Grilling Basics Part 1: Cleaning/Sticking

As we all head into grilling season, questions will arise daily. Can I get my grill really clean after I left it alone all winter? How do I get serious hatch marks? Exactly how long do I need to cook that chicken? Each day we will be tackling some basic grilling questions that have come up at Food Republic HQ and let us know yours as well. Today we address the completely inter-related questions of how to clean your grill and how to keep food from sticking.

How to clean your grill:

A clean grill is important because it will keep your food from sticking while it cooks. Keeping bits of last night's burgers off the grill will also lessen the chance of flare-ups when you are cooking tonight's chicken. It's also just less gross.

Cleaning your grill is a matter of heat and elbow grease. Gas grills are often easier to clean, but the basics are the same no matter what kind of grill you've got. Light the grill and close the cover until it reaches 500 degrees F. Then open the grill and start scrubbing with a sturdy brush until all the grime is gone. If you do this regularly, you will never have to do a deep clean.

If you haven't kept up with the cleaning and your grill is really encrusted with ugly stuff, then it's time to soak. Remove your grills and soak in warm water to loosen stubborn dirt and caked on food. You can add some vinegar or dish washing liquid to the water for souped up cleaning power.

Once you've got it clean, keep it clean:

  • Brush clean your grill after you use it, before the food has a chance to get crusted on.
  • Cover your grill between uses to keep dust, dirt, and bugs from getting in.

How to keep food from sticking:

Three things will keep your favorite grilled foods from sticking: oil, heat, and a clean, seasoned grill.

Oil comes into play in two ways to keep your food from sticking. First, be sure to coat your food in oil to help it keep from sticking to the grill, whether it's a steak, a pizza, fish or veggies.

Next, you have to season your grill with oil, the same way you season a cast iron pan (many grill grates are made of the same material, as a matter of fact).

To correctly season your grill you should make sure the grates are oiled with cooking oil, so they have a sheen. Don't just splash oil on your grill grates or you'll have an inferno once it's lit. Use a grill mop or soak a clean kitchen towel in oil and use your tongs to wipe it across your grill.

Make sure your grill is free of any burnt debris that may be lingering — see above for cleaning details. Next, be sure to preheat your grill before placing any food items on top. If you put your fish or vegetables on before your grill is hot they are more likely to stick. If your food is oiled and your grill grates are oiled and hot you won't need to pry any items off the grill.

Walk away from your food once you place the food on the grill. Most foods will stick initially, but will pull away from the grill as they cook and form a charred crust. If you start fiddling with your food right away, then you will tear it, especially delicate proteins like fish. Keep your spatula or tongs away from the food until it is time to flip.

Have your own BBQ tricks or questions for us? Let us know in the comments.