food (making it easy to mark), and superior ease of cleanup. If you have a stainless steel grid grill, your clean up should be as simple as applying some cleaning solution. I use Simple Green, letting it soak into any accumulated debris on the grill. A bit of attention with a stainless steel sponge, followed by a thorough rinse and your grill, and it should be as good as new.
Porcelain covered shell bars run a close second to a stainless steel grid grill, with the cleanup being much the same (as in easy), as porcelain is the original non-stick surface. When cleaning a porcelain covered grill, you should be on the lookout for chips to the surface that expose the underlying steer. That steer is going to cause you problems, namely rusting and sticking to food. If there are just a few chips in the porcelain bars, try positioning the grill so the chips are not in the most frequently used part of the grill. But if the chips are significant, and in general small chips will grow over time, then it's probably time to consider replacing the grilling surface on your grill.

Some newer grills have rather flashy bent stainless steel grills, or grilling sheets. I've found these to be barely satisfactory in distributing heat and rather labor intensive to clean. Having a grilling sheet to use with small or delicate items such as vegetables or shrimp, for example, makes a ton of sense. But relying on them for all your grilling needs does not give you the best results.
And finally there are the tried and true iron grills. Prone to rust and the pitting that accompanies rust, iron is not an ideal surface for grilling. If you are totally meticulous about grill maintenance, it can be quite a good grilling surface—but who among us wants to be so meticulous? After all, isn't part the appeal of grilling the ease of cleanup? If you have iron grills and they are in good shape, you might want to soak them in a cleaning solution before giving them a vigorous scrubbing with a wire brush in order to get them ready for the season, making sure to dry the grates to prevent rusting.

Step Two: Break Down
Once you have your grills taken care of, it's time to focus on the guts of your system, and for the sake of this chapter I am assuming we're dealing with a gas grill. (If you have a charcoal grill, you can skip these steps and just continue with Step Four below.) Gas grills come in many shapes and sizes, but they all tend to share certain elements, mainly a gas distribution manifold and some form of heat diffuser. In order for your grill to work properly, both elements need regular cleaning and maintenance.
With your grilling surface removed, you should be face to face with your heat diffuser. Common diffusers you might encounter include lava rocks, bent metal sheets, and perforated metal sheets. All three serve much the same function—preventing or limiting flare-ups and trying to evenly distribute the heat flowing from the gas jets of your grill—and all three fail to a certain extent. I prefer lava rocks for my grill, though they are becoming less common. Obviously there is little you can do to clean your lava rocks, other than giving them a good soak in water and tumbling them around a bit in order to loosen and remove as much burn-on debris as possible. But as far as heat diffusion goes, I find lava rocks to be the best choice.

There are two reasons for this. The first, unsurprisingly, lava tends to get hot and radiate heat. Given time to warm up, you can get a relatively even level of heating throughout a layer of lava rocks. The second rationale for lava rocks is they’re totally adjustable. The main problem with gas grills is that the underlying distribution manifolds tend to be irregular at best, creating hot spots on your grill. By adjusting your lava rocks, you have and added tool helping you tweak heat distribution in your grill. 

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  • I have a gas unit installed in my barbecue island. My unit does have lava briquettes and I love them. I use a lot of different woods for smoking while barbecuing. I put a hunk of quarter inch mesh hardware cloth on top of the briquettes for the small chunks of smoking wood and the results are amazing.I keep a squirt bottle of water at hand in case of flair ups. When I'm done cooking, I have empty soup size cans stored under my unit, that I just add water to to extinguish the smoking wood and that way I have some chunks ready for the next event. I use chunks instead of chips as they are much easier to control.

    Apr 12, 2013 at 1:59 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 202,154

    Awesome tips Mayor. Are you grilling yet?

    Apr 12, 2013 at 3:23 PM

  • Mayor....if you're using chunks, try soaking them for about an hour before use.....they'll smoke better and tend not to flare.

    Apr 12, 2013 at 3:57 PM

  • Snooth User: Richard Foxall
    Hand of Snooth
    262583 2,874

    Steve Raichlen's line about flare-ups rings true to me: Don't spray, move the offending party. The fat dripping into the fire is the problem, and spraying doesn't solve it--just move the meat aside.

    Apr 12, 2013 at 5:11 PM

  • Snooth User: Kathleen Pileggi
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    702685 160

    Even though we live in the northeast/mid-atlantic, we tend to grill all year round (or at least sneak it in on a few of the "not so cold" days of the winter. But, as said, nothing like grilling for the first time in the warmer spring weather!

    Apr 12, 2013 at 6:05 PM

  • I am very fortunate as I live in phoenix, AZ and can grill the year round!

    Apr 12, 2013 at 11:00 PM

  • Snooth User: Steve Panza
    1257078 13

    Your grill has been idle since October? Shame! Every day is a good day to grill. When I was living in Indiana my neighbors probably thought I was nuts to be outside in a blizzard, wearing a parka and bare foot with shorts, smoking or grilling. The colder it is outside, the better it tastes.

    Apr 12, 2013 at 11:03 PM

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