Kitchen Focus

Summer is here and that means many of us are firing up our grills. But is your grill in safe working order? Are you wasting time, energy and money by using a grill that is not in good working order? Despite our love of grilling, many of us are exposing ourselves to health and safety risks by over-looking the regular maintenance that all gas grills need. So, this month, we're turning our attention to basic grill care and some simple steps that you can take to make keeping your grill in tip-top shape easy and fast.

The first thing we need to understand is that grills need care. They are not pieces of equipment that can be ignored once they've been assembled -- which is a task in itself -- until you have a steak that needs attention. Grills are constructed of materials that are designed to withstand a lot of wear and tear, but even the sturdiest grill will fall apart in short order if it's left to the elements -- both inside and out.

So, let's start with the outside of your grill. One of the best investments you can make towards the life of your grill is a high quality grill cover. While this is especially important if you store your grill outdoors year round, it will also reduce rust and other corrosion in models that spend one or two seasons outdoors. How do you find a good grill cover? Well, this is one area where you generally get what you pay for. The better covers are felt lined and should always be waterproof. Make sure that you get a cover that covers your grill well, but avoid getting one that's much larger than your grill, as wind is more likely to remove it altogether. A good grill cover will protect your grill from the wind, rain and UV exposure that can cause a lot of corrosion trouble.

In addition to keeping your grill covered when not in use, you should periodically take a few minutes to carefully check the connections and hose on your grill. Check for leaks, holes, charring, cuts or kinks. Any of these is a cause for concern and should be fixed or replaced before further grill use. Not only are these a source of potentially dangerous accidents, they also make your grill work less efficiently and allow propane to leak away excessively during use and even non-use.

After you've checked for leaks and cuts, try taking some time to remove any spider webs or other debris that may have accumulated on or around your grill. This keeps it clean and removes material that could become a fire hazard if left unchecked.

Now it's time to lift the lid on your grill and do the same there. This is especially important if you do not use your grill for an extended period of time. The time to discover any insect nests or the like is before you start your grill -- not after! While you are attending to that, also use a wire brush to remove any minor corrosion or burnt-on food from the inside of the grill. If you discover any holes or major corrosion, it's usually best to start looking into getting another grill. Damaged gas grills are fire hazards and should be replaced.

While you are cleaning, check the burner for any holes caused by corrosion. If it has them, get a replacement. The burners in gas grills usually do rust out with use and manufacturers do sell replacements for them. If there is minor rust damage, you can brush the burner gently with a wire brush to remove it.

If you have lava rocks in the bottom of your grill, it's recommended that you replace them every year since they tend to trap a lot of grease and can cause a fire hazard and an off flavoring to your food. If you have ceramic briquettes, you can turn them to the clean side and proceed. Replace any broken or damaged briquettes. While you have the bottom of your grill empty, clean it thoroughly with a degreaser solution to cut down on any grease and food drippings build-up.

Finally, you'll want to test your ignition system. Check all of your wire connections to insure that they are properly connected and tight. Determine where the electrode for the ignition system is located -- you may need a small mirror to do so. Make sure there is nothing blocking the electrode from sparking. Test the ignition system. If it does not work, check the connections again and the electrode itself to make sure it is not damaged. If it is damaged, get a replacement from the manufacturer. If it does work, use the mirror to make sure that the spark is not able to travel beyond the electrode to the grill frame.

Well, that sums up a good general maintenance routine for a basic gas grill. You'll also want to periodically check the connections and the level of fuel in your propane tank. It will also be important to clean the grates on your grill before and after each use. This is usually as simple as turning up the heat on the grill to burn any remaining food particles and then brushing them off with a wire brush. This is very important to the taste, quality and safety of your grilled food.

With those tips, I wish you a summer of wonderful grilled foods that can be enjoyed with family and friends. With just a little care, your grill can last you many years and bring many meals to your table. Enjoy!

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