I live in SoCal so I’m very lucky to be able to grill and barbecue all through the year, but for many people across the country, barbecue season really kicks off on Memorial Day weekend. Whether you are preparing for the early competitions or your first barbeque cookout with friends, spring is a great time for a good cleaning and a safety check.
For those who cook on trusty Weber Smokey Mountain smokers and Weber Kettles like me, that’s pretty easy, but it never hurts to take a closer look at your gear before the weather warms up. The truth is, everyone should take a few minutes each year for a thorough inspection and address any issues before you start stocking up on meat and inviting the neighbors over.
First, when you take your smoker or grill out of the garage or backyard shed, or remove the cover, look for spiders (just creepy) and any evidence of critters (remember, rodents carry disease). Give exterior surfaces a good sponge scrubbing with soap and water. I know that many people assume the grill grate cleans itself when you preheat your grill but if your last cook was six months ago, you don’t really know what’s been going on in there so be sure to wash your grates.
Also check the wheels or legs of your grill. It’s easy to forget to look at them, but one missing bolt and your whole grill might turn over. I drilled a hole in each upper leg holder of my old trusty Kettle and put a screw in so the legs don’t fall off when I roll it around my backyard. Which is worse…the flying hot coals or the loss of whatever you were cooking.? Make sure you don’t have to ask!
When your grill or smoker is clean, start thinking about your barbecue seasonings from last season. As you probably know, spices often lose their zing and color over time, so make sure you check the expiration dates; it might be time to replace them. If your paprika and chilies look pale, they are victims of ultraviolet bleaching so you should replace them as they are past their prime flavors. It’s a good idea to mark your spices with the purchase date so you always know how old they are. For example, I replace my cayenne every three months even though I haven’t used the whole 16 oz bottle. What about other supplies? Do you have heavy-duty aluminum foil and your favorite charcoal? Are you stocked with your favorite wood chunks…and are they sufficiently aged and dry? I use a moisture meter as I like my wood at 12% moisture. If the wood is too dry or too wet, it’s more difficult to get the good smoke flavor we all want. Is it time to replace those tongs that always felt too short? And what about your charcoal chimney…is it still in good shape or has the wire mesh on the bottom bowed out of shape?
Realizing that I don’t have one of my key ingredients or equipment is big pet peeve. I get frustrated and stressed, and that’s no way to start a competition. When you’ve traveled five hours (or more) only to experience that sinking gut sensation as you realize you forgot to bring your pork and brisket injections…or your favorite pig tail hook…or your trusty bamboo skewer that you always use to position your competition chicken in the KCBS Styrofoam box, finding a solution is taxing, to say the least.
In this blog, I am committed to teaching and sharing knowledge, so if it means you will never make this mistake, I will happily (sort of) tell on myself. I was competing in the Sam’s Regional Finals and had to ask my son to come to my rescue… that meant driving from LA to Vegas with my injections. It was worth it, because I won Reserve Champion that day and that secured my spot in the National Finals in Bentonville, Arkansas. Fortunately, the RC got me some mullah so my son got gas money and a big tip, but it certainly would have been easier and less stressful if I hadn’t forgotten them in the first place!
If you’re a backyarder, it’s just as frustrating if you are getting ready to host guests at your home and have a grilling reputation to live up to! With barbecue, every single detail is important.
I’m now big on equipment checklists. Find a system that works for you so you can avoid the frustration and enjoy your party or your competition.
All that said, when the smoke settles and you end up with good food (or not so good food), it really is all about spreading barbecue love in this world. Remember that what you cook and how you cook it is less important than why you cook. I wish you an exciting and fun-filled barbecue season. Take the time to welcome the season with safe and clean equipment, fresh spices, high quality meats, and don’t forget to pick up some championship sauce and rubs!