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Pro tips to make the most of the grilling season

By Meredith Shea

Winter is over. Summer solstice is less than a month away. It’s time to pull out the grill and start cooking.

But before going whole hog, consider some of these pointers from local grill experts like Aaron Nickell, owner of the Backyard Kitchen, 2007 Fort Riley Blvd.; Travis O’Quinn, meat extension specialist with a doctorate in meat science; and Ginny Barnard, extension agent in family and consumer sciences.


Grill: Choose from charcoal, pellet, gas or electric. Grills range in price from about $35 to several thousand dollars.

“The grill you get is usually decided by budget,” Nickell said. “All the types of grills have different options for each budget, but very few people get electric.”

Many local apartment complexes will only allow tenants to use electric grills attached apartment patio areas for safety concerns, Nickell said.

Meat: “I’m a meat scientist, so the best tool for me is going to have to be a fantastic piece of meat to start with,” O’Quinn said. “You want to make sure you pick a piece that’s going to be tender, flavorful and juicy.”

Thermometer: Choose an instant read thermometer and a wireless thermometer for different cooking situations.

“People talk about cooking steaks and pork chops using time, but if you use a thermometer you can guarantee it’ll be cooked to the intended temperature every time,” O’Quinn said.

Grill brush: Grill brushes are vital when it comes to cleaning your grill, but a poorly maintained brush can cause its own problems.

“Select a good quality brush with stainless steel bristles and a long handle to keep your hands, arms and clothing away from the open flame and heat of the grill,” Barnard said.

“If you use a grill brush that is in bad condition, bristles may become dislodged and stick to the grates where they could adhere to the surface of the food you are cooking,” she said. “Unfortunately, there are injuries reported due to people ingesting wire bristles left behind by a worn out grill brush.”

Tongs: “You’re going to want a good set of tongs to help flip your meat,” O’Quinn said.

Gloves: Nickell cooks with latex gloves for food safety and a pair of insulated hot food gloves that allow him to flip bigger pieces of meat his hands. He also likes to have a good pair of leather gloves.


Seasoning/ marinating: Thanks to O’Quinn, food preparation just got a lot shorter.

“The only seasoning that will penetrate more than 1/8 inch into meat is salt,” O’Quinn said. “It’s a myth that rubbing your meat with seasoning a day before will season it any better than rubbing it an hour before.”

But don’t let meat marinate at room temperature.

“Bacteria grows rapidly at room temperature making it unsafe to marinate meat and poultry on the kitchen counter,” Barnard said. “The safest way to marinate meat or poultry is in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator, or in an iced cooler if you are transporting food.”

Avoiding cross contamination: “It can be detrimental to the whole family,” O’Quinn said. “It happens when someone uses the same plates and utensils for cooked food and raw food. The whole family can get sick.”

To avoid cross contamination, make sure to keep uncooked food away from cooked food.

Also, clean any item that comes in contact with raw meat.

“Remember to clean the thermometer with hot soapy water, rinse and air dry after each use to avoid cross contamination or transfer of bacteria,” Barnard said.

Putting out flare ups: “The commonly occur when grease drips on the heat source,” O’Quinn said. “Put out with baking soda, not water. The grease just sits on top of the water.”

If the grill has a drip pan, Barnard recommends emptying it after every use. Cooking on wooden decks: “If a grill is to be used on a wooden deck, a large piece of metal or a fireproof patio/deck protector should be placed under the unit,” Barnard said.

If using a charcoal grill, do not leave it unattended until the coals are “cool to the touch,’ O’Quinn said. He suggests dousing the coals with water.


To make cleanup easier Barnard suggests using a pair of metal kitchen tongs to dip a scrunched up paper towel in cooking oil before grilling. Then wipe the oil-soaked paper towel across the grill grate.

“The oil coating makes food and grease less likely to stick to the bars, which makes cleanup easier later,” she said.

For a charcoal grill, close the lid for five minutes after cooking. Then scrape the grate with a wire brush.

After the grate has cooled slightly, put on heat-resistant gloves and flip the grate over and brush the underside.

If grit remains on the grate, next time lay a sheet of aluminum foil over the grate and cook off the residue.

“The foil concentrates the heat onto the grate so it burns off more efficiently,” Barnard said.

Clean the grate with a foodsafe cleaner every 15 to 20 uses. Then scrub both sides with a wire brush and clean with hot water or a damp wipe.

To clean a gas grill, close the lid and turn the temperature up to high for five minutes. Then turn off the heat, and, while the grill is still warm, scrape the grate with a wire brush.

Shut off the gas supply valves. Remove only the parts of the grill that must be removed to access and clean the interior.

Examine the gas jets. If grease or grit is clogging any holes, use a toothpick to gently clear the blockages.

Be careful not to make the holes bigger, because this could disrupt the gas flow and throw off the temperature.

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