Smarter, Safer Summer Grilling

Get Your Grill On!

Summer may be fading, but that’s no reason to say good-bye to your backyard barbecue. Here’s how to keep grilling and thrilling well into fall.

Even though Labor Day may be the official end of the summer season, if you treat your grill to some common-sense cleaning and maintenance, you can use it practically year-round without getting burned. And you won’t be alone: According to a survey by the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association (HPBA), 60 percent of Americans grill no matter the time of year. So whether you’re skewering veggies or slapping on steaks, here’s how to ensure great grilling, anytime.

Give your grill a thorough annual cleaning, says grilling expert Elizabeth Karmel, the author of Taming the Flame: Secrets for Hot-and-Quick Grilling and Low-and-Slow BBQ. Mix up a simple solution of warm water and grease-cutting liquid dish soap. Never use chemicals or harsh oven-cleaners on your grill—they can damage surfaces and shouldn’t be necessary if you clean regularly. A clean grill means tastier food (yesterday’s food remnants, what Karmel calls “stickage,” can spoil the taste of today’s burgers) and helps prevent flare-ups.

Next, give the grill a tune-up: If you have a gas grill, check hoses and connectors for leaks and wear a couple of times a year. Here’s how: Fill a spray bottle with water and a little dish soap and spritz your grill’s gas hoses and connectors while the grill is off, says Sue Crosby, a spokesperson for the HPBA. Then turn on the gas line. “If you see bubbles on the hose or other parts, you have a leak,” Crosby says. Be sure to follow your grill manufacturer’s instructions for replacing hoses or connectors.

More Smart and Simple Grilling Tips

Preheat.

Letting your grill get red hot isn’t just better for providing the perfect sear on your steak. Preheating with the lid down allows stubborn leftover food particles to burn off (just be sure to brush away any remaining gray ash before cooking). After your food has been cooked and removed, leave the burners on and cover the grill again for a final 5 to 10 minutes to burn off any remaining debris; do this even longer—up to an hour—if you’ve cooked something with a sticky sauce, Karmel suggests. (Just be sure not to leave the grill unattended and set an alarm so you remember to shut off the gas). Preheating is even more important as the weather gets cooler; give yourself slightly more time on days there’s a nip in the air.

Brush up.

Once the grill’s heated, scrape charred residue off the grates with a long-handled grill-cleaning brush (or balled-up tinfoil gripped with long-handled barbecue tongs). Check your brush for wear: Bristles should be firmly attached (pull on a few with pliers to test this) to avoid having tiny pieces of wire come off and possibly be ingested with cooked food. If the brush is worn down or caked with grease, or if the bristles come loose, toss it and get a new one.

Tame the flames.

If food or grease falls on your heat source, a flame can shoot up alarmingly fast and high. Resist the urge to douse flames with water, which can steam and cause burns, Karmel says. Instead, reduce the fire’s oxygen supply by closing the lid temporarily. Hopefully flare-ups will be minor, but if a significant blaze erupts and isn’t put out by cutting off the air, you may need to use a fire extinguisher (which should be near your grill in case of emergency). “Unfortunately, extinguisher chemicals will ruin your grill, but better your grill than your house,” Karmel says.

Catch drips.

To keep your patio or deck free of greasy drips and other messes, get a splatter mat, available at most home-improvement or hardware stores or wherever grills are sold. Just be sure the mat’s appropriate to use with your particular type of grill (gas, charcoal, or electric), Crosby says. And as the weather cools, resist the urge to pull your grill to an enclosed space, such as a garage; the risk of fire or carbon monoxide poisoning is too high.