How to Get Your Grill Ready for a Great Season of Outdoor Cooking

Scott JacksonComment

Paul Stermer has spent a career staying up to date on gas and charcoal grills, learning the ins and outs of cooking on both gas and charcoal. So you could assume that Stermer, of Stermer Brothers Stoves & Spas in Lancaster, would have a grill in his backyard. You’d be wrong. He doesn’t have a grill. He has several grills. Just a handful of them now, actually, down from a time when he owned almost a dozen.

But in addition to selling and servicing the devices, Stermer loves cooking on grills year-round. Some are portable for camping; some are gas and others are charcoal; and he has his eye on a sweet Napoleon grill that includes an infrared side grill for immediate searing: rare steaks, perfectly cooked. Stermer is an expert on prepping for grilling season. Here’s what he says you need to know:

Three things you should always check before firing up the grill for the season.

The most important thing with a gas grill is to make sure you don’t have any gas leaks. So check you have gas in the tank. Then it’s pretty simple: You mix up a little liquid dish-washing detergent in water and spray it on the connections. If you see it bubble up, you’ve got a leak. So turn things off and find out why. Also, if you think you smell gas and things are turned off, don’t ignore it. They put a very specific odor in gas (propane gas has no odor on its own. Propane companies add a harmless chemical called mercaptan ... “it’s very stinky, like rotten eggs.”)

Next?

Check your ignitor; make sure it’s functioning correctly. Take action to fix it if you need to.

Third?

Too many people ignore cleaning their grill. Clean the cooking grids; a layer down, clean the flavorizer bars (that direct drippings away from burner tubes); clean out the drip-catching area. That’s commonly missed and if they overflow it makes the inside of the grill very nasty.

Wouldn’t trapped grease attract critters, too?

It does. They’ll try to get in to what they think is food, so they can chew up your cover and the inside of the grill.

That’s not all that can get in there.

Get the spider webs out of it, because spiders are one of your worst enemies when it comes to grills. They will put nests inside the burners. And everybody thinks their control panel’s on fire, but what that usually is, is a spider got in the burner. So instead of the gas coming out the burner, it’s coming out the the air mixer. It ignites there, behind the control panel.

What if you use your gas grill year-round? How often should you give it a once-over?

I use my grill all year, and check it over, probably, twice a season. I’ll check for leaks, I’ll start at the top and work my way down from the carbon buildup on the lid, knock that down with a cleaning brush, clean the cooking grids. I like to run a brush across the burners, make sure all the little holes are open. They get clogged very frequently. You’ll get hot spots on your grill, and a lot of times that’s because the (burners) got blocked. If they’re not all open, get in there with a little brush, a pin or small nail — whatever fits correctly; don’t make them any bigger than they already are. Be careful. Then I scrape out all the muck that’s in the bottom at that point, all the leftover food particles and grease and whatever else.

Do you use a special tool for cleaning the cooking grids?

I often use a scraping tool that’s a little different than a brush. It’s a piece of metal that’s shaped the way the cooking grids are, like a rounded curve around each (grate). Wire brushes are the standard, but they don’t last forever. When (it gets) all filled up with grease and nasty stuff, throw it away and go get a new one. It’s 10 bucks; go buy one.

What about a charcoal grill?

Wipe it down, get the ash out of it — you don’t want to leave the ash sit in there forever. It is a lye, and it can, if it’s not an enameled bowl or stainless steel bowl, cause rust.

What are some common troubleshooting issues people get into with their gas grills?

Ignitors that don’t work, or a burner that won’t light because something’s blocked up. And it’s not for everyone — if you’re not experienced or have some mechanical ability, try not to disassemble your grill. You are playing with gas, so it’s gotta be done right.

Is there a quick fix for an ignitor that’s not working?

Most grills will provide a hole where you can stick a long stick lighter and light the grill. The trick to that is to put the lighter in the hole and light the lighter first, then turn the gas on. If you turn the gas on first and then stick the lighter in, things can light up very violently. So always, always put the lighter in first.

Safety first

You never want to light your grill under a carport or roof of any kind. People do it all the time, and it of course darkens the ceiling and/or melts it. Keep your grill away from combustible surfaces. The siding on your house will melt if you get the grill too close. You can catch a railing on fire on your deck if the grill’s too close. All manuals have clearances listed in them — but, another common thing, nobody reads their manuals, so they ignore that.

What are some top-of-the-line gas grill bells and whistles?

Rotisserie burners, which is a burner located in the back wall of the grill. You can also get side burners. And iGrill has come out, it’s an app for your phone. There are several versions of it; it actually is pretty slick. There are probes that you put in, kind of like a wireless thermometer, but it goes beyond that. You can watch the temperature of the food and add alarms to it to know when things are done. You can have up to four probes, so if people want their food done to different temperatures, well, you can do all that.

How do you start your gas grill for a cooking session?

I start by checking and smelling for leaks. I’ll start the grill, get it good and hot — I want it to be sanitary, right, so I’m shooting for 450 (degrees), 500; I have a thermometer on it. I knock off the remaining food particles if there are any, and then I’ll set the temperature. Let’s call it for chicken, 375; I pretend it’s an oven. Then you’re set to go.

What’s your grilling specialty?

On gas, chicken quarters, chicken wings. On charcoal, I like doing ribs. You can cook it low and slow, and I’m after that smoky flavor. You get more of that from charcoal.

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