Outdoor cooks love a year-round season and Nashville’s got one, or nearly one. But, no matter where you live or what season it is, if you love to cook outdoors, you cook outdoors. You adapt to conditions. You shovel. You tuck under the carport overhang. You get wet, cold, you work in the dark….and you love it.
But, the nature of this game often leaves your grilling gear run hard and put away wet and calls for a periodic review in the light of day. As colder weather grilling sets in this might be a good time for a Saturday afternoon tune up and clean up. Here are a few things I look at when seasons change:
A New Grill—Gas or Charcoal? Basic charcoal grills can run from $100 to $300, basic gas grills from $250 to $500, and up. Sure, it’s easy to spend more, but think twice before you dive into a several thousand-dollar deal. A simple model that’s cared for can produce spectacular results. As a grill-hunting friend once said, “I decided to put the money in the meat.”
Your Current Gas Grill. To repair or recycle, that is the question. Replacement burners and grill grates can run $50 – $100 (or more if you also need new “flavorizer” bars, smoke-catcher screens or a new cover). So, if your equipment is pushing five years and wasn’t more than $500 new, it’s probably more economical to recycle. New grills are easy to research online and you can see plenty of brands already assembled in big box stores (or at The Hearth & Grill Shop for higher end models). A quick search for availability of replacement parts is a good move before you buy.
However, if you like your grill and a little effort will fire things back to life, shut off the gas supply, pull on rubber gloves and pull the insides out. Run cooking grates and grill tools through the dishwasher. Lift out the burner(s) and inspect the burner holes/ports for rust and dirt, grease, etc. Gently tap out any loose material. Clean burners with a wire brush. If the burner ports are rusted and enlarged you’ll get hot spots on the grill so it’s time for a new burner.
Clean out or replace the removable grease trap on the underside of the grill and sweep/shop vacuum out the bottom of the grill head. That flaky black stuff peeling off the inside of the cover is carbon residue (not paint). Hit the grill body inside and out with a high pressure hose and a stiff wire welder’s brush. If the ceramic briquettes are crumbling, discard and refresh with a new box. They’re cheap. Use kitchen degreaser spray like 409 on shelves, drawers and doors.
Reassemble your components, lightly oil the cooking grates with vegetable oil and a paper towel, turn on the gas, light the burners and let it heat up for 10 minutes or so. You’re back in business.
Cooking tools designed for grilling tend to be over-designed and clunky. Your outdoor kitchen, even if it’s just a grill, needs the same handy items you rely on indoors. To manage food over hot fire you need sturdy metal spatulas, a couple pairs of quality tongs (like OXO) and at least one instant read thermometer for quick temp checks (replace digital model batteries now).
Refill or exchange your empty propane tanks. Twenty pounds of gas is a little over $20 now. The Blue Rhino tank exchange at supermarkets and mini-marts is convenient and they will accept your outdated tank for a new one, but you are only getting 15 pounds of gas for about $20.
A better idea is if you already use natural gas in your home we beg you to have a line run to the patio. Propane to natural gas conversion kits are inexpensive. You will never again lug another propane tank, or climb under the grill to try to lift and shake the tank hoping there’s enough in there for dinner tonight. Probably the best $350 you’ll ever spend.
Patio Shopping Check List
Heavy Duty Aluminum Foil—thicker, wider foil is best for wrapping heavy meats and placing directly over fire.
Aluminum Pans—Slow, moist cooking, warming and even steaming brats in beer is a cinch with throw-away pans. Roast vegetables in pans on the grill and save heating the oven on a hot night.
Plastic Bags—Gallon and two-gallon sealable bags are perfect for marinades and pre-grilling salt brines.
Kosher salt—Kosher salt has a clean flavor and crunchy texture that works great in brines, dry rubs and for simply seasoning grilled meats and vegetables.
Charcoal—Natural lump charcoal runs about $15 to $20 per 20/lb bag and charcoal briquettes are about $.40 to $.50 per pound. Whichever you use keep in mind that extra charcoal is handy when the power goes out.
Wood chunks, chips and smoking pellets—Supermarket charcoal aisle stocks bags hickory, mesquite and oak, and fruitwoods like cherry, apple and pecan for a milder smoky flavor.
Finally, a sauce. I was a solid dry rub rib guy until my wife (Chopped Champ Mindy Merrell) made a batch of her famous Nashville Crossroads Barbecue Sauce for me. It changed my patio life forever. Crossroads sauce is a balanced blend of even amounts of vinegar, ketchup, and brown sugar (as the main ingredients), and is our favorite, go-to sauce when we need one. It begins with a sautéed grated onion — do not skip this step. Bottled sauces….even doctored up, no match for Mindy’s Crossroads.
Nashville Crossroads Barbecue Sauce
3 tablespoons oil
1 small to medium onion, grated (or whizzed in the food processor until very fine)
1 cup cider vinegar
1 cup ketchup
1 cup brown sugar
¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
Cayenne pepper, to taste
Black pepper and salt, to taste (a teaspoon or two of each)
Cook the onion in the oil over medium heat until softened and golden brown, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients. Simmer a few minutes until slightly thickened and heated throughout. Makes about 3 1/2 cups.
Check out more of our BBQ sauces HERE