Ready, Set, Grill

Prepping your grill for a long, tasty season


Today's article is a bit of an anomaly for these pages: it speaks neither of wine nor food, but rather of a very important tool: the grill.
The idea of grilling season may be somewhat limited on an intellectual level, but on an emotional level, breaking out the grill for the first time can elicit the same joy that the first daffodils and crocus blossoms can. For me it goes even deeper. When I was a young child I walked to school, and home for lunch. I can still vividly remember the first day each year when it was too warm for a jacket on my way back to school after lunch. Exhilaration, that's what I felt, knowing that spring, and soon after, summer, was finally arriving.
Fast forward 40 years. Wow, that's a phrase that hurts. Perhaps it's the weather changing, or the fact that I don't walk home for lunch everyday at a predetermined hour, but breaking out the grill has replaced that walk back to school for me, implying so much more to my (sadly more complex) adult brain. Along with warmer weather, and air conditioning bills, I'm going to start drinking light white wines and rosés again! Call it sad, but when it's cold I stick to heavier reds, and as soon as it warms up, a switch is flipped in my mind, opening it once again to myriad possibilities.
Now is the time for Vermentino, Grüner Veltliner, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Blanc. Tomorrow will be the day that we start testing out the newest crop of Roses, Next week we might be moving on to light Barberas, Schiavas, and Pinot Noirs that are perfect served with a slight chill.  While on its face it may seem silly that in my mind there are wine seasons, that's the way things have panned out. Even sillier perhaps is that there is some external trigger that causes the change of seasons, but there is, which brings us back to the grill.
In addition to having a complex adult brain, I have an exceptionally well-honed ability to procrastinate, leaving the cleanup of my last mess until tomorrow. In the case of my grill, that last mess was created in October of last year, and tomorrow has just arrived. So follow along with me as I go through a few basic steps of grill cleaning and maintenance, all in preparation for a slew of wine and grilled food pairings to come.
Step One: Pop the Top
Not you, just the grill. You really need to clean your entire grill, not just the grate where food comes in contact with the heat. A dirty grill can contribute off flavors to grilled food, but more importantly, you could be creating an uneven heating pattern across your grilling surface—which is why your burnt chicken is also raw. Now we don't want that, do we?
Begin by laying a tarp on the ground, and then place your grill over the tarp. Trust me, you'll be happy you did when it comes time to do away with all the crud you’ll be flushing from the grill innards.
Start by removing your grilling surface and inspecting its condition. There are four basic types of grilling surfaces, each with their own issues:

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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 238,748

    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 4,006

    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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