General Barbecue Cleaning and Maintenance
Dirty Grill Syndrome
It's unexpectedly sunny and dry and today's the perfect day for an impromptu barbecue. However, somebody (not you, obviously) didn't clean the grill properly the last time it was used and even the least fastidious eater is demanding it be cleaned before you starting cooking. So, light the charcoal and while that coming up to temperature, you've got plenty of time to get that rack gleaming. Once you've gone at it with the usual scouring pad and soapy water, baking soda makes a good cleaning and polishing agent. Put plenty on the scourer and give the whole thing a light scrubbing – good as new. Bizarrely, aluminium foil works too. After use, clean and lightly coat in oil; it prevents rust and any dirt will stick to the oil which – of course – you wash off with soapy water before using next time.
In these days of pre-packaged just-set-fore-to-the-bag-they-came-in briquettes, the lighting should be the easiest part, but just in case you like to do it the old-fashioned way:
• Build a rough pyramid of the briquettes with three firelighters inside.
• Use a match to light the firelighters.
• All being well, the fuel will begin to burn. If it doesn't catch properly, repeat the earlier steps and resist the temptation to squirt any sort of flammable liquid onto it. Once burning, leave it for about 20-30 minutes until there are no actual flames and the charcoal has turned white.
• Spread the charcoal according to your preference – evenly for direct grilling or all to one side for the indirect method.
• You're ready to cook.
The more complicated the set-up, the more things that can go wrong with it. Your lovely, gas-powered monster is clean and convenient, but it can also cause you the odd problem that a charcoal barbecue won't.
• Uneven heat – The likelihood is that you've got a blocked burner, that one or more of the holes through which the gas flows have become blocked by dirt, debris or dripping fat from last week's half-pounders. Take a wire brush to it and that should solve the problem, giving you an even flow and an even heat once again. If it's in really bad shape you may have to do some dismantling and take the burner off the barbecue in order to clean it properly (hopefully yours aren't bolted in). Follow the manufacturer's instructions if you still have them, but try and avoid strong detergents or other cleaning agents as they may cause damage and ultimately, rust.
• It just won't light when I press the button – Is the gas flowing as it should? Try lighting with a long match or stove lighter. If there's no gas coming through then check your bottle (empty?) and regulator (sometimes they stick). If the gas is fine then the problem is likely to be with the in-built lighter. Is it battery-powered or piezoelectric? If it takes batteries then try replacing them. It could be that simple and it's worth trying the easiest solution first. If not, then it could be a wiring problem and may need replacing.
• It's run out of gas – So change the bottle. You don't have a spare? Rookie mistake! Always have a spare (if you have a gas barbecue) otherwise you run the risk of having to take your part-cooked steaks and finish them off indoors and that's just not going to be the same. Still, the more inconvenience it causes you, the less likely you are to forget next time.
It's more likely to happen when barbecuing than when the food is cooked in a kitchen. Why? Three reasons: one, the set-up for cooking outside is often makeshift and temporary; two, outside is 'dirtier' than inside; and three, the person who cooks on the barbecue is often not the person who usually cooks inside and amateurs are more prone to making mistakes (yes, that may be harsh but so is salmonella). A few pointers:
• Avoid cross-contamination and always use separate surfaces and utensils for raw and cooked foods.
• Make sure hands are clean; if in doubt, wash.
• Be aware of flies and insects; try to prevent them crawling over the food.
• Always check that the finished product is properly cooked; especially sausage and chicken. Bear in mind that if the heat is too high or the food too close, then the outside will look cooked (even burnt) while the inside could still be raw.
When we say “pets”, we mean dogs. Cats generally have more sense than to hang around barbecues and guinea pigs and budgerigars should be in their cages. It's the family dog that wants to be involved and can't resist the smell of sizzling meat. You've got a few options and the best for you will depend on the dog's size and nature. You can shut them indoors. You can leave them to wander freely. Or you can tie them up. If you're going to tie them up then make sure it's to something suitably sturdy, such as a concrete bench or a proper lawn stake and not a folding aluminium deckchair that Fido can drag around behind him. You could also designate a 'dog-watcher' and make them responsible for preventing any problems.