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Grilling season is coming: Get ready

Because you want to see this on Day 1
Because you want to see this on Day 1
Costa Lapaseotes

The first day of Spring has passed and warm weather is on the way. And when it gets here, your neighbors will be running out for propane, scrubbing down cooking grates, and, when they finally get something cooked, wondering what that strange flavor is. But not you. You'll be ready.

Even for those of us who grill year-round, Summer is the big time, and making sure your grill gets its yearly tune-up in Spring will save you a lot of headaches. Even though you've given the grates a good brushing after every use (hot food cleans off easier than cold) and emptied your drip pan regularly (right? Right?), there's a lot more grill that needs a little love.

Whether charcoal or gas, use a bucket of soapy water once a year to really clean out the inside of your grill. Stuff builds up, and not all of it is "seasoning". Old bits of food, an overused marinade, or just ashy residue can create acrid smoke that will taint the flavor of your food. Meat is good; let it speak for itself. Peeling paint needs to be scraped out and touched up; there are several paints that are specifically grill-ready.

If you have a gas grill, the same goes for all the parts inside. Check the owner's manual, but most burners can be removed for cleaning. All the little holes along the side need to be unobstructed to ensure even flames.

Whether it's ceramic, metal "heat bars," lava rocks or whatever, your heat barrier also needs to be cleaned. A certain amount of grease in lava rocks can be burned off by flipping the rocks and heating on high for 15 minutes, but replacing dirty ones can avoid some nasty flavors in your food.

Once your grill is clean, a good burn is necessary to get any soapy residue off the interior surfaces. Which brings us to the last point: for meat's sake, please, please refill your propane or stock up on your charcoal now. Don't start the season running on empty.

Here's a season-starting checklist.
And an article about stainless steel care.
And a video to get you ready for the season.