GIMME SHELTER- Grilling tips redux: Keep that cooking canvas clean!

Q: We enjoyed John Atkins' grilling tips last week, but wanted to know more about keeping our grill clean. Should we clean it every time we grill? What's the best way to remove that nasty grease and baked-on ash? 

A: There are two schools of thought on grill cleaning. The first is that you should clean your grill after each use while it's still warm. The upside is that more residue will come off, but the downside is you can burn yourself if it's too hot. The second is to clean before each cook. The upside is you won't get burned, but the downside is that it's harder to clean.

Either way, clean the inside and outside of the grill and lid. If you allow cooking residue to burn off the inside of your grill every time you use it, you shouldn't have to work as hard at scrubbing the inside. You can simply brush off flaking baked-on grease with a brass wire grill brush. If you want to get your grill in sparkling condition, either inside or out, warm soapy water and a sponge or dishcloth are usually sufficient. 

You'll also want to clean the cooking grate. After the coals have died out, brush off any loose particles on the warm (not hot) cooking grate with a brass grill brush. For more thorough cleaning, use a wet, soapy, fine steel wool pad with only slight pressure. Rinse thoroughly and dry.

I prefer to clean after each cook with a rigid wire brush. Then before each cook I use a cooking spray before I start the fire to prevent sticking. 

For charcoal grills, make sure you clean the ash after each cook. I use a fireplace shovel and deposit the ash in a small galvanized trash can with a securable lid. Remove cold ashes from the bottom of the grill; this prevents airflow problems next time you grill. Also, ashes absorb moisture, which may cause premature rusting of the grill.

Once a year wipe down the outer surfaces of the grill.

For gas grills, you can clean the cooking grate by turning the grill on high until it stops smoking. Then simply brush off the grate with a brass brush. It's not a bad idea to do this both before and after you grill. If there's any excess residue on the grates, you can scrape it off with a putty knife. To clean the rest of the grill, again, use a wet, soapy, fine steel wool pad and don't scrub too hard to prevent scratches. 

It's also a good idea to replace the drip pan liner frequently. Not only will it reduce unpleasant vapors, but it will also keep animals from getting into your grill at night. You'll also want to keep the bottom tray clean by scrapping it out with a putty knife over a trash can and scrubbing it with your wet, soapy steel wool. 

Most people find no pleasure in cleaning a grill, but since I've started competing and catering, I've found great solace in cleaning a grill. A clean grill is like a canvas: leave a mess on it, and that's what you'll end up cooking!