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Keon Lawson

• 12/6/2008 - Getting Your Grill Ready for the Barbecue Season

When the fall ended, and winter was just around the corner, you probably did like most of us and threw a cover over the old grill, rolled it into the back of the garage or a shed (and some of us even left them standing outside on the patio), and tucked it away for the season. With the grilling and barbecuing season just around the corner again, your thoughts are probably returning to that old grill. But before you fire it up, you will want to do a little spring cleaning to get it ready for the season ahead.

Here are a few simple things to do to ensure that your grill operates all season safely and without issue.

Clean the Grids, Grate and Briquettes

First, inspect the lava grate (upon which the briquettes rest) to see if it is broken or about to break, which is fairly common considering the extreme changes of heat it endures. If you see that it is broken, replace the grate.

Next, check the cooking grid (or grill) and warming rack. Thoroughly clean them with a wire brush or scraper to remove any built-up food residue, using a mild detergent solution or a commercial degreaser. If the grid is broken or severely chipped and gouged, replace it with a universal replacement available at most hardware stores, or if you are finding it difficult to locate, order one from the company that made your unit.

Now about briquettes. First, if you noticed you were getting a lot of flare-ups or uneven heat distribution last season, you should discard the old briquettes and get new ones. If you don't have to replace your briquettes you will still need to clean them. If you have ceramic briquettes, the easiest way to remove old grunge and buildup is to put them in the sink and cover them with vinegar. Let the briquettes stand for 10 - 20 minutes. Drain off the vinegar and rinse thoroughly with boiling water. Let dry thoroughly before using.

If you have the porous lava rock you might want to check with your local dealer about a commercial cleaning solution; however, if they are more than two seasons old, you should replace them.

Check the Grill Ignitor

If when you give it a test the igniter does not seem to be functioning, check to make sure the electrode is one-eighth of an inch away from the burner. This is the correct distance required for spark generation. Examine the ignitor closely to ensure that no food residue has built up on the electrode. Additionally, check to see that the electrode is not cracked. Check the surrounding area of the igniter to be sure that it is not shorting out or sparking at the grill frame or the casting bottom. If none of these problems exist and it still does not spark, it is time to get a new igniter which is easily available at your local hardware store or directly from the vendor.

Clean and Inspect the Grill Burner

CAUTION: Be sure to consult your owner's manual for the instructions on how to remove the burner. Also, before removing the burner, take particular note of the position of the Venturi tube(s) at the gas control valve. Do not try to remove the Venturi tube(s) from the burner base itself as it is extremely easy to damage the sealing gasket and break the seal.

Following your grill manufacturer's instructions, remove the burner. Use a stiff brush to remove any built up residue from the burner. Inspect closely for holes or cracks which occur most commonly at the burner seams. Un-clog the burner ports, which are the little holes along the edge of the burner using a toothpick or a piece of copper wire. You may also use a small nail, but be careful you can easily pierce or damage the ports. If you encounter any kind of damage, do not attempt to re-use the burner. It is simply not worth the plastic surgery to save a few dollars on a burner.

After sitting over the winter, the Venturi tubes may contain dirt, spider webs, water or other debris. These tubes may be cleaned by using bent pipe cleaners, a very small bottle brush, or a special Venturi brush which can be purchased from your local barbecue dealer.

Clean the Grill Housing

Now, while everything is out of the housing it is a good time to clean it as well. Using a commercial grease remover, wear rubber gloves and eye protection and use a stiff, steel brush and a scraper to remove any soot and grease residue build-up from the inside housing of your cooker. Before actually cleaning be sure to cover valve holes and connection parts with aluminum foil to protect them from damage and blockage.

After you have brushed and scraped the grill interior, wipe away any remaining grime and dry with paper towels.

Now is also a good time to check and ensure that all the nuts and bolts and other connections on the grill are solid and tight. This will help to ensure the grills stability and steadiness.

You Are Now Ready To Put It Back Together Again.

Reinstall the burner(s), igniter, rock grate, lava rocks or ceramic briquettes, and the cooking grids. Be absolutely sure to replace the burners exactly as they were before you removed them. When replacing the burner, remembering the Venturi tube(s) position from earlier, place the ends of the Venturi tubes over the gas valves so they engage in a straight line. Make sure that the valve orifices are one-quarter inch inside the Venturi tubes.

Inspect the Hose Assembly

Before starting, remember these rules to ensure your safety:

- DO NOT SMOKE or permit any flame or other source of ignition in the area while conducting the leak test.

- DO NOT use matches, lighters, or flames of any kind to check for leaks.

- DO NOT use the grill until all leaks are repaired and double checked!

- DO conduct the test outdoors in a well ventilated area.

- If you are unable to stop a leak, shut off the gas supply and call a qualified Gas Appliance professional immediately.

Inspect the hose closely for cracks, nicks or cuts. If you find any, do NOT attempt to repair them with electrical tape or any other kind of sealer. The gas is under pressure and any defect weakens the hose which can easily result in a fire or explosion. If any defects are found, replace the hose before attempting to use your grill.

The Soap Test

If no damage is readily visible it doesn't mean it doesn't exist. To really verify that there are no pinhole leaks, perform the soap test by mixing a 50/50 solution of water and dishwashing soap in a bowl. Make sure that all the control knobs are in the 'Off' position, and rub the soap solution over all hose connections. Then, turn the gas on at the tank (or the gas valve for natural gas units) and check each connection to see if there are any bubbles gurgling up. If there are, the connection is leaking gas.

If you detect a leak, wipe off the solution, remove the hose and reconnect it again, being sure the fittings are straight and connections well tightened. Be careful not to overtighten though as you could strip the connection. Once you are satisfied that all connections are tight, perform the soap test again. If the leak persists, replace the hose assembly prior to using your grill.

Check the Tank

It is also important to check your propane tank, if you have one, to ensure there are no holes, dents, rusted weak spots, cracks, or other damage. If any damage is detected, the tank should be replaced immediately. Also, most areas have a expiration date which governs the life of the tank. If the tank is past its expiration date, replace it immediately.

It is a bit of work, but preparing your grill for the barbecue season ahead is quite simple and fast do to. If you are doing this for the first time, do not rush. It may take you a couple of hours to complete the task, but it is worth it to have a safe grill that will provide you with years of great outdoor cooking.

About the Author

Joe Johnson is a founding partner with Caroline's Rub - Fine Spice Creations, where he is in charge of product promotion and development, and where he serves as the executive chef.
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