So Your Next Barbecue Doesn’t Fizzle, Clean Your Grill
The chicken kebobs were ready to grill. The salad was made. The patio table was set. My work was done. Now it was DC’s turn.
My husband dutifully fires up our outdoor gas grill. Just as I’m putting my feet up, he delivers the bad news. “The grill won’t start.”
“What do you mean it won’t start?”
“I push the ignitor button, and nothing happens.”
I go and push the button. I listen for the clicks. Nothing.
“I replaced the propane tank,” he says, “so that’s not it.”
“So, what is it?” I ask, like he’s supposed to know.
He shrugs. We are out of ideas. We would not have survived long in the Stone Age.
The Weber cart grill is less than two years old. We don’t use it that much, so how could it be broken. A look under the hood offers a clue. It looks like a tarpit.
“Eyew,” I say.
“Looks like some critter got in,” DC says. He reaches past the petrified pitch and pulls out a handful of frayed and chewed wires. I bring the food inside, start the broiler and sigh.
“At least you weren’t hosting a holiday barbecue,” says John DiGioia, owner of Orlando Grill Repair, who came out the next day. “Before summer holidays, we’re booked two or three weeks out. That’s when people start to bribe you.”
Did you catch that? Labor Day is coming. Have you checked to make sure your grill is ready?
As DiGioia opens the lid to inspect the grill, I settle at the patio table nearby with my coffee and laptop. Woe be to the repairman who comes to my house because chances are I will ambush him. “Do you mind if I ask a few questions?” I ask.
He surveys the grill and lets out a long slow whistle.
“Bad?” I ask.
“I’ve seen worse,” he says. This is somehow comforting.
DiGioia, who has been installing, repairing and cleaning outdoor grills for over 15 years, fishes out the frayed wires. “We need to fix these, and the grill needs a good cleaning.”
He gets to work. He replaces the AA battery. (It has a battery?) He repairs the frazzled wires then covers them with protective casing. Next, he turns the grill on, which mercifully clicks and roars back to life. He checks the burners. Flames shoot up. I jump. “That shouldn’t happen,” he says. “If you see flames, you’re overdue for a cleaning.”
“Should I be disgusted?” I ask.
“If you want to be,” he says, then adds reassuringly, “This happens all the time because people don’t care for their grills properly. People will pay a pool guy to clean their pool every week but completely ignore the equipment they use to feed their family.”
“If homeowners gave their outdoor grills the same level of cleaning, they would prevent 90 percent of problems, keep rodents away and extend the life of their grill,” he says.
“We keep the cover on,” I say feebly.
“That makes critters like it even more,” he says. “Outdoor grills are like full-service hotels for rodents. They’re warm, safe, and offer a nice bed and food.”
“So, our grill has been moonlighting as a squirrel B&B with an all-night buffet?”
While he cleaned and repaired the grill, DiGioia offered this advice to keep the rodents and repairmen away:
· Check the battery. If a grill isn’t lighting, check the battery before paying for a service call. Most people (including me) don’t know that the whole ignition system gets powered by a single AA battery. Replace it at least once a year.
· Check the fuel. If your grill runs on propane, check to see if the tank is empty. Keep one or two full tanks on hand; rotate and refill them when empty.
· Check for critters. Droppings and chewed wires are signs your grill is a rodent condo. Keeping the grill clean is your best defense. You can also set traps around the unit, including boxes that are pet and child safe.
· Clean after every use. Once food is off the grill, DiGioia recommends leaving the grill on high for 10 or more minutes to burn off residue. “You want whatever was left on the grates to be powdery and charred,” he said. Turn the grill off and remove ashes with a wire brush. You can also use a grill stone, a handheld block often made of pumice.
· Deep clean. Most experts recommend you deep clean your grill twice a year, before and after grilling season. You can do the job yourself or pay a professional. (DiGioia charges $200 and was worth every penny.) To tackle the job yourself, first turn the grill on to burn off residual grease. If flames get high, close the lid, and let the fire burn out. Never put water on the fire. With the grill off but warm, remove grates and flame tamers (or burner covers) using oven mitts. Clean with soapy water. Spray grease-caked areas with a commercial degreaser. (DiGioia uses Super Clean.) Let it sit for several minutes, then pressure hose freestanding grills, and wash down built in grills with a sponge and a bucket of water. Clean the grill’s exterior with soapy water. Brighten stainless steel by polishing the surface with a lubricant like WD-40.
· Check the burners. Burners go bad every one to five years and need replacing. To tell if a burner is failing, light the grill. The flames should come out of each burner evenly. Burners putting out less flame are starting to shut down.
· Keep the cover off. If you live in places that have snow, covers are protective, but in hot climates, they keep moisture in and do not keep vermin out.
· Find a good grill guy. Some grill experts will repair your grill but not clean it. Some will clean but not repair. Try to find someone who does both — ideally before the next holiday barbecue.
CAPTION: Party Ready — Keeping outdoor grills properly cleaned and ready for grilling will not only assure your next holiday barbecue isn’t a bust, but will also prolong the life of your grill, which should last 20 years. Photo courtesy Orlando Grill Repair.