Nothing announces the arrival of summer like firing up the grill. Unfortunately, nothing sours a summer party faster than a grill that won't light, smokes too much, or cooks unevenly.
Don't get caught with your tongs down! Before the season really heats up, give your barbecue an annual checkup. Follow our how-to advice to get your grill up to snuff for the big Memorial Day cookout.
A charred coating on a grate doesn't add flavor, it's just dirt, says Barry "C.B." Martin, Char-Broil's CGO-that's chief grilling officer. Any shiny black flakes on the underside of the hood are unlikely to be chipping paint; they're burned-on residue, a fire risk. Here, Martin's step-by-step for gunk removal.
The Interior: Dry-scrub crud from grates, burners, and inside surfaces with a nonscratch sponge or a nylon brush. You can even use an emery cloth or a wire brush on uncoated steel or iron. Then wash surfaces with dish soap and water, rinse well, and dry thoroughly. Martin suggests reseasoning cast-iron or metal grates with oil as you would a similar pan, but there's no need to coat chromed-steel or ceramic grates. Consider replacing these grates if they're rusty or chipping.
Do a gas check-it's essential for safe, efficient cooking, especially if a grill's been idle.
Inspect the tank. Run a leak test. Coat the regulator, valves, and hoses with soapy water, then turn on the tank to pressurize the system. Look for bubbles, which indicate escaping gas. Tighten connections and try again; if there's still a leak, replace the hoses or the tank, if need be. Next, if your grill lacks spider guards, use a bottle brush to clear out debris or insect nests from the venturi tubes, which connect gas to burners. Finally, fire up the burners without the grates in place and look for spots that aren't flaming evenly. Once cool, clear any blockages in the burners with a paper clip.
Even heat is the holy grail of grilling, but it's often not what your burners deliver. To identify the heat pattern, cover grates with slices of white bread and run burners on high for a few minutes. Cut the flame and flip the slices to see which toasted most, indicating where the hot spots are. To even out the heat, add grates of hard-anodized aluminum, an excellent conductor, like GrillGrate (about $40 and up). Or place indirect-heat food on cooler areas and direct-heat food on the warm ones.