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How to get your grill ready for the outdoor season

Tips on cleaning and, in some cases, updating your backyard cooking gear.

Billy Steele/Engadget

As temperatures begin to rise, it’s time to prepare your outdoor space for some seasonal relaxation. That, of course, includes showing off your culinary skills on the porch, patio or in the backyard for guests. During the winter, your grill has probably been hibernating, so you’ll need to give it a tune-up before it’s ready for heavy use from spring to fall. Even if you kept the grill going in the cold, now is a great time for a thorough cleaning before the official outdoor cooking season begins. Here are a few tips and tricks that will hopefully make things easier.

Disassemble, scrub, reassemble

Weber's first pellet grill has potential to be a backyard powerhouse, but the smart features need work.
Weber's first pellet grill has potential to be a backyard powerhouse, but the smart features need work. (Billy Steele/Engadget)

A good rule of thumb when it comes to cleaning anything you haven’t used in a while is to take it apart as much as you feel comfortable and give it a thorough wipe down. For grills, this means removing the grates and any bars or burner covers – basically, anything you can take out that’s not the heating element. This gives you a chance to inspect the burners of your gas grill or the fire pot of a pellet model for any unsightly wear and tear. If those components are worn out or overly rusted, most companies offer replacements that you can easily swap out with a few basic tools.

Once all the pieces are out, start by scraping excess debris off all sides of the interior – with the help of some cleaner if needed. For a gas grill, this likely means pushing everything out through the grease trap. On a pellet grill, you’ll want to scrape the grease chute clear and out into the catch can, but you’ll also need to vacuum the interior with a shop vac – just like you would after every few hours of use. And while you’re at it, go ahead and empty the hopper of any old pellets that have been sitting since Labor Day. Fuel that’s been sitting in the grill for months won’t give you the best results when it comes time to cook so you might as well start fresh.

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Thankfully, pellet grill companies have made easy cleaning a key part of their designs. Weber’s SmokeFire has a set of metal bars on the inside that can be removed quickly to open up the bottom of the chamber. This is also a design feature of the company’s gas grills. Simply vacuum or push the debris out the grease chute. The catch pan where all of the garbage ends up is also easy to access from the front of the grill, and you can remove the aluminum liner and replace it with a new one in seconds.

Traeger’s most recent pellet grills were also redesigned to improve cleaning. Most notably, grease and ash end up in the same “keg” that’s easy to detach from the front of the grill. The company also allows you to quickly remove all of the interior components, though they’re larger than what you find on the SmokeFire. Lastly, Traeger moved the pellet chute to the front of the new Timberline and Ironwood, making it a lot more convenient to swap out wood varieties or empty an old supply.

You’ll want to get as much of the food leftovers out of your grill as possible for a few reasons. First, that stuff is old and lots of build-up over time can hinder cooking performance and might impact flavor. The last thing you want is old food or grease burning off right under an expensive ribeye. Second, in the case of pellet grills, not properly clearing out grease and dust can be dangerous. It’s easy for grease fires to start at searing temperatures and if there’s enough pellet dust in the bottom of your grill, it can actually ignite or explode. That’s why companies tell you to vacuum it out after every few hours of use.

Weber's first pellet grill has potential to be a backyard powerhouse, but the smart features need work.
All of that dust, grease and debris should be removed before you fire the grill back up. (Billy Steele/Engadget)

To actually clean the surfaces, you’ll want to get an all-natural grill cleaner. There are tons of options here, and it may take some time to find one you like. I typically use Traeger’s formula since it’s readily available at the places I buy pellets and I’ve found it works well cutting through stuck-on muck. You want an all-natural grill cleaner over a regular household product as it’s safe to use on surfaces that will touch your food. They’re also safe to use on the exterior of your grill without doing any damage to chrome, stainless steel or any other materials.

Spray down the inside and give things a few minutes to work. Wipe it all clean and go back over any super dirty spots as needed. Ditto for the grates, bars and any other pieces you removed. I like to lay these out on a yard waste trash bag (they’re bigger than kitchen bags) so all the stuff I scrape or clean off doesn’t get all over my deck. You can use shop towels if you want to recycle or paper towels if not, but just know whatever you choose will be covered in nasty black grime so you won’t want to just toss them in the clothes washer when you’re done. A pre-wash in a bucket or sink is needed to make sure you don’t transfer gunk from your grill to your business casuals.