Living Smart: How to clean a gas grill

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Nothing sounds worse at the end of an all-day barbecue than cleaning the grill.

After hours spent perfecting steaks, burgers and bratwursts for friends and family, itís tempting to let the grill cool and return to clean it tomorrow ó maybe.

But falling behind on cleaning and maintaining a gas grill can take years off the grillís lifespan, and it will cost you in the long run.

"Itís always the worst when you buy a $1,000 grill, and three years down the road youíre spending $1,000 on parts," says Christopher Sanchez, retail general manager of Tru-Lite Gas Products in Houston.

Clean the grill after every use

The best way to maintain a grill is to clean it after every cookout.

Start by turning the heat up to medium or high to burn excess grease off of the grill grate.

"Let that baby run for about seven minutes, and burn off that excess grease and fat," Sanchez says.

Find the right grill brush

Once the excess grease has burned off, brush the grates, panels and flavor bars ó but donít use just any brush.

A brushís bristles shouldnít bend too easily, otherwise they could snap off. Thatís especially dangerous if you use a wire brush and accidentally ingest one of the bristles. A nylon brush, a wood scraper or grill-cleaning cloths are all safe alternatives.

A $5 brush is too cheap to last beyond two or three cleanings, but you donít need to pay $50 either. A $30 brush should hold up for a long time before it needs to be replaced, Sanchez says.

Brush the grill as you would brush your teeth ó the goal is to remove any remnants of food that shouldnít be there.

Also, donít forget to empty the grillís grease trap, which collects fatty deposits while youíre cooking. If itís not cleared regularly, it can start a fire in the grill that could spread to your home.

But donít ever use soap and water to clean the inside of a grill. Think of the grill as an oven; if you wouldnít use something to clean an oven, it doesnít belong near the grill, says Steve Pulone, vice president of operations for OíMaliaís Living in Carmel, Indiana.

"You might as well be putting nails in the coffin," Pulone says.

Keep the grill dry

A little advanced planning can also keep a gas grillís exterior looking nicer longer.

Rustproof metal paint can protect your grill during spring showers. If rust does appear, try using steel wool to remove it. A grill cover offers even more protection.

"Water is a pretty big enemy of a gas grill," Pulone says.

Professional grill cleaning

Also consider having your grill professionally serviced and calibrated once each year by a qualified outdoor kitchen or gas grill specialist.

A professional can disassemble the grill, cleaning areas that otherwise would be difficult or impossible to reach. Thatís especially important for gas grills that use propane, as propane causes a buildup of soot (carbon), Sanchez says.

Once the grill is reassembled, a professional can check the gas grillís pressure to ensure the burners are heating evenly.

A professional cleaning takes about two hours from start to finish, and can cost $130 to $325, depending on the grillís size, Pulone and Sanchez say.

Proper grill cleaning and maintenance can keep a grill cooking past its typical lifespan, Sanchez says. So take 20 minutes, and clean the grill tonight

The dishes can wait until morning.