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Caring for Your Outdoor Gas Grill

Gas grills require yearly maintenance, if they are to provide safe and reliable service.  Cleaning the grill is actually easier than most people realize.

First of all, it's important to understand how a gas grill works.  Gas flows from a storage tank to the unit. A shut-off valve regulates the flow of gas.  When the valve is opened, gas flows through orifices into venturi tubes, where it is mixed with air.  The gas/air mixture travels to the burners and exits from burner ports where it is ignited.  Most grills have a piezoelectric igniter capable of generating a spark to light the gas/air.

Situated above the burner is the heat distributor, which is a rack with either lava rocks, ceramic briquettes or metal triangles.  When drippings from the food fall onto the heat distributor, they are vaporized into aromatic smoke.  It is this smoke that bastes the food above and gives it the characteristic flavor of outdoor cooking.

If you are using a propane tank, disconnect and remove the canister.  This makes the cleaning job both easier and safer.

If your grill uses lava rocks or ceramic briquettes on the heat distribution grid, clean these first.  These absorb food drippings and grease that might otherwise fall onto the burners.  They can, however, become coated with excess grease and lose their absorbency.  It's simple to clean them.  When the grill is cold, turn the rocks over so the greasy side faces the burner.  Ignite the flame, turn the heat control to high, and then close the cover.  In about 15 minutes, the grease will be burned off and the briquettes will be serviceable again.  However, if the lava rocks are over a year or two old, replace them with new ones.

Take out the lava-rock rack and plan on soaking it in soapy water along with the grills.  If the rack is rusty, you may need to replace it.  If the grill has a drip guard that prevents grease from getting onto the burners, it probably needs cleaning too.  Lift it out and place it in a tub of soapy water.  Use a spatula to scrape burnt-on grease from the inner walls of the grill.  Use a wet/dry shop vacuum cleaner to remove the rest of the rocks, food particles and other debris from inside the gas grill.

To keep your burners in tip top shape and to make sure heat is being distributed evenly, inspect your burners for corrosion and damage on a regular basis.  Seams, or those areas where the metal is folded over in manufacturing, often trap grease and this is where corrosion generally begins.  A good wire brush is always your best bet.  For cast iron grills, use a stainless steel brush.  For clogged gas holes, use a pipe cleaner.  Consider a stainless steel or porcelain-finish grill, which won't rust and is easy to clean.

Remove the cooking grids.  Scrub them with a soft brass brush (brushes made for this purpose are available at home centers) to remove grease and food deposits.

Put the rock rack, grills, etc. into a soapy bucket of water and let them soak for an hour or so.  After the grills, rack and burner cover have soaked for an hour or so, remove them from the tub and scrub them to remove baked-on grease.  You can use a metal grill--cleaning brush on stainless-steel grills, but porcelain grills should be cleaned with plastic or nylon scouring pads.  Metal brushes could scratch the finish.  Next remove the burner and venturi assembly.  These can become clogged with grease, dirt and even spider webs.  On some grills the burners may lift right out, but in most cases you'll have to loosen a retaining clip near the housing.  Scrub the assembly with a soft brush and soap and water. Clean the inside of the tubes with a soft bottle brush.  Dry the assembly off and then carefully inspect it for minute holes caused by rust or corrosion.  Replace all defective pieces.

Examine the igniter wire for cuts or nicks.  It's best to replace the wire or the entire igniter if you find defects.

Inspect the gas orifices for blockage.  If the openings appear clogged, clear them with a wooden toothpick.  Do not use a metal wire for this, since you could damage the orifice openings.  While you have the burner assembly disconnected, you can clean the grill housing.  First wrap gas orifices with plastic wrap.  This will keep water from entering and possibly corroding them.  Scrub the inner and outer surfaces of the housing with a scrub brush and warm soapy water.  Use a garden hose to rinse, and then dry the grill with a towel.

Once the grill is clean with all the parts in place, turn your attention to the gas line.  First, clean off any dirt from the line, tank and fittings.  Next, test their condition by brushing on a solution of soapy water.  The solution will start to bubble if there are any leaks.  Leaks around the fittings can sometimes be corrected by tightening the fitting, coating the threads with pipe sealant or by replacing the O-ring.  If these attempts fail, it may be necessary to replace the entire fitting.

If you are using a propane tank, check it for dents and rust.  A large dent can decrease the tank's internal volume and cause the gas to vent through the pressure relief valve, creating a fire hazard.  Rust on the tank's surface may not be cause for concern, provided it hasn't eaten into the metal.  Remember to always store the propane tank outdoors, away from direct sunlight.  Warm temperatures can cause the gas to expand inside the tank forcing it through the relief valve.

Now that the grill is cleaned, it is time to cook.  Here are a few dos and don'ts:


Do...Check all gas line connections for leaks with a soapy solution prior to lighting; tighten until bubbles disappear.

Do...Raise the hood before lighting the burner.

Do...Turn off gas immediately when you are unable to light the grill.  Wait a full 5 minutes before attempting to light the grill again.

Do...Be careful of the control valve setting.  LP gas is hotter and the lower setting may be preferred.

Do...Remove the gas control knobs to prevent children from playing with the grill when not in use.

Do...Cover the barbecue when not in use.

Don't...Adjust the regulator. It has been preset and tested.

Don't...Lay the LP tank on its side.  Keep it upright.

Don't...Use plastics or un-tempered glass utensils on the grill.

If you take care of the grill and burners, you should be able to extend the grill's life beyond the manufacturer's warranty, until you are no longer able to find replacement parts on the market.

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