Nothing announces the arrival of summer like firing up the grill. Unfortunately, nothing sours a summer party faster than a grill that won't light, smokes too much, or cooks unevenly. Grease, marinades, and sauces wreak havoc on gas burners, while charcoal grills suffer the corrosive properties of charcoal.
Grills of all kinds, from simple kettles to stainless steel restaurant-grade infrared grills, require maintenance to ensure that they perform and last. "At least twice a year you need to pull the grill apart to get inside and take a closer look at it," says Derrick Riches, barbecue and grilling guide for About.com. A thorough cleaning ensures that the burners fire properly, heat distributes evenly, and the grill is safe. Regular maintenance also allows you to catch problems like rust early on. Here is a This Old House primer on keeping your grill in shape.
Inspect the Chassis: Grills with welded joints or connections with pop rivets can rust. Scrub rust off with a stiff wire brush or coarse steel wool, apply a rust-inhibiting primer, and paint the grill's exterior with rust-resistant metal paint. Keep fasteners tight to ensure the base is stable and safe. Replace damaged grill appendages, like wheels, handles, or any other part of your grill, by contacting the manufacturer. You can also refer to the CLA Grills and Service website, or the Appliance Factory Parts website. Use dish soap or a mild detergent to clean cast aluminum grills, and Simple Green all-purpose, biodegradable cleaner for stainless steel ones.
Clean the Burners: Riches stresses that cleaning burners keeps the unit working at its best. Burner ports can fill with grease and close up, leading to hot and cold spots on the grill. While the unit is cold, use a stainless steel wire brush or flexible pipe cleaner to remove the gunk from a traditional gas burner. The flames should be distributed evenly throughout the burner after a good cleaning. Brush off any ash that accumulates on infrared grills, and be sure to keep the glass clean. Infrared grill manufacturers suggest using Bar Keepers Friend, a non-abrasive cleaner, to remove any deposits. Running the grill for 10 minutes on high after cooking also helps keep the ports free of build up.
There are a couple of reasons gas flames turn from their normal blue with yellow tips to completely yellow. The most common is inadequate gas pressure from the tank. Since propane expands at freezing temperatures, the pressure bladder in the regulator (a round disk attached to the gas line) can freeze into place and limit the flow of gas to the burner. If you have a yellow flame, try this remedy: First, turn the tank off and turn off the grill's control valves. Next, disconnect the tank, then open and close the control valves. Finally, reconnect the tank and slowly turn the gas back on to check the flame's color. Another cause of yellow flame is pressurized propane that, over time, can force the burner ports to widen. As a result, too much gas escapes. Riches recommends inspecting the burners and replacing them if they are misshapen or cracked. Once the burners are cleaned, light the grill to ensure that all flames are blue and similar in height.
Grease traps: Grill grease traps are typically trays or disposable aluminum cups beneath the firebox that collect fat. Keep these traps clean and drained because large pools of grease can ignite. Burners combined with a grease fire will exceed the maximum amount of heat the grill can handle.
Hoses: Replacing a worn or damaged fuel line is an easy task once you locate the problem. Manufacturers suggest coating everything—from the tank, to the venturi tubes, which connect the control valve to the burner—with soapy water. For a neat job, Riches uses a basting brush to apply the soap solution. Then, turn the grill on. Any bubbles that appear on coated areas indicate escaping gas, which can be fixed by replacing the hose or O-ring. The gap in the venturi tubes mixes gas with air enroute to the burner and can easily clog with debris or insects. Riches recommends wrapping the tubes with aluminum screen to let air in and keep bugs out.
Between the Burner and Grate: Sometimes called the radiant or flavorizer bar, this part of the grill evenly distributes heat to the grate above and produces smoke when food drippings seep down. "Most of the wear is in the flavorizer bars, because they see the most heat and grease," says Brooke Jones of Weber Grills. Brush off grease and debris from the metal plates because they can trap moisture and cause rusting. Replace lava rocks or ceramic briquettes if they give off a rancid flavor.
Grill Covers: Keeping a grill protected from the elements is the easiest way to preserve it. Covers should have a cloth inner lining to draw moisture away from the metal. A simple plastic sheet holds moisture in, creating a humid environment around the grill, which can lead to rusting. Use a canvas, cloth, or vinyl cover that fits the grill appropriately. Keep in mind that UV rays beak down cheaper, generic covers.