It is the first really warm spring weekend, the flowers are blooming, the grass is green, the bugs are biting, what a perfect day for a barbeque! Only after dragging out the patio furniture, grabbing a cool drink and pulling a couple steaks out of the freezer do you open the cover on the barbeque. The thoughts race through your mind..... we actually ATE food cooked on this thing? Did winter begin before we cleaned up after our last barbeque? Can we afford a new barbeque?
I actually had a lengthy conversation with a friend on the merits of buying a high end barbeque. His thoughts were, that no matter how nice the barbeque, it still needed to be cleaned. He figured that instead of buying an expensive stainless steel unit, he would just buy a cheap barbeque every other year, and then give it away to charity at the end of the second summer instead of having to ever do a thorough cleaning. This works for him, partially because he has more money than brains, but for the rest of us, we usually have to get that old barbeque to be semi-sanitary again.
Usually the most disgusting part is the grill and the bottom of the barbeque. Remove the grill, and place it on a newspaper outside. Spray it with oven cleaner, and cover it with a plastic garbage bag. Let it sit overnight, and the next day remove the grill and flip the bag inside out to contain the grease and oven cleaner saturated newspaper. Be certain to wear gloves, as oven cleaner is VERY caustic, and it can burn the skin very easily. Rinse the grill off with your garden hose, but try not to wash the chemical into your lawn, as it has a tendency to kill it.
The grill may not be perfect, however the bulk of the burnt on grease should come off with the oven cleaner. As a bachelor, I used the argument that the burnt on residue added to the flavor of subsequent meals. That argument went out the window with my old rugby shirt the day I got married, mind you it is probably for the better. There have been studies finding that the carbon deposits from burnt animal fat can be carcinogenic, so there certainly is reason to keep your grill clean.
If you have lava rocks in your barbeque, remove them (Bang them off, but don't wash them) to get at the burner and all the gunk at the very bottom. If possible, remove the burner from the barbeque. Spiders love to set up house inside of the venturi tubes (the one or two tubes leading from the temperature dial, to the burner). You can clean the tube up to the burner using a pipe cleaner, and it doesn't have to be perfect, but the less debris there is to clog up all of the tiny element holes the more even you will find the heating. You can actually go around the element, poking each of the holes with a pin to be certain the gas can get through each opening.
Scrape as much of the grease, rust, lava rock chips, carbon residue, from the bottom of the barbeque. There is likely even a little hole where excess grease will drain down into an old soup can. Be sure it is not clogged, and it is helpful if the collection can is present.
While the whole barbeque is disassembled, you can rinse it down with your garden hose. Keep in mind that you will likely need to clean your patio or deck when you are done, so do your barbeque first! The outside of the cast aluminum or cast iron lid can be cleaned with a mild detergent, and rinsed well. Failure to rinse thoroughly, may leave a white soap residue, however even with thorough rinsing, the barbeque may still look rough after wintering the elements for a few seasons. Most home center's carry barbeque paint, this time of year, which is a high temperature flat black paint. It will make your barbeque look almost new, however there is no better idea than to protect the original finish with a $20 barbeque cover.
There are several different types of grills, including stainless steel, chrome, ceramic coated metal, and plain old iron. Use caution when cleaning a ceramic grill, as abrasive metal brushes can scratch the finish and cause premature failure. With iron grills, season them before using. After the grill has been cleaned with soap, brush with a light coat of cooking oil, and put the barbeque on high heat for 15 to 30 minutes. Some people recommend brushing your grill with oil each time you cook, as it will prevent food from sticking, however a chef I know told me when cooking a steak, you only flip it over when it lets go of the grill itself. If it holds on, let it cook longer, until it looses its grip. And then you flip it ONLY once. I think the best advice is do what works for your style of cooking and your barbeque.
Re-assemble your barbeque, placing the lava rocks DIRTY side down (to burn off the excess grease) and take it for a test run. Once you hook up your propane tank, get a cup of soapy water, and rub it over the connections and hoses. If there is any bubbling, shut of the gas and do not use the until a professional has checked out the entire assembly (tank and barbeque). When turing on the propane tank, open the knob only half a turn. The barbeque will still get enough gas, and if there is an emergency, it can be turned off with one quick turn, in a matter of seconds. For the first use of the season, it is wise to let the barbeque run on high for 45 minutes or an hour, to burn off all the soap, mildew, bacteria, mold, bugs, moisture, oven cleaner, excess grease, and all of the other things that make barbequing outside the best part of summer!!