If ashes remain from last season, get rid of them. Wash the lid and firebox with detergent and warm water, using a steel-wool soap pad for stuck-on stains. Rinse and dry.
Before your first cookout, light a fire and heat the grate for about 30 minutes. Then scrape it with a long brass-wire brush, like the 18-inch grill brush and scraper from Weber ($10, amazon.com). During the rest of the season, brush right before and after cooking. A little residual grease is good―it helps give grilled food its smoky flavor.
At the end of the season, dump the ashes and close the lid. Leave the grease on the grate until spring; it will help prevent the metal from rusting.
2 of 3Michele Gastl
Cleaning and Oiling a Grill Grate
To prevent your dinner from sticking, you need to clean and grease the metal grate. Doing this makes the grill more hygienic, facilitates flipping your food, and, most important, gives you impressive grill marks. Repeat the cleaning and greasing process when you're finished cooking. It's easier to clean a hot grate, and the oil helps prevent rusting.
To clean the grate, preheat the grill and, when it's hot, brush the grate with a long-handled stiff-wire grill brush. If you don't have a grill brush, use a ball of crumpled foil held in long-handled tongs.
To oil the grate, fold a paper towel into a small pad, dip it in a bowl of vegetable or olive oil, and rub it over the bars of the grate using long-handled tongs. Do this carefully to prevent oil from falling onto the coals.
You can also oil the grate with a chunk of bacon or steak fat.
3 of 3Michele Gastl
Restore Your Grill With a New Grate
Make your grill seem like new, simply by replacing the most crucial part. When the wire brush and cleanser can no longer erase the grunge on the grate, treat yourself to a squeaky-clean replacement (from $11, amazon.com) and eliminate the battle with petrified gristle―at least for a few more seasons.
For those professional grill marks, use a cast-iron grate. Cast iron gets much hotter than standard-issue aluminum. After the first two or three minutes over the fire, lift the food with a spatula, turn it 45 degrees (don't flip it), and place it back down to finish cooking. Never flip and flop randomly. And turn food only once.