Chat Leftovers: Grill grime
Once again, Wednesday is upon us, which means it's time for another Free Range chat. Got crabs on your mind? Then you'll want to tune in at 1 p.m., when our guest chatters will be chef-author-TV host John Shields, who writes in today's paper about making a little crab go a long way, and Real Entertaining columnist David Hagedorn, who fills us in on a crabby party he threw for family members.
You'll have exactly one hour to ask advice from them, or from any Food section staff member who'll be on hand, before time runs out.
And run out it will, as we know all too well. Seems like every week we're left with piles of unanswered questions. Here's one we couldn't get to:
Is it safe to assume that the self-cleaning oven cycle would also work to clean cast-iron grill grates that are horribly gunked up?
On the face of it, doesn't that sound pretty smart? And if you check out the Internet, you'll find scores and scores of testimonials from folks who have done just that and say it works great (with the caveat that the grates must be re-seasoned once they're burned clean). Genius!
Ah, but not so fast. I asked a pro, and I got a different story.
"This is not a great idea." That's from Steve Swayne, a chef and cooking expert who works for the Whirlpool Institute of Kitchen Science. "The grease that tends to build up on grill grates could cause a fire in your oven." he said.
Then I talked with Mike Kempster, the executive vice president of marketing for Weber.
"It's a bad idea," he said. I was starting to sense a trend.
Kempster told me much the same thing Swayne had: the heavy grease that coats dirty grill grates will generate a lot of smoke, plus acrid fumes -- stuff you don't want in your kitchen. He said many customers who have tried the oven method have called to relate "horror stories" about their experiences.
Are there other grill-cleaning methods that should be avoided? Indeed there are. "Some people say to put the dirty grates in the dishwasher and run it," Kempster said. "That'll ruin a dishwasher." With all the grease that the grill racks give off, "it's really difficult to get your dishwasher back into a condition where you would want to put your dishes in there,"
So that's what not to do. What's the right strategy? Both Swayne and Kempster endorsed the same general technique for removing grill crud. For a gas grill, turn the burners on high, close the grill and let it run for 20 minutes or so. The high heat will do the trick, turning the gunk into ash that you should be able to just brush off. For a charcoal grill, Kempster said, use "a grill brush, a scouring pad and an Earth-friendly cleaner" -- in other words, nothing caustic.
So you can believe the cautionary tales of the experts, or you can listen to the backyard amateurs who swear the method works fine for them. Or you can wait for modern science to solve the problem altogether. But it might be a long wait.
"The holy grail around our R&D department is to come up with a self-cleaning grill. But we haven't been able to do it," Kempster said. Well, at least we know they're trying.
-- Jane Touzalin
June 9, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories: Chat Leftovers | Tags: Chat Leftovers, Free Range, Jane Touzalin
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