A primer for novice grill owners

I live in the MidAtlantic region of the country, but my roots are from up north (where it gets wicked cold and icy). So it is for those of us who don’t wear flip flops year-round that I figured I would share details of how to keep a grill in top form when it may not see much action during the winter. I should have posted this a month or so ago (my bad), but better late than never. We had some really mild fall days and it slipped my mind.

First of all, I did some searching to see if it’s really necessary to “winterize” a grill; this was something that came up recently among a few of my neighbors when we were sitting out at their fire pit and had just enjoyed some steaks. From what I found….YES. It’s a really good idea. If you don’t, you are probably cutting short the lifespan of your [dirty] grill.

There are some people who like to cook outdoors all year long, even when it’s freezing. I just know that I don’t really enjoy standing out in arctic cold temp’s—all alone, I might add—tending to the grill. The bottom line: these steps are practical and you’ll be happier when you fire up the grill again come spring time. (Check your grill’s manual or the manufacturer’s website for their recommendations, too.)

Clean the Grates

If you don’t do anything else, do this. Start the grill and get it to high temperature for a while, until any residual food burns off. This can take about 15-20 minutes. Once the grates are hot, use your grill brush and scrape anything left on the grates. (Refer to your grill manufacturer’s website for the best way to clean your grate’s material. Porcelain-coated and stainless steel grates can get scratched moreso than cast iron. I think the same goes for aluminum, too.) I’ve seen recommendations for using oven cleaner to clean grates (do your research on that), but I have raw cast iron and prefer to use the method below.

For cast iron grates: After scraping the grates with the brush, turn off the grill (or let the charcoal burn out) and while the grates are still a bit warm, take a rag and dip it in vegetable oil. Using tongs, rub the  oiled cloth on the grates, periodically dipping it in more oil. The oil settles into the pores of the iron and will help inhibit rust from forming. (Some people even store the grates layered in towels and placed in plastic storage containers and put them in the basement or garage.)

Unhook the Propane Tank

If you truly live in a cold weather area and won’t have a chance of a mild winter day (sometimes we crave something char-broiled, so if the temps get to 45 or 50 we fire it up), unhook the tank and make sure the valve is turned off. Open up one of the burners to bleed any trapped gas.

Clean the “Flavorizer” Bars/Flame Tamers

From what I understand, too much crud and carbon build-up on these can impact proper heat distribution. Scrubbing with a wire brush and  putty knife should be good. But I’ve also found a recommendation for deep cleaning (if you like to use a lot of heavy sauces while cooking, for example, which can become a thick, layered mess when hardened): Add 2 caps of ammonia to a 5-gallon bucket and fill it almost to the top with warm water. Let the bars soak for 2 or 3 hours. Rinse with warm water and dry well before placing back into the grill.

Clean the Inside (below the grates)

Ash and food debris collects on the bottom of the grill. Put on some rubber gloves and pick out what’s in there. If you have a shop vac, that can expedite this quite a bit after you loosen things with your hands. If your grill has lava rocks, it’s probably a good time to ditch what’s in there and get all new for next year.

Empty the Drip Pan

We typically clean ours throughout the grilling season (otherwise our dog will make every attempt to get at this dirty, greasy mess). It’s also a good idea to keep an eye on this throughout the season because the grease can harden and can potentially catch fire. Some grease pans can be fitted with a foil pan or tray. Our old grill had that option, which was nice. Just pitch the grease along with the disposable tray and put a new one in there.

Clean the Outside

Use hot water and dish soap (Dawn is particularly good…and mild. I mean, if they can clean up wild life after oil spills with this I think it’s safe to say it will be ok to use on my grill). Wipe down all surfaces and allow to dry. We use a degreaser spray throughout the summer as well. Some people even use baking soda to polish the outside of the grill and get it shiny. There are several degreaser sprays and cleaners on the market specifically made for grills. Just read the label to see if it’s compatible with the finish on yours.

Cover the Grill

Most people will have to keep their grill outside—and I’ve read that you shouldn’t store a gas grill inside a garage or structure that is attached to your home. We live at the top of a hill and the wind is brutal. Our covers get a beating, even tucked up against the house. Spend the $30–$40 to get a good one. This will ensure ice and grit won’t get into crevices and trash your grill a lot quicker.

Additional Maintenance

Do a visual inspection of your knobs and temperature gauges. Check all the hoses for an cracks and holes.Some people wrap the burners in plastic bags to keep spiders and insects from nesting there.

If I’ve missed anything (or you have a constructive suggestion) please comment! There are a variety of ways to maintain our grills and I’m interested to hear from someone else’s experience.