Summertime and the grilling is easy. If you lived up north or in the Frost Belt this winter, not so much. Record cold and snowfall drove all but the most intrepid grillers indoors to their panini machines and grill pans. (Not you, of course, but there are a lot of fair weather grillers.)
Whether you mothballed your grill over the winter or simply left it exposed to the elements, chances are good it needs a tune-up. You want to be firing on all cylinders this month -- National Barbecue Month. Here are seven things you need to do right now to get your grill working at peak performance.
1. Spider patrol: Make sure there are no spiders or other insects -- live or otherwise -- under the burner knobs, in the grill manifolds, or burner tubes. Likewise, clear out any cobwebs.
2. Check for leaks: Examine the hoses and replace any that look crimped, cracked, or otherwise damaged. Make a leak detection solution by mixing equal amounts of liquid dish soap and water. Brush this mixture over the hoses and connectors. Open the shut-off valve: If you see bubbling, that's where you have a leak. Immediately turn the gas off and don't attempt to light the grill until it has been repaired. Note: Leaks are rare -- I've only had three significant leaks in my career -- but they're dangerous when they occur.
3. Lube before lighting. If the burner knobs or other moving parts don't turn freely, squirt them with WD-40 or a silicone spray. On a charcoal grill, make sure the vents open and close easily and lubricate as needed. Twist back and forth until they do.
4. Ignition suspicion: Make sure your igniter switch is working. You should hear a click and see a spark. You may need to replace the battery, usually an AA. To do this, unscrew the lock nut at the base of the button or behind the control panel. Many people don't realize the igniter has a battery, much less that it needs replacing.
5. Grill clean: Ok, I'm sure you cleaned your grill from top to bottom at the end of the season, ahem, but in the unlikely event you didn't, clean out the drip pan and line it with a fresh aluminum foil insert. On a charcoal grill, scrape out the firebox with a garden trowel and empty the ash catchers. To clean your grill grate, once the grill is lit, preheat the grate to screaming hot, then brush with a stiff wire grill brush. Wipe with a folded oiled paper towel.
The best way to clean a dirty grill is to burn it at full blast.
Photo Credit: Charles Miller/Fine Cooking magazine
6. Rank your tank: Inspect your LP tank for obvious signs of rust, bulging, separation at the seams, or other distress. If it looks anything less than hermetic, trade it in.
7. Light it right: Open the grill lid (it should remain open during the lighting process), then open the propane cylinder valve to start the gas flowing. Turn on the burner. Push the igniter button a few times. The grill should light, but if it doesn't after a few tries, shut it off, wait for the unlit propane to clear, and try again. Note: You may need to use a match or butane lighter to light the grill for the first time of the season.
Go to BarbecueBible.com for more tips on getting your gas grill ready for the season, and get exclusive tips on readying your charcoal grill, too.
Steven Raichlen is the author of the Barbecue Bible cookbook series and the host of Primal Grill on PBS. His web site is www.barbecuebible.com.