The trick is to smoke the meat and not make the meat smoke
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Staying in Grate Shape

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Recently I was having a discussion with a long time griller Ferenc who really wasn’t sure what the best way was to keep his grill grates in great shape. So this blog entry will repeat some of the advice I gave out.

For over 20 years I was in the same boat as Ferenc in terms of best practice, until I got my latest grill and got serious about grilling. In the past I would let the grill run for 10 minutes after I finished up cooking and then would turn it off and scrape it. Over time food would build up and sometimes the food I was cooking would stick to the grate. When I began watching Stephen Raichlen’s old show BBQ University that used to air on PBS, he had a whole routine he went through to keep the grill grate clean. I adopted this procedure and was rewarded with a grill grate that stays clean and that most foods simply don’t stick to. The best part is that it isn’t hard to do.

Step 1 is to preheat the grill. Now some folks recommend using high heat for any preheating tasks and you dial down to your desired temp just before putting the food on. My 6 burner gas grill can consume serious amounts of propane with 6 burners set to high, so I don’t do this. I fire up only as many burners as I will need to grill my food. I light the burners at the high setting and then set them to whatever temperature the recipe called for. While your mileage may vary, my grill takes 15 minutes in normal weather to heat up to the desired temperature. I add 5 minutes more in cold weather. Prior to adding the food I scrape down the grill with my grill brush. Then I oil the grill grates. For both of these I only scrape and oil the hot section, staying away from the unlit areas.
 

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Folding a paper towel to apply oil to the grill grate. Fold the paper towel up in thirds (left & right).

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Turn the paper towel 90 degrees and fold into thirds in the other direction.

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Fold the left third over then fold it back in half as shown (left). Repeat for the right third. Temporarily unfold the newly folded left side. Take the right third and fold it over then fold it back in half (right).

“Seventh“Eighth

This leaves you with a shape you can grab with a set of tongs and rub on the grill grates. The oil gets applied to the side that is in contact with the table in the pictures above.


Step 2 is to keep the grill going for an extra 10 minutes or so after the food is removed. This should allow time to char the food remnants and make them easier to remove. After the hot grates are scraped, I turn off the burners and apply some more oil to the hot grill grates. It is that easy. Preheat, clean and oil before cooking then burn off the food remnants for 10 minutes, scrape and oil again. If you follow this routine you grill will be clean and it will become easy to keep clean. The food simply doesn’t stick to the grill grates as well.

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Be sure to get a brush designed for the material used to make your grill grate. The one I use that is supposed to be the best one out there is called the Grill Wizard.


Like many things in life the devil is in the details. The first thing you should pay attention to is the grill brush. There are several different types of grill grates. The three most common materials are stainless steel, cast iron and enameled cast iron. The latter two are often heavy and thick and the enameled cast iron bars are finished with a glossy looking black paint. You should take care with this type of grate because you can scrape of the coating. The bristles on some brushes are simply too hard for this type of grate. Often brushes for enameled cast iron use brass bristles which are a “soft” metal. By all means read the directions for your grill and look at the information on the brush to see what type of metal they are designed for. The brush I use is called the Grill Wizard and uses a replaceable head with what looks like a Brillo pad with thick threads on it. This brush has been dubbed the best grill brush in several different tests including some by America’s Test Kitchens. It is suitable for enameled cast iron and I can vouch for that as I have been using mine for 6 years now.

“Tenth

If you use PAM like I do to oil your grill, be sure to get PAM for grilling which doesn’t just burn off at the higher temperatures used for grilling.


The second detail is what to use to oil the grill. I use PAM for Grilling. It is a version of PAM intended for the higher temperatures found on a grill. Don’t ever use regular PAM since it will just burn off. I also spray my grill grids and grill pans with PAM too. Another thing you can use is olive oil, in fact some recipes specifically call for it. The only caveat with olive oil is don’t use it if you are grilling using really high heat as it will burn off too. The last item that is used sometimes is a piece of fat from the meat you are grilling. Never spray the PAM directly on the grates, as you will get a giant flare up and most of the PAM will be burned off. You will have a smoky cloud hanging over your grill and the food will stick because the regular PAM burned off. To apply the oil there are various pads & other gizmos sold at the BBQ stores, but I just use a paper towel folded up and held with my tongs. Do not pass through the paper towel through a flame because you will have a giant flaming torch-like affair on your hands. This happened to me once when the corner of the towel was dragged across wood in my smoker drawer. One piece of wood caught fire just as the towel was near by. Simply keep the towel over the grill and it will burn up. Don’t pull it off the grill or you may set you or the lawn on fire.

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Be sure to oil any grill accessories like this grill grid so the food doesn’t stick to them and your cleanup is easy.


The third detail is burning off the food spills. If the grill is not particularly messy I just keep the burners set to whatever temperature I was grilling at. If there are a lot of messy spills, I’ll crank the heat up to high and perhaps leave the burners on longer to help burn off the droppings.

“Twelvth

Be sure to use extra oil when cooking soft or delicate foods. Here these very soupy veal burgers left their nice sear marks from the first side seared right to the grill.


The fourth detail is to use extra oil if a particular food is soft skinned or delicate. Soft hamburgers and in particular veal or lamb burgers will try to stick to the grates if there isn’t enough oil on the grates. Some recipes also have you oil the food item that you are going to grill. This is in addition to oiling the grill grates. When in doubt always slide you spatula delicately under these soft items when it is time to flip them. You may still be able to salvage the piece if you scrape & lift the food off slowly. You will soon learn the food types that try to stick.

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My grill allows me to replace a grate with a cast iron pan and roast rack for indirect grilling (left) You can use a disposable aluminum pan to do the same thing. When rotisserie grilling save your grates from meat or glaze drippings by putting a pan under the meat.


One last thing you might consider is using a drip pan for indirect cooks. An indirect cook is where your food is not over the lit burners, but is off to the side. You are using the grill like an outdoor oven. In this case you are not looking to get a sear from the grill grates, so you can use a drip pan on top of the grates. This saves you from cleaning the grate and if you use a disposable aluminum pan you can just throw out the pan. All you need to do is get a pan slightly bigger than your piece and set it on the grill grates. If you want, you can also use a roast rack to keep your meat up out of the fat drippings. If you re doing a rotisserie roast and are applying a mop or glaze you may want to put a disposable pan under the rotisserie. I am lucky in that my grill is modular. I can remove any one of the 3 grates and replace it with a drop in modular accessory. One of these accessories is a cast iron pan that has a companion roast rack that I often use instead of the aluminum drip pan.

Follow the routine described above and you will be rewarded with clean grill grates that are easy to keep that way. It will soon become second nature where you don’t give it a second thought.


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