Barbecuing is an art. There are several factors that can make for great grilling. None of these is particularly difficult; however, a combination of the right factors can make you a "grilling hero."
First, always have enough fuel on hand. Often, cooking out is a spur of the moment thing and not having enough charcoal can quickly take all the sizzle out of your excitement. What's worse is being in the middle of grilling a beautiful meal and running out of propane, leaving you with a half-cooked meal. Yikes!
This sort of inconvenience and embarrassment can be avoided simply by having plenty of fuel on hand. Always have an extra unopened bag of charcoal around and invest in a second bottle of propane that can be rotated when you run out. An alternative to a second bottle of propane is to keep close tabs on the amount of propane left in the tank.
Our favorite method only requires a sponge and some water. On a warm day, just wipe your propane tank with a wet sponge. The water will evaporate more quickly on the empty part of the tank, and the water will remain on the cooler, filled portion. You'll know exactly how much propane is left in the tank.
Another method is to bring out the bathroom scale and weigh the tank. Then use this formula to estimate how much cooking time is left. Twenty-pound tanks weigh about 18 pounds empty and 38 pounds when full. The average gas grill burns a pound of propane every 30 minutes, or 10 hours on a full tank. So, if yours weighs 24 pounds, you have six pounds of propane left. That's good for three hours of cooking. Sounds a bit complicated, but after you've done it once or twice you'll get the hang of it.
Or, for about the same cost as an additional tank (about $25), you can purchase a propane gas gauge that attaches to the tank and will let you know when fuel is running low at a simple glance.
With plenty of fuel, you'll be able to make a good hot fire, which is an absolute necessity to cleaning the grate. Aside from being unsightly, a dirty grate causes food to stick and can make grilling a real chore.
Here's a grate-cleaning trick that we learned many years ago that makes easy work of a dirty grate. Step one involves getting the grill hot. To do this, place a layer of aluminum foil on top of the grate, leaving a gap of about one inch at the entire perimeter. The foil acts to trap heat and results in super-heating the grate. Be sure to leave a gap at the perimeter or the extreme heat can damage your equipment. The idea is to get the grate as hot as possible.
Next, carefully remove the foil and brush the grill with a wire brush. Dip the brush in a bowl of water before running along the grate. The wet brush is quickly swiped onto and along the grates. As the water touches the hot surface, it instantly turns to a gas and "steam-cleans" the area. In addition, the cold water causes the super hot grate to instantly contract and baked-on food pops right off.
We like to use a two-inch square brush on a long handle. One other method of grill cleaning that works well for us is using a grilling cleaning block of recycled material that feels like volcanic tuff. We get the grate good and hot as described above and then rub the block up and down in the direction of the grate. The grill-cleaning block takes the shape of the grate and removes any minute material that a wire brush might leave behind.