For many folks, grilling is symbolic with the great weather of spring and summer, and they just don’t use their grills in the cold months. I have never really understood this. Why sacrifice that incredible char and flavor that only a grill can provide just because it’s raining or cold? I guess that’s a conversation for November. In the mean time, all you seasonal grillers are looking at this week’s heat wave and getting ready to drag that old fire box out from under the deck, or behind the shed, or wherever it is you banish that trusted cooker to in the “off season”. For our purposes today I’m talking about gas grills, but a lot of this is applicable no matter what kind of grill you use. Spring cleaning has never been more important!
Too often, I go to some backyard to-do and watch a buddy cooking up his/her specialty on a grill I wouldn’t use as an outdoor heater. Sure, they have the obligatory wire brush to clean the cooking surface, but further inspection revels contamination and corrosion that would make Robert Irvine puke. It’s common knowledge that you never- and I mean NEVER- make suggestions about another man’s grill. I know it sounds sexist and stereotypical, but grilling tends to be a man’s domain. Please save all the comments about how girls can grill too. I know that many of my customers are women that grill, but there’s a reason stereotypes exist. Anyway, there I am at a party watching my pal cook away on a dirty grill and all of a sudden all those side dishes are looking pretty good. Don’t be that guy (ok, ok. . . or girl)!
Go out and take a look at your grill. Once you remove the cooking surface, look at the box itself, as well as the “flavorizers” as Weber calls them. Flavorizers are the usually tee-pee shaped covers that go over the actual flames. If you tap any part of the innards of your grill with a pair of tongs and get a “thunk” sound instead of the distinct sound of metal on metal, its time to clean! I like to use a scraper like you would use to spackle a hole in the wall. Most gas grills are built so that everything funnels to the hole in the bottom and into a catch basin or tray. Scrape down the side walls of your grill and get all that gunk out the bottom.
“But wait, my tray is overflowing,” you say? That’s right, you need to clean that too! The grill companies and hardware store are happy to sell you a fancy little aluminum insert so that you just have to dump and replace. I find it is just as easy to line the actual tray with aluminum foil for quick clean up.
Why is all this important? It’s important because all that gunk gets hot, burns and produces smoke. Hmmmm, smoke. You know how you can add different kinds of wood chips to your grill to add flavor? Apple, pecan, oak, mesquite. . . the list is endless. All these woods have nuances that will add great depth of flavor via the smoke that they produce. You know what they don’t sell? Gunk flavored wood chips! Yet every time you fire up your gill with all that gunk on or in it, that’s the flavor you are imparting on your meat. Don’t be that guy that has gunk flavored meat at his backyard shindig!
I have a Weber Silver Series C propane grill that I bought in 1998. It’s a GREAT grill, but lately I’ve been pondering replacing it. I really wanted something that would give me the speed of a gas grill when I just want to sear a couple Rib Eyes for dinner on a week night, but also offered the option of cooking with wood and charcoal when I want to spend the time to actually BBQ something. That’s right folks, there is a difference. One of my silly pet peeves is customers explaining to me that they want to BBQ some steaks. No, you don’t, you want to GRILL some steaks. BBQ is a beautiful, lengthy, smoky process that takes hours to accomplish, and very few people ever take the time to do it, myself included. What we do is grill.
Anywho, I started doing some research, got recommendations from others that share my passion for outdoor cookery, and finally decided on this amazing beast of a unit that would set me back about $1500. It does everything I could ask and more. So I started saving up.
And as I was saving, I was still using my trusted old Weber. It originally came with cast iron grates and they were thinning at a more rapid pace with 16 years of use. If you don’t own a Weber, you should. On top of making a great product, they have fantastic customer service. Several years ago I went to light the grill and got nothing. I tinkered for a bit and finally had to go get long matches to get it fired up. That’s one of the most remarkable things about my Weber. Other than that one time, it fires up first time, every time. So I called Weber’s customer service department and explained what happened.
I was cheerily told, “No problem sir, we will send out a replacement ignition switch and instructions on how to install it.”
“Great, can I pay over the phone?” I asked, just happy that it was that simple.
“No sir,” the rep said, “We will send it to you at no cost, as it is something that shouldn’t wear out over time.”
Now that is customer service!
As I was inspecting the grates and thinking about that ignition switch that I had just pressed to start up my grill again, I realized there was just no need for a newer, “better” $1500 grill. My Weber did exactly what it was designed to do, works every time, and if anything ever goes wrong I know that Weber has great customer service and stands behind what they build and sell. So instead of $1500, I spent $75 on a new set of grates. I probably didn’t save any money as it just means I will use that “savings” to purchase or build a dedicated smoker. But the life lesson I took away is that most of the time regular maintenance and a little TLC will make it so that the things in your life that have served you well you will continue to serve you for years and years. There is probably some deeper meaning here, but we can explore that another time…