Whether you’re grilling or smoking, you must take precautions to prevent your food from sticking to the grate. It’s a problem that nearly every home chef has experienced: You’re trying to grill or smoke meat, but when you attempt to flip it, you discover that it’s stuck to the top of your grate. When this occurs, you’re forced to tear the meat off the grate, stripping away its seasoned and charred exterior while releasing the meat’s internal juices in the process. So, how can you prevent food from sticking to your grate?

Start With a Clean Grate

Food is more likely to stick when cooked on a dirty grate than a clean grate. Over time, grates will accumulate burnt debris from food as well as particulate matter from charcoal and wood. As this layer of debris forms over the metallic cooking grate, it causes food to stick when being cooked.

Before using your grill or smoker, clean the grate with a hard-bristle brush and some warm soapy water. Just wipe the grate with some paper towels covered in warm soapy water, and then scrub it with the brush to remove any caked-on debris. When finished, dry the grate with some clean paper towels.

Oil the Grate

Perhaps the single most effective way to prevent food from sticking is to oil the grate. Oil works to lubricate grill and smoker grates, creating a smooth surface on which to cook your food. However, you should choose the right type of oil with which to oil your grate. Different cooking oils will burn at different temperatures. To prevent your oil from burning, choose an oil with a high smoking point, such as canola oil, avocado oil or flaxseed oil.

Wait until your grill or smoker is hot and ready for cooking before oiling the grate. If you oil the grate before lighting your charcoal or wood, it may burn off by the time you add your food. With that said, you should use caution when oiling a hot grate. Don’t attempt to wipe the grate directly with oil-soaked paper towels. Instead, soak some paper towels in your preferred oil, grasp them with a pair of tongs, and then glide them across the grate, ensuring that every square of inch of cooking surface is covered in an oily sheen before adding your food.

Oil Your Food

In addition to oiling grate, adding a small amount of oil to your food may also prevent it from sticking. Rather than sprinkling seasoning directly on your food, brush your food with oil and then season it. The oil will hold the seasoning in place, preventing it from falling off when you place your food in the grill or smoker — or when you flip your food. More importantly, the oily exterior will discourage your food from sticking to the grate.

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Wait Until the Grate Is Hot Before Adding Your Food

Placing food on a cold grate could result in it sticking. Therefore, you should wait until your grill is nice and hot before adding your food. You can usually tell when the grate is hot simply by checking your charcoal or wood. If your charcoal or wood is glowing orange, it’s usually safe to add your food. Alternatively, you can invest in an infrared (IR) laser thermometer. Using an IR thermometer, you can check the exact surface temperature of your grate. Regardless of which method you use, wait until the grate is hot before adding your food.

Use a Grill Basket or Foil Pan for Fish

Even if you follow the tips listed here, you may struggle to prevent fish from sticking to your grate. The soft texture of fish makes it more likely to stick than other types of meat like beef and chicken. From salmon and tilapia to tuna and mahi-mahi, all varieties of fish are prone to sticking. But this doesn’t mean that you have to cook fish in a pan.

You can still cook fish in a grill or smoker, but you should use a grill basket or foil pan to prevent it from sticking to the grate. Instead of placing your fish directly on the grate, place it in a grill basket or foil pan and then place it on the grate.

Choose a High-Quality Grill or Smoker

The quality of your grill or smoker will affect whether food sticks to the grate. Low-end grills and smokers are more likely to suffer from stuck food than mid- and high-end grills and smokers. They are often made of cheap materials that lack the non-stick qualities of their higher-end counterparts.

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