How to prepare your grill for a big cookout

Whether you cook with gas or prefer that charcoal flavor, we’ve got the scoop on how to get your grill ready for summer. So roll up your sleeves, it’s time to get dirty and get that grill clean–inside and out.

Do a top-to-bottom inspection

If your grill hasn’t been used for months, it’s important to give it a good once-over for any problems. For starters, look for any signs of rust, because the metal pieces have a tendency to rust when they’ve been exposed to the elements. If your grill has been covered, then check for bugs and pests that may have snuck in during the winter.

It’s also important to check the fuel line on gas grills. After giving it a visual check for any cracks, try the soapy water test. Brush soapy water on the line and along the connections. If you see bubbles while the gas is running, tighten your connections or replace the line.

Clean from the inside out

Your gas grill has a lot of parts and pieces. Start by removing debris from the flame tamers (located directly over the burners) with a wire brush. Then remove the flame tamers and check the burners for clogs. Just brush portholes with a stainless steel wire brush in an up-and-down motion like this.

Insects frequently take up residence in burner tubes during the off-season. If tubes are removable, use a garden hose to spray water through the tube or use a long, flexible brush to clean the interior. Make sure tubes are dry before reattaching. Next, check that the grease pan is clean to prevent dangerous grease fires. Give this a look before the season starts and after every few cookouts to make sure it doesn’t overflow.

For a charcoal grill, be sure to empty all ashes and unburnt charcoal from the bowl and ash catcher. Your new charcoal will burn much easier–perfect for grilling our 5-star cookout recipes.

Clean your grates

Whether you have rusty grates from sitting unused for an extended period of time, or simply have leftover residue from last year, it’s important to start the season with clean grates. (Plus, clean grates make better grill marks!)

For normal build-up on a gas grill, turn all your burners to high for 15 minutes. When your grill reaches these high temperatures, leftover debris will turn to ash and will easily brush off. Be sure to turn burners off before you start scrubbing.

Stainless steel brushes work great, but may leave behind tiny metal bristles that get in your food. Two all-natural alternatives are a hardwood grill scraper and an onion. (Yes, an onion!) Simply cut an onion in half and rub it over pre-heated grates using your barbecue tongs (or a two-pronged grill fork) until you see the gunk being removed. You get the best of both worlds–a clean and seasoned grill.

For a deeper cleaning, soak grates overnight in a mix of two cups of vinegar and one cup of baking soda. Any leftover debris should rinse off with water and a little elbow grease.

Routine brushing of the cooking grates prevents food and bacteria buildup, and a light coating of oil or cooking spray prevents rust and keeps food from sticking.

Wipe down the exterior

Once the inside of your grill is good to go, wipe down the exterior. Grill surfaces are made of different materials and require different cleaning methods. Soapy water is the safest cleaning solution for most grills, but for a deeper clean use window cleaner for porcelain-coated steel lids and stainless steel cleaner for stainless steel lids.

Upgrade your grill tools

Your favorite cooking utensils have probably been outside with your grill all winter. It’s the perfect time to replace your old grill tools and add some fun new ones like a smoker box or cedar planks that would be perfect for this grilled salmon with blackberry sauce.

Now that you’re ready for the official start of grilling season, check out our tips for grilling the perfect burger.

This article originally appeared on Taste of Home.