Making Your Grill Nonstick

Frequently, while grill cleaning, I am asked for advice on how to clean a grill and how to keep food from sticking to the grill racks. Here are a few simple tricks to try:

Tip #1: Cleaning with Vegetables

  •  Heat the grill to your desired temperature. 
  •  Slice a potato in half.
  •  Stab the end of one of the potato halves with a fork (leaving the inside of the potato exposed). 
  •  Rub the exposed center of the potato on the grate, making sure to cover the entire cooking surface.

This process releases the starches in the potato and will create a barrier between the grill racks and your food. You could also use half an onion or half a lemon. The last two will have a more obvious effect on the taste of the food.

Tip#2: Use Oil with a High Smoking Point

Most cooks recommend oiling the grill racks before grilling to prevent sticking. That’s true if using an oil with a high smoking point. For a BBQ, find an oil with a smoking point above 450°F. The higher it is, the longer it will last on the grill. My favorite is an inexpensive refined olive oil which has a higher smoke point (over 450°F) than the extra virgin olive oil (about 375°F) variety.  

Unfortunately, once the oil exceeds the smoking point, it turns into carbon. Adding more oil on top will just create more carbon buildup AND more sticky mess. Carbon buildup transfers to food and is highly carcinogenic–impacting both health and taste.

Think of seasoning your grill like you would a Dutch Oven. Start with a good BBQ cleaning. Then, warm the grill, wipe the grates with oil, heat to temperature, repeat. Finally, let the grates completely cool, re-coat them, and wipe off any excess oil. This technique should reduce any sticking.

 When you cook next, consider oiling the meat instead of the grill. Dry the meat with a paper towel and lightly oil it before applying any seasoning or rub. 

Unless you like cooking on a flamethrower, I suggest avoiding cooking spray altogether?

 Tip #3: Always Preheat the Grill 

Always preheat your grill. Turn your grill on high and let it heat up at least five to 10 minutes before you start grilling. You want to hear a sizzle as the meat touches the grill. As the food cooks, heat causes some moisture to exit the meat. That’s the sizzle you hear. Because oil and water don’t mix, this steam will eventually release the meat from the grates. 

Once preheated, lower the temperature somewhere just below the smoke point of the oil (see yesterday’s post). If you heat the grill above the smoke point, the coating of oil on your grates will crack, smoke, and carbonize almost instantly. The carbon and smoke won’t taste good, and the dry, uneven, and carcinogenic carbon layer will make the sticking worse. 

If your food is sticking when you go to turn it, just leave it alone a little longer. Once the moisture has evaporated, the meat will begin to brown, you will get those beautiful crusty grill marks, and the vapor from where the meat meets metal eventually steams the two apart.

I recommend giving the meat enough time out of the refrigerator to bring it up to room temperature before placing it on the grill. Cold meat on a hot grill can cool the grates too quickly causing the meat to stick.

 Tip#4: Clean Your Grill

 Yes, I should have started with this tip, but by ending with it I hoped it would stay the freshest in your mind.

The best thing you can do to keep food from sticking is to start with clean grates. My Grill Cleaners can give you a needed boost to starting clean. Between deep cleanings with our barbeque cleaning service, the following will ensure a more pleasant grilling experience:

At the beginning of each BBQ session, turn your burners on high and let it sit for 10-15 minutes. This will cause any left-over, stuck-on food to char and become easier to scrape off with a grill brush. Better yet, just leave the grill on after you grill while the meat “sweats” before cutting/serving.  The grill will likely still be warm enough after eating to easily scrape the char off. 

Cleaning after you grill solves another problem. Leftover food bits on your grill just invites insects, bees, and rodents to make nests in your grill. The post-clean and/or preheat will relocate or kill any pests that have decided to make a home in your BBQ grill.

Finally, between barbeque cleaning sessions with us, try these two strategies for improved grilling:

  1. Before each grilling session, rotate the grill racks so food bits and char don’t build-up in the same portion of the racks.
  2. Every now and then, put your grills racks in the oven during a self-clean session. You’ll be surprised what will come off in there.