To love grilling is to love your grill.
Like any good relationship, you need to put some work into the one you have with your grill—luckily the time spent keeping a happy grill is minimal and the payback for the effort is enormous. It doesn't matter if you're dealing with a top-of-line model or a cheap knock-off, with proper maintenance, any grill is bound to keep you cooking for a good-long time.
Cleaning the Grill Grate
After getting a fire going, the first order of business is cleaning the grill grate. The grill grate will see the most action and because of this—and the fact that food will come into direct contact with it—most of your cleaning attention should be focused here.
Cooking with high heat gives you a great advantage in easily achieving a clean grill grate. Each time the grill's fired up, let the grate heat up over the new, intense heat for about five minutes. This will burn away some food stuffs that may be remaining, then a grill brush and a little elbow grease will easily take care of the rest.
If you haven't already, invest in a good grill brush with a long handle and firm bristles or scouring pad. (It'll make this portion of grill care a cinch.)
Oiling the Grate
After cleaning the grate, the question is: "To oil, or not to oil."
Oiling your grill grate helps prevent food from sticking when cooking. To to this, dip a wadded paper towel in a little oil and, using tongs, wipe the oil evenly over the grate. Be careful not to use too much oil, because that's a sure fire way to start a good flare-up—a little goes a long way here.
Personally, I only oil the grate when I know it's necessary. If I'm cooking something that's been oiled itself, I'll usually skip this step, because it's somewhat redundant. If you're unsure, it's always best to oil 'er up.
Don't Clean the Grill Grate
So you're done cooking and the grill grate is covered with the blackened remains of the day's feast. While it's still warm, you clean that nastiness off, right? Wrong.
If you're a Mr. Clean, this may pain you to no end, but keeping the grate dirty here is a good thing. Go ahead and pick off any large pieces of food that may still be there, but the blackness encasing the grate will actually help protect it between cooking. Even though I know you have your grill covered, this adds another level of protection, arming you against dreaded rust.
What To Do with Charcoal
The end-of-the-day, just-ate-a-ton-of-meat laziness is kicking in, and with it, the total desire to ignore a problem at hand: the remains of spent fuel.
I implore you, overcome your meat coma and clean out that ash. See, a pile of ash left in the grill can collect moisture, and ash plus moisture can equal a cement-like substance that can become your biggest challenge to cleaning your grill—if you can manage to clean it out at all.
To make quick work of this, I keep a big bucket by the grill where I can dump ash at days end. Not only am I more likely to complete this annoying chore if it's that much easier, but I can also safely move still warm coals out of the grill to finish extinguishing. I store that bucket somewhere where it won't get wet, then trash the collection of ash when it's full and I'm positive there's no coals still burning.
Ash disposal becomes even easier if you opt for lump charcoal, since it creates relatively little ash when compared to briquettes.
Cleaning your Grill
Cleaning the grill grate and the ash out is very important, the rest of the grill—not so much. About once a month I'll take a rag and some cleaner to the outside of the grill to keep it looking nice and shiny, but inside is another story.
I actually preach keeping the inside of your grill "dirty." Like a good cast iron pan, grilling over and over seasons the inside of your grill. This seasoning is important as it aids with temperature control—a grill that's been used a lot with a good layer of seasoning will be easier to hold at a specific temperature over a new one. Anyone who has ever tried to use a regular grill as smoker to make some barbecue will know the importance of this.
When it comes to the inside, I'll give it a wipe-down with a dry paper towel to remove any fallen food or excess ash, but I never go scrubbing it like I might the outside of the grill. So the inside of your grill might be a black, sticky mess, but it's a mess you can be proud to own.
How to Store Your Grill
Grill cover, grill cover, grill cover. It may be obvious, but covering your grill is a must if you're keeping it outdoors. When I first moved into an apartment with a proper grilling space, I immediately ran to the closest Target and picked up one of those knee-high 12-inch square grills and passed on a cover. Fast forward two months: the thing was a rusty mess and beyond use. Sadly, I let that grill die an early death by keeping it exposed to the elements.
Back at the store, I opted for a 22-inch Weber kettle knock-off, this time purchasing a cover at the same time. I'm proud to say that cheap-o grill is still going strong after six years; now enjoying a good life of churning out great food at my cousin's place, thanks in large part to keeping it covered when it was not in use.
Looking back through these tips, it all seems so minimal. The daily maintenance endured is so minor compared to all the greatness that comes from the fruits of this labor. So take that little bit of time to keep your grill happy, then throw some food over the flames, sit back and reap the rewards for years to come.