Cleaning Your Barbecue
Finally, it took a youngster to show us the way. Morris’ oldest son Eric Clifton “Ricky” Carey, nicknamed after 50’s and 60’s sitcom and rock star Ricky Nelson, has surprised our entire family with his unusual talent for barbecuing. His wife and kids had been able to keep his mastery of the grill a deep, dark secret until recently when he was asked to help cook at a large family gathering. The delectable tidbits that he created resulted in joy for all. The question of the day was, “Boy Ricky, how do you get it so juicy, flavorful and tender?” Since that event Ricky has been officially named “family grill master”. His secret is patience. Bring the barbecue up to about 400- to 450-degrees Fahrenheit, sear the chosen dish on both sides (a minute or two on each side), turn down the heat way down and cook “slowly” to the desired degree.
Ricky is now teaching everyone in our family the fine art of barbecuing. After years of scorching hamburgers, splitting hot dogs and literally destroying delicates like fish and veggies, we have learned that patience is the single most important virtue when grilling. That and not walking away to do something else! You have to pay attention to the barbecue – not the game – or whatever else is going on.
Another trick that Ricky taught us: do not put the barbecue sauce on until the food is almost cooked – wait until the very last minute. Brush it on, let it get warm and then quickly remove your meal from the grill.
Before, our ritual was to burn the food and the sauce and then spend 15 minutes or more cleaning the grill. What a waste of time. When it is properly cooked barbecued food doesn’t mess up the grill nearly as much. But remember, we only recently discovered how to properly barbecue. Before that we made an art of cleaning charred food. Sound familiar?
Here’s what we used to do: When the mess was really bad we would close the top and turn the burners to high for about 15- or 20-minutes. The super heating process completely chars all the greasy remains. After burning everything to a crisp the barbecue is allowed to cool. At that point a simple wire brushing easily removes any last remnants. Although this technique works faster with a piece of tin foil over the grill it is still a lengthy process. After years of wire brushing drudgery we learned an easier way. It involves water. Step one – again – involves getting the grill hot. With or without foil – you choose. The foil does help. But it must be closely watched. Higher heat created can damage your equipment. A wire brush is still needed, but the difference with our second method is that the brush gets dipped in water. The wet brush is quickly swiped onto and across the grates. As the water touches the hot surface it instantly turns to a gas and literally “steam cleans” the area. We like to use a two-inch square brush on a long handle. The square brush end is small enough to dip into a small bowl of water and the long handle prevents hair loss on hands and arms while stroking the grates. Although a wire brush is used to apply the water using it as a scrubber really isn’t required. The water does all of the work. You simply won’t believe how fantastically well this technique works until you’ve tried it yourself.
Unfortunately, the tricks we just mentioned won’t work on rust. A wire wheel on an electric drill is great for rust removal. However, an electric wire wheel may be overkill in situations where spots are hard to get to or where rust is minimal. That’s when Dremel tool can make all the difference in the world. The tiny electric motor turns at an extremely high rate of speed making the tiny brass and steel brush attachments amazingly effective as rust eliminators.
Once your grill is really clean use a clean cloth to apply a light coat of cooking oil. The oil will help to prevent rust and food will be less prone to stick. And by the way, whatever you do, don’t paint a cooking surface. The ensuing meal will not only taste like wallpaper paste it may be poisonous as well.
For general cleaning – when everything is cooled off – apply a mild soap and water mixture to your barbecue in the same way you would wash your car. And remember, be sure to rinse all soap completely away and hand dry with a soft cloth to prevent water marks.
Finally, remember what we learned from Ricky: Start with a clean, oiled grill on high. Sear both sides to hold in juices and turn down the heat. Add barbecue sauce after your food is cooked and as soon as it’s hot go have dinner. The grill will be a breeze to clean, your meal will be juicier and your family will consider you a mega star.
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