Ah, the scents of spring: freshly mowed grass, honeysuckle in bloom and...ugh! What's that acrid, choking cloud wafting from the next yard over?
Right - that guy. He's always inviting the whole cul-de-sac or complex around for burgers and brats. They'll always show because he's such a friendly fella, but they'll either fill up on slaw and beans or feign having had a big breakfast because frankly, his grilled meat and vegetables taste like they were strapped to the front of a Mack truck and driven through the Mojave Desert.
Be a good neighbor and slip him these five tips for saving the flavor of grilled foods - before they even hit the grate.
2. Release the grease
Mop up as much as you can with paper towels or textured sponges - using grease-busting dish soap if necessary. Then spray the bottom of the grill with a solution of one part vinegar to two parts water, wipe up any remaining grease and dry thoroughly.
To prevent further elbow grease expenditure, place disposable foil pans at the bottom of the grill to catch drippings and toss or reuse as needed.
3. Free the debris
Remove the grates - and any other removable elements - from the grill and use a lightly dampened sponge to remove grease, rust and baked-on food. For tougher spots, make a paste of three parts baking soda to one part water and work that in with crumpled aluminum foil until they've worn away. Rinse away any residue with water and a soft, non-wire brush and dry all parts thoroughly.
Next time you use the grill, strike while it's still warm and give the grates a quick scrub with crumpled foil before they return to room temperature. That way, you'll save on prep time before the next cookout - and make sure that your Boston butt doesn't taste like last week's trout.
And remember - never plunge a warm grate directly into water. The sizzle and pop may sound pretty cool, but the rapid cooling is torture to the integrity of the metal.
4. Free free to vent
Use a brush, rag or cotton swab to get into every crevice, and test hinges and screws to make sure they haven't rusted or stuck in place. A bit of canola oil may help keep parts sliding freely.
5. 'Tis the seasoning
Just rub unsalted canola or vegetable oil, lard or bacon grease onto all surfaces after they've been cleaned. Place them back in the grill and let them heat up to 350°F for about 45 minutes. Then, using a silicone brush or a paper towel held in some tongs, carefully coat the grates again and bump up the temperature to 450°F for another 45 minutes.
If you've got stainless steel grates, a coating of cooking oil works wonders to preserve them through multiple grilling seasons. After they've been cleaned, cover them in a light coating of vegetable oil and return them to the grill. On your next outing, make sure the grate heats up for 15 minutes before you place any food on it and add additional oil to prevent stuck-on muck.
Got any grill prep tips you'd care to share? Pipe up in the comments below and we just might share them in an upcoming piece.
See all our best grilling advice at Grilling 101