If you’re like most of the members in our barbecue community, chances are you grill all year long. Neither rain nor sleet nor snow nor gloom of night deter you from your appointed rounds at the fire. Even if you live in the Frost Belt. (You know my motto: when it snows, the first thing you shovel is the path to your grill, not your car.) But in the event you hibernated your grill this winter — or even if you didn’t didn’t — it’s time for a spring tune-up. Here are 10 things you need to do now to get your charcoal and gas grills ready for action.
TUNING UP YOUR CHARCOAL GRILL
Spring cleaning: Clean your grill thoroughly. (Of course, you did that the last time you used your grill, but just double check.) Scrape out any congealed ash at the bottom of the firebox or kettle bowl with a garden trowel. Empty the ash catcher (if you haven’t already done so.)
Lube the vents: Squirt any sticky vents with a silicone spray like WD-40.
Rust patrol: Treat minor rust or dings with a high-quality heatproof paint. If rust is beginning to eat through the grill walls, it’s time to say goodbye, no matter how many good times you’ve shared. Scrub the grate: Even if you brushed and oiled your grate after the last time you used it, you’ll need to do so again before your first grill session. Build a raging fire in the grill. Preheat the grate, then brush it with a stiff wire brush and oil it with a grill oiler or tightly folded paper towel dipped in oil and drawn across the bars of the grate. (This oils the grate and removes any loose brush bristles and debris.) Repeat as needed. Note: this usually suffices to remove light rust, too. If not, do as my assistant, Nancy, does—she buys a new grate for her kettle grill each year for about $15.00. Remember, the more you use the grill, the more the grate will resist rust and sticking.
Check your charcoal: If your charcoal sat in the garage or an outdoor shed all winter, it may have absorbed moisture and will not light or burn properly. Buy a fresh bag. Buy a couple so you don’t run out during a grill session. Note: If you own a charcoal grill with a propane igniter, like the Weber Performer, check the igniter battery as described below and replace the small LP canister as needed.
TUNING UP YOUR GAS GRILL
Spring cleaning: Clear out all spiders, cobwebs, and other debris from inside the manifolds, burner valves connectors, etc. Empty and clean the grease trap, lining it with a fresh foil pan or aluminum foil as required. Once grill is lit, preheat it screaming hot and brush and oil the grill grate. Note: It’s easy to clean a hot grate; almost impossible when it’s cold.
Leak patrol: Check the hoses: if brittle or crimped, replace. Turn on the propane valve (with burner knobs shut). If you smell gas, make a leak detection solution by mixing equal parts liquid dish soap and water. Brush this on the hoses and couplings: if you see bubbles, you have a leak. Replace any leaking parts.
Clear the burner tubes: Remove the grill grate and metal baffles or flavorizer bars and make sure flames emerge from all the holes in the burner tubes. If any look blocked, open them with a bent paperclip, straight pin, or other thin wire.
Igniters on: Press the igniter button. If you fail to hear a click or see a spark, check the battery. Unscrew the lock nut at the base of the button or behind the control panel. Most igniters take a size AA battery. I replace mine every season.
Fuel up: You’ll want to start the grill season with a full tank of propane. If you don’t have a gas level indicator on your grill, weigh the tank—a full one weighs about 38 pounds. Another way to test is to pour a cup of boiling water over the side of the tank: the hot water will condense at and below the level where you have propane. Tip: Invest in an extra full propane tank. Sooner or later, you’ll run out of gas during grilling.
Final advice: Always raise the lid! When lighting a gas grill always have the lid open. Failure to do so may result in a propane build-up and potentially fatal explosion. I have seen this happen—don’t take chances.