Clean your barbecue top to bottom
The last barbecue of the year is a tempting one to leave “as is”: food caked all over the grills; ash still in the bottom; tomato sauce covered ignition button. We’ve all done it, but you are risking both severe annoyance come your first barbecue in Spring, and more importantly you will shorten the life of your beloved grilling machine. Whether gas or charcoal, we run through a selection of tips to clean and preserve your barbecue throughout the year.
Life will be much easier the dirt is loosened before scrubbing. A quick way to achieve this is to scrub at the end of a cookout when the barbecue is still warm, and the grime hasn’t had time to cake on yet. If you are still entertaining and don’t fancy it, or just forget, then there are still options available. For lidded barbecues, a neat way of softening up dirt is to place a water-soaked newspaper or equivalent inside and use a gentle heat again for 30 minutes or so. This will basically steam clean the entire inside, and you will laugh as you gently wipe away the dirt afterwards. Obviously this is easy for gas models, but if you have charcoal try using a few small pieces of wood or other easily combustible material to get some heat going, or just a few coals if you must. Keep an eye on the newspaper though and make sure it doesn’t burn or you’ll have more mess on your hands! Whether you steam or not, chemical cleaners are also a good option. Remove the grill and place on some newspaper, and spray liberally with oven cleaner or other spray on cleaners (like you would use in your kitchen) and leave for an hour or so.
Now it’s time to get scrubbing. Don’t use balled up pieces of foil on your nice new grill, instead use special scrubbing stones or scrapers which you can buy to break off tough, brittle dirt. Softer mess can be removed with a regular soft cloth or pan scourers. Be careful with enamel-coated grills, you should loosen dirt really well first and then use as gentle force as possible. Finally, give the grill a good rinse and leave to dry.
If you have managed to steam-soften the inside of the barbecue itself then things should be easier. For simple charcoal barbecues, scoop or tip out any coal mess, and wipe up the last bits with some moist kitchen roll. Now wipe the surfaces down with a soft cloth covered in spray cleaner, gently scrubbing any stubborn areas. If there are areas which have burnt on food you can’t remove, you may have to spray on some oven cleaner and leave for a while but read the cleaner directions to make sure it is suitable for the surface in question (i.e. enamel, painted, metal etc). Don’t worry about the base where the coals sit as this is unlikely to be looking great as scuffs and burns build up here. As long as it is clean and free form old waste you won’t get any nasty smells in the next cookout. Gas barbecues can be a little more tricky. Many areas can be cleaned just as with the methods above, but gas outlets and lava rocks etc add extra work. Start by removing any lava rocks or ceramic coals and place them into a bucket of warm soapy water. If you can now clean around the burners and flavouriser bars with ease - great. However, you may have to remove some parts to clean them properly, so consult your manual, and remember to not start removing any gas-ferrying parts that you are unsure of. Put them back when you are done, and scrub the lava rocks/coals in the bucket if needs be and rinse them in fresh water. You may find these need replacing after a year or so if they are accumulating dirt. Finally, rinse the interior of the charcoal or gas barbecue with a hose or a bucket of water until it looks nice and sparkly, and replace the lava rocks etc. Replace the grill and stand back to admire your work.
The outside of the barbecue is easy. Simply wipe it down with a damp cloth, adding a suitable cleaner - normal washing up liquid should be fine, but you can get stainless steel polishing spray or other material-specific cleaners. Gas control knobs can often be removed to clean, which is important as you don’t want dirt to accumulate and cause stiffness. Be careful with any flaky paint or chipping enamel – you can always retouch these areas but make sure you consult either a manual or the manufacturer first on what exactly to use. Once clean, buff the outside with a dry cloth and add any preservative coatings you wish. Some people swear by wiping down stainless steel models with oil (even baby oil) to keep the weather at bay, but don’t worry too much. It’s a good idea to take the time to preserve any wooden areas though with a dedicated barbecue wood oil treatment. Please, please beware of preservatives or treatments you use elsewhere in the house. Some may be flammable and have no place on a barbecue!
Now it’s all clean and polished, it will be ready for the next cookout. If you want to minimise work in the future, try spraying the grill with oil before you cook to make it more non-stick. In addition, if the coal area is looking tired, add a thin layer of sand which will protect it. Don’t forget to cover your barbecue or place it in the garage if you have one. You’ll be thankful you did when you roll it out looking all shiny for the next time.